The current socioeconomic conditions have created the climate for the emergence of these divergent populist brands today. It is the dramatic shift of the Republican Party to the right and the slow drift of the Democratic Party toward the center over time, however, that has contributed to and helped define the nature of the right and left wing versions of populism.
My pragmatist friends make a number of arguments in their effort to dismiss the Sanders phenomenon.First, Sanders is too left-wing to get nominated, much less elected. In principle he is, but this isn't a normal year. There is mass economic frustration in the land; it is finally, belatedly, the main issue in a presidential campaign; and, it is up for grabs politically and ideologically. We can blame foreigners and government, or we can blame a badly tilted economic system. If a Republican populist is nominated, a Democratic populist might well do better than a Democratic moderate in energizing the electorate and winning over working class voters who might otherwise support a figure like Donald Trump. The polls show Sanders doing better than Clinton against the main Republican contenders. My pragmatist friends dismiss these on the grounds that the voters haven't really focused on Sanders' views yet, and the Republicans haven't yet opened up the heavy artillery.
We need an active, independent left willing to challenge the push for smaller government. A well-managed government can revitalize the economy even as it makes our world a better place to live. Many Americans seem to understand that instinctively. Where, then, is the movement that will make that argument?