To the editor:
Bloomingdale resident David Staszak suggests in a recent Enterprise guest commentary (“Contemporary Populism,” Enterprise, Aug. 18) that I provided “misleading” information about populism. He then condescendingly asks if a definition found in a British-based general information source (the Britannica) meets my “standards.”
My answer is “No.”
We can be pleased and without any problem if persons recently learning that populism derives from the historical ideology of the American Populist Party desire to learn more. The topic’s obscure, but those having what Dave smugly calls “good education and critical thinking” will consult some specialized information source like the “Encyclopedia of American History” for more information.
But what will persons without that “good education” do? They’ll do as Dave did, and consult some less informative (yet more common) general information source. In simple ignorance they might even pick one of overseas origin (again, as Dave did) out of which they’d get no better description of America’s Populist Party than of Germany’s Bavarian People’s Party.
So Dave I’m sorry, but serious scholars would cringe at how you conduct research. Among other things they’d tell you to learn the difference between a specialized information source and a general one, before crying that anyone “misled” you.
Dave’s confusion owes not just to an inadequate scholastic background, but to an unwillingness to recognize that America’s established historical definition of populism supersedes something plucked from a jumble of “contemporary populism” and “authoritarian populism” definitions found in an overseas information source.
(And that jumble of definitions is so disunited that some prominent political scientists say populism should stop being used in perplexing associations with “contemporary” or “authoritarian,” because the differing definitions provide no cohesive meaning. Indeed, there’s even some “conservative populism” definition in a recent Enterprise guest commentary (“Populism debate misses context,” Enterprise, Sept. 8). That commentary’s interesting, and author Rick Gombas deserves credit for generously describing what’s accepted as historical populism before veering off to discuss what some might fancy to be conservative populism.)
As he diverts from populism, Dave chooses to slight Thomas Jefferson and Kate Smith, in the self-conceit that we care what he thinks about these eminent historical figures. We don’t. For though Dave preens as a scholar strolling through Widener Library, what he actually knows of Thomas Jefferson and Kate Smith is the nothing he knew of the Populist Party but one month ago.
In concluding his commentary, Dave conjures up an odd phantasm featuring Pope Francis, Hitler, Trump, hate, animus, “birtherism” and nutty media personalities. It’s weird. Yet in all honesty it’s not too unlike other “over the top” imageries now seen frequently in Enterprise letters. Persons writing such letters plainly and vividly detest Donald Trump. They seem to think that with hyperbole and florid descriptions and airs of infallible superiority they’ll show us the depravity in Trump. But all they show is the depravity in themselves.