Our nation is facing a new reality, a new culture, a new politics voted in with President Trump’s election. It is no longer about right or wrong. It is no longer about truth or lies. It is no longer about elevation or debasement. Populist voters have decided it is solely about winning or losing, and to win they elected a president who promised them he would “drain the swamp” and “blow up the establishment.” That is all the populists needed to hear.
American populists are fed up with the establishment, which ignored their plight and fears caused by the consequences of the technology revolution, compounded by the establishment’s globalization policies, making their jobs obsolete, diminishing their standard of living, and ending the American dream for them and their children. If that was not enough, the establishment waged political war against the populists because they opposed their political, social and economic policies. After neglect followed by hostility, it was more than enough for the populists to rally around unscrupulous politicians, who they are counting on to exact their vengeance upon the establishment.
The political civil war going on between the establishment and the populists inside the Republican Party will soon be visited upon the Democrats. If they don’t learn the lessons from the Republican conflict, they too will eventually suffer the same consequences within their party. Populists are not going to take it anymore. They are not going to be ignored and they certainly are not going put up with establishment hostility against their interests.
Utah’s establishment should pay particular attention to what is happening nationally and with neighboring Arizona. Establishment politicians are being targeted by Trump’s former chief strategist, Steve Bannon — his self-proclaimed “wingman.” Bannon targeted Arizona Sen. Jeff Flake to remove him from office. Sen. Flake is a devout Mormon, whose family helped settle Arizona. He is so conservative that he once was considered too extreme for the establishment. Ironically, Sen. Flake just announced he will not run for re-election because he cannot prevail against the Trump-led populist rebellion in Arizona.
In Utah, the Republican civil war started several years ago when the party’s establishment decided to prevent populists from gaining power by running an initiative to end the party’s caucus-convention system. The Utah Legislature intervened and forced an unwanted compromise through the passage of the now infamous bill — SB54. In spite of SB54, party populists have continued to fight against their establishment counterparts in the courts and through several rounds of elections. The proponents of the original initiative have recently determined to resurrect it, ensuring the Republican civil war will continue to rage in Utah.
The warring makes Utah very vulnerable to Bannon intruding into its politics. In fact, at least one individual considering a run for Sen. Orrin Hatch’s seat has already met with Bannon and some of his allies. A divided Republican Party makes it very likely that Bannonites will determine who represents Utah’s interests in Congress. If that happens, the establishment will rue the day they first neglected the concerns of the populist movement and then waged political war against it, attempting to isolate it through their initiative to end the caucus-convention system.
There has always been a better way — a Utah way — a way yet to be tried. First and foremost the establishment needs to acknowledge populists’ fears and anxieties are real and justified. The establishment has the responsibility to initiate interventions that authentically address the fears and anxiety facing the populists in Utah.
The establishment has the responsibility to embrace populists’ concerns if it wants to prevent Trumpism from supplanting Utah’s brand of conservatism that has held the state in good stead for decades. If it does not, the populists will happily recruit Trump and Bannon into Utah to help fight on their side of the Republican civil war — changing Utah forever!
Stuart C. Reid is a former Utah state senator who voted against SB54.