The Weekly Dish
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Michael Lind On Populism And Elites

Michael Lind On Populism And Elites

He's one of a kind in his intellectual idiosyncrasies and consistency.

(We’ll be back next Friday with the usual Weekly Dish, alongside another Dishcast and window contest, after this Easter weekend.)

Michael, an old friend and acquaintance, is a writer and academic. He’s taught at Harvard, Johns Hopkins and UT-Austin. He’s been an editor or staff writer for The New Yorker, Harper’s and The New Republic, where I published him often, and he now writes frequently for the NYT and Financial Times. Michael also co-founded the think tank New America. The author of many books, his most recent is The New Class War: Saving Democracy from the Managerial Elite, and his forthcoming book is Hell to Pay: How the Suppression of Wages is Destroying America.

You can listen to the episode right away in the audio player above (or on the right side of the player, click “Listen On” to add the Dishcast feed to your favorite podcast app — though Spotify sadly doesn’t accept the paid feed). For two clips of our convo — on how big donors have stymied populists, and how Biden is better at Trumpism than Trump — pop over to our YouTube page.

Other topics: Michael’s upbringing in Texas; his ancestors who were indentured servants; the ways white Southerners dealt with desegregation better than the North; how white immigrants learned to be American from black Southerners; why Robert Conquest’s The Great Terror was the most important book Michael ever read; the evils of Soviet and Chinese communism; Krauthammer’s “The Unipolar Moment”; neoliberals getting the WTO and NAFTA; the collapse of unions; the rise of woke capitalism; Michael’s longstanding worries over free trade and mass immigration; the 2008 financial crisis; the disasters of Iraq and Afghanistan; the dangers of elite consensus; Pat Buchanan and Ross Perot as forerunners to Trump; the populist success of Santorum and Huckabee; the corrupt mayors James Curley and Marion Berry; the Cathedral culture of the MSM; the potential of DeSantis to dethrone Trump; and Biden’s prospects in 2024.

Heads up that we just published a new transcript of our discussion with John Gray on the dusk of Western liberalism. It was a classic episode — and if you missed the audio version, check it out.

Browse the Dishcast archive for another discussion you might enjoy (the first 102 episodes are free in their entirety). As always, please send your feedback and guest recs to Here’s some feedback on last week’s episode with Jon Ward on the joys and struggles of evangelicals:

I admired Mr. Ward’s measured tone and reasoned arguments. It seems to me, though, that he does not have the clearest understanding of the concerns of Evangelical Christians that led them to support Trump. While I am not the best person to speak for them, given that I am not one of them and can’t stand Trump, I often travel in the same circles as Evangelicals and share many of their political views.

Most of them have shifted away from going on the offensive on political matters such as abortion and gay marriage. They have come to grips with reality that they have lost such battles. They’ve now shifted to defense — by focusing on religious liberty and trying to practice their faith in an increasingly secular country against an increasingly intolerant left that abhors them. I think their concerns are quite legitimate. 

Most Evangelicals want to use the political arena to prevent the left from doing things like denying their churches tax-exempt status for declining to perform same-sex weddings, being punished for refusing to recognize a change in someone’s gender that they believe to be a lie, or being forced to bake a cake with a message they disagree with. Just a few years ago, no one would have imagined that so many schools would accommodate a change in a child’s gender in the school building — by using a different name and allowing them to change into different clothes, and refuse to notify the parents. And a lot of Evangelicals also look toward supposedly free Western countries that are criminalizing the act of silent prayer near an abortion clinic, or making it illegal to “misgender” others.

As for their support of Trump specifically, I have never met an Evangelical who thought that Trump personally shared their views on social issues, let alone was genuinely a religious person. They still remember his laughable attempt to quote, during the 2016 campaign, from “two Corinthians, and his unwillingness to name a single verse from his “favorite book,” the Bible:

But many decided — not unreasonably, in my view — that he was a fighter whose presidency would necessitate going toe-to-toe with the same elites who try to shove a hostile agenda down their throats. And I can see their point. But while Trump certainly fights, he ultimately does so only for himself, not for them. There is no other way to explain the fact that he spends more time criticizing DeSantis than he does criticizing Democrats. Whether there is enough of a critical mass to prevent him from becoming the GOP nominee, I suppose we will soon find out.

I’m not optimistic, but you never know, I suppose. The problem with using a degenerate authoritarian as a weapon, is that it’s not a Christian thing to do. Jesus had a different understanding of how ends relate to means.

Another listener looks to a specific part of the episode:

Loathe as I am to give too much credence to the phrase “systemic racism,” there was a moment in your conversation with Jon Ward where, much to my surprise, I found myself slightly sympathetic to the idea. You asked him, “How does a system commit a sin?” If we define “sin” as some grave affront to morality, I’d say there’s a deep relationship between systems and sin. As Ward answered you, “So much of what we do, so many of the mistakes we made, a big part of them is the context that shaped us … the forces acting upon us.”

Using a subject about which you’ve written extensively, torture, there are compelling arguments about the ways in which systems can manifest sin, even if a system cannot “act” with human intention. Indeed, while individual soldiers commit torture, generally they wouldn’t do so if not for the superiors issuing orders from afar, the long months away from home, the pressures of war, mistaken intelligence, and so on. The torturers and their superiors surely sinned — but didn’t the system not just entice but, in many cases, coerce that sin?

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