"The elites are getting policy, and the mass of the Republican Party is getting outrage.”
To Jacob Hacker, the Stanley B. Resor Professor of Political Science at Yale University and co-author of American Amnesia: How the War on Government Led Us to Forget What Made America Prosper and Winner-Take-All Politics: How Washington Made the Rich Richer and Turned Its Back on the Middle Class, this sentiment sums up the defining trend concerning the populist movement that pushed President Donald Trump into the Oval Office, and will continue to characterize the Trump administration’s policy choices during his time in the White House.
Hacker came to Northwestern on Wednesday to discuss the Republican Party’s penchant for supporting elitist policies as well as the rise of what he coins “plutocratic populism” at a lunch hour Q&A and a later discussion hosted by SESP and the Department of Political Science. Hacker defines “plutocratic populism” as writing policy that benefits the wealthy while marketing a platform to a populist, more working-class base.
”The Republican Party is uniting the two discordant strains of conservative and anti-system thinking,” Hacker said. “One side is more libertarian, and one is more truly populist. The plutocratic side is highly organized with shaping the congressional agenda, [but the populists] are not.”
This discrepancy between what President Trump campaigned on and the policies he has supported are indicative of a larger trend in the Republican Party, according to Hacker.
”[There has been a] shift in who Republicans are responsive to,” Hacker said. “Republicans think their constituents are a lot more conservative than what they actually are.”
This misdiagnosis has led to the passage of historically unpopular bills, such as the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017.
Weinberg junior Daniel Weiss believes that Hacker’s viewpoint could be critical toward turning elections away from the stranglehold of the upper classes and toward ending the discrepancy between the policy proposals of elected officials and those of the citizens they represent.
“The big disconnect that always exists between work like this that reveals what should be happening and what actually does happen is that voters are ultimately less informed than politicians would like them to be,” Weiss said. “If people can be informed about the kind of work that Professor Hacker conducts, then and only then will the midterm elections and the 2020 election swing differently in favor of the kinds of politicians that Hacker thinks belong in office.”
Assistant Political Science Professor Thomas Ogorzalek also believes that Hacker’s work is important for electoral shifts during the next big elections.
“[Hacker’s] books will refocus this idea that … Democratic party politics don’t benefit the working class while the Republicans have the working class in mind when forming their policies,” Ogorzalek said. "When you pay attention to the actual policies of those parties, the Republican Party’s policies are much more reactionary and more redistributive toward the rich.”