Populism and Its Discontents: Populism on the American Left and Right During the 2016 Election Cycle
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The 2016 U.S. election broke numerous precedents and revealed an American electorate that is deeply dissatisfied with politics as usual. It was in this milieu of discontent that populist candidates like businessman Donald J. Trump and Senator Bernie Sanders were able to vastly outperform the expectations of many seasoned pundits and commentators. This thesis first considers the versions of populism that have influenced American history and recent Latin American and European politics and defines populism as a movement that sets the “righteous people” against the “corrupt elites.” It then analyzes the Trump and Sanders campaigns and argues that each can be broadly understood as populist, though for somewhat different reasons. It concludes by outlining the potential impact that populist sentiments may have on American politics in the near future, arguing that the future of populism in the U.S. largely depends on Trump’s success or failure as President.