No word in the English language is more misused and abused than populist. Sloppy use of the language these days has some writers calling President Trump and Marie Le Pen of France populists. Both are arch-reactionaries.
All writers planning to use the word populist or populism in articles should first read “Populist Response to Industrial America” by the late Norman Pollack. Pollack was a history professor who taught at Michigan State University after graduating from Harvard.
Pollack’s thesis: populism was a radical force forged by the People’s Party in the mid-West during the 1890s.
It criticized capitalism, opposed monopoly and the inequality of wealth distribution. It favored a farmer-labor coalition. It sought to alter American society.
The People’s Party was not Marxist. But it had many parallels with the Populist and Marxist analysis of society.
It got its greatest boost from the “Cross of Gold” speech by William Jennings Bryan in 1896 at the Democratic National Convention in Chicago. He declared: “You shall not crucify mankind on a cross of gold.” It was a powerful plea for the unlimited coinage of silver as opposed to minting gold dollars under the gold standard.
WEARY OF TRUMP BASHING?
If you’re weary of Trump you should also be tired of the constant bombardment of Trump in the columns and cartoons in the media.
A typical daily blast was fired in a recent Sunday Review section of the New York Times.
On page one this headline appeared: “Will the presidency survive this president?” My answer: it will. On page three: “A prayer for Donald Trump.” My answer: God doesn’t exist so prayers are worthless. On page four: “4-year-olds don’t act like Trump.” My answer: headline gives more insight to 4-year-olds than they possess.
WRITER’S HALL OF SHAME
Will professional writers ever stop using clichés? One of the worst offenders is Howard Fendrich of the Associated Press.
Covering the recent French Open tennis tournament, Fendrich wrote: “The women’s draw is marked by upsets but the men’s draw has the usual suspects.” They are not suspects. They are the top seeds, the predictable leaders seeking the championship.
When Capt. Louis Renault (Claude Rains) uttered the phrase “round up the usual suspects” at the end of “Casablanca” (1942) it had meaning and impact. But the phrase has been used so often by writers it has become a moldy cliché.
Another cliché: “Let me be perfectly clear.” That’s the way Susan Page of USA TODAY began a recent column. Here’s another from Dan Trainor, Reno News & Review columnist: “thrown under the bus.”
The most often used and the most unnecessary cliché is “of course.” Here’s a recent example from the New York Times: “Edward Albee, of course, is best known for his plays. The most famous is ‘Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?’ ”
One of the worst clichés used in professional writing is game-changer. Here’s a recent one in the Reno Gazette-Journal (part of the Gannett empire): “Repaved Texas track may be game-changer.” Jim Ayello, USA TODAY sports writer, is guilty. He’s guilty of another cliché in the third paragraph of the same article: “learning curve.” His usage: “The learning curve will be steep.”
Gannett may be the No. 1 cliché dispenser in America.
Among hundreds of other clichés are “double-down” (increased) and “time to retire.” Here’s another: “three ways to,” “five ways to” or “8 ways to.” Et cetera.
Clichés indicate lazy writers. The nation is full of them. Clichés appear in newspapers every day by writers heading for the “Hall of Shame.”
OXFORD COMMA PERSISTS
A recent article in the New York Times showed that some writers are trying to resurrect the decrepit Oxford comma. Namely, a comma after the second noun in a series: “He ate apples, pears, and peaches.”
The comma after peaches is unnecessary. But some grammatical purists never give up. This one may last at least until the 23rd century.
SOCIALISM TABOO IN BOOK
The Dorset Press of New York published a 1,061-page tome of “The Collected Jack London” in 1991. It was subtitled “Thirty-Six Stories, Four Novels and a Memoir.”
Among the stories published were the classic, “The Call of the Wild.”
However, in that huge book the editor and publisher did not print London’s short essay, “How I Became a Socialist,” and his short novel, “The Iron Heel,” urging socialism in America.
Obviously socialism is too radical for “a responsible and respectable publisher.”
COWBOY INTEROR SECRETARY
A picture in the New York Times of Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke showed him riding a horse while inspecting Bears Ears National Monument near in Utah.
Zinke is wearing a black hat and sunglasses, looking every bit a cowboy.
Question: is he the only interior secretary who could actually ride a horse?
Jake Highton is an emeritus journalism professor from the University of Nevada, Reno. (firstname.lastname@example.org)