Caitlin Zaloom in Public Books:
Founding editor of The Baffler and author of prophetic classics like Listen, Liberal and What’s the Matter with Kansas?, Thomas Frank skewers received wisdom across the political spectrum. In his new book, The People, No, Frank reveals that the Democratic Party has tied itself in knots about a phantom of its own making: populism. The original Populists—19th-century agitators for working people’s interests—spawned a revolving cast of journalists, intellectuals, and business interests determined to paint them as villainous xenophobic masses. These anti-populists have made the name of the movement into a dirty word. Today’s anti-populists equate the broad multiracial coalition of social-justice activists that supported Bernie Sanders with a very different alliance that championed Donald Trump in 2016.
In this interview, Frank shows how this blinkered idea of populism grew so prominent, shares secrets from the founding of The Baffler, and reveals how the battle against Silicon Valley’s cool capitalism has been decades in the making.