Opinion | Rubio’s fake populism can’t be compared to real history

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Sean Willentz teaches at Princeton University and is the author of The Rise of American Democracy: From Jefferson to Lincoln.

“I’m not a scientist, man,” Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) once told an interviewer. He sidesteps a question about creationism and how old the earth is. “I don’t think I’m qualified to answer questions like that,” he said.

Now Rubio has revealed that he is not a historian either.

The re-elected senator took a familiar tactic, expressing his disdain for American historians who recently met with President Biden to bring current events into historical perspective. According to Rubio, the people present, including myself, were “elite” and “snobby.” According to his description of our conversation, he was apparently not present, and we urge the president to stop letting “everyday people and their common sense” “play a role in our decision-making.”

In fact, it’s the exact opposite of many of the president’s historical discussions, including how to address issues affecting the hard-working American majority and how to overcome polarization.

Historians have long documented events of deliberate manipulation and tampering for political purposes. Rubio’s take on what happened at the conference fits in the sad tradition of great propagandists. He slandered independent thinkers, fabricated what they said, and painted them as enemies of the people.

The danger is twofold. Rubio has fostered a culture of forgery for easy political gain that uses skepticism to its advantage and fuels the current climate of agitation.

Second, Rubio hits the very idea of ​​American history itself. What makes studying the history of the American people “elite”? Why don’t we want all our presidents to seek a stronger grasp of the past as they wrestle with our future?

Of course, Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson were both historians. Ronald Reagan brought historians into the White House, and most other presidents go back at least to John F. Kennedy, who also wrote history. George HW Bush gave himself, his family, his diary and his papers to a historian attending the Biden meeting. George W. Bush has long been an avid reader of presidential biographies.

Rubio’s contempt for historians and his predictable attempts to stoke hostility toward them are part of a longstanding American tradition of false populism to denigrate intellectuals that infects politics with reliable frequency. It stretches from the anti-Masonic and ignorant in the 19th century to Father Charles Coughlin and McCarthyism in the 20th century to Donald Trump today.

It has become standard operating procedure for today’s Republican Party.

True American populism begins with people who work every day, mostly farmers, fighting railroad tycoons, banker tycoons, and land-gathering tycoons. Its purpose is to use the federal government to contain and regulate their excessive private power.

False populism is clearly an art Rubio is trying to master, by creating fictitious threats at home and abroad while projecting cool heads as elitists to distract attention from corrupt politicians and chaebol abuses.

Throughout our history, fake populists have slandered teachers, professors, and intellectuals of all kinds, as well as journalists and various other ethnic, racial, and professional groups.

In the 1950s, Joe McCarthy smeared everyone outside the right as elite subversives, including General George C. Marshall. The segregationist governor, George C. Wallace, garnered followers in part by attacking “pointy” and “longhair.”

It’s the fake populists who show disrespect for ordinary Americans. It is the fake populists who believe that people are incapable of serious thought, reflection, or even common sense. It was fake populists, including Ivy League graduates Josh Hawley and Ted Cruz, who opposed the Ivy League and then voted right-wing Yaliists, Harvard and Princetonians for Supreme Court seats.

Common sense tells you it’s a fake hoax, but fake populists play this game over and over because they think people are too stupid to understand.

It doesn’t take much to see the looming danger to American democracy. They come from those who planned, abetted, instigated and participated in the attack on the Capitol on January 6, 2021. That danger was exacerbated by those who encouraged violence against the FBI to fully legally search for secret national security documents in March. -a-Lago.

History has shown that false populism and anti-intellectualism—targeting independent thought as a by-product—are necessary ingredients for authoritarian takeovers. We can expect to hear more of this from Rubio and other Republicans as they cross the line from cowardly accomplice to active support.

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