Populism Is Everywhere
Steven Hahn’s article “The Populist Specter” [Jan. 28/Feb. 4] provides a clear and much-needed analysis of this distressing phenomenon. One area that is barely mentioned, however, is the populist influence on the academic disciplines, especially science. The populists’ disdain for political and business elites also extends to scholarly “elites.”
The resulting movements include quack health faddists, anti-vaxxers, and climate deniers. The latter two are especially troubling, as they threaten public health and the global environment, respectively. Most of these science deniers have no training in, or knowledge of, the science that they reject but, under the populist doctrine, such ignorance is irrelevant.
Unfortunately, The Nation has not always been innocent in this regard. For example, in your November 5, 2007, issue, the late Alexander Cockburn asserted that the greenhouse effect could not exist because it would violate (his confused interpretation of) the second law of thermodynamics. Even though experts wrote letters to the editor pointing out the erroneous physics, I did not recall seeing them in The Nation.
Hahn emphasizes right-wing populism and its history of repression and violence. Hence he laments that “the populist phenomena of the present day appear heir to these unsettling currents of illiberalism.” But what about left-wing populism? Why does he not mention, even once, Occupy Wall Street, Bernie Sanders, or Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez?
Donald A. Smith
A Worthy Subject
It was good to see Oregon Senator Jeff Merkley’s name appear twice in the Jan. 28/Feb. 4 issue: first in the sidebar titled “Merkley’s Fix for America,” and then (if only parenthetically) in Robert L. Borosage’s article on Democratic presidential contenders. Merkley’s “Blueprint for a ‘We the People’ Democracy” offers a thorough prescription for overhauling the way we vote, with an eye to reducing the role of big money and bringing all citizens and all sections of the country to full participation in the electoral process.
Merkley’s many-pronged activism in the Senate and in the field—he has been a hands-on presence at the border, opposing and exposing the cruelty and mendacity of Trump’s immigration policies—makes him one of the more impressive candidates in the quickly lengthening field of prospects for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination. His forthright positions on major issues, ranging from climate change to nuclear diplomacy to civil rights and economic justice, offer a thoroughly reasoned progressive platform. I congratulate The Nation for bringing him into play; his record of accomplishments and forward-looking stances on the issues would be well worth the further attention of your readers.
Après le Déluge
In “Expose the Predators’ Ball” [Dec. 31, 2018], Katrina vanden Heuvel writes that “activists accompanied by Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez flooded [Nancy] Pelosi’s office to demand action on climate change.” What a great way to illustrate the danger of rising sea levels! All the same, I hope they helped to mop up the mess afterward.
white plains, n.y.