Fellows' Presentation

Plutocrats with Pitchforks: The Peculiar Politics of Right-Wing Populism in the United States

Photo by Tony RinaldoPhoto by Tony Rinaldo

Part of the 2018–2019 Fellows' Presentation Series

Lecture by Jacob S. Hacker RI '19

Free and open to the public.


As a fellow, Jacob S. Hacker is completing a coauthored book, “Fault Lines: How the New Geography of Prosperity and Partisanship Is Remaking American Politics.” In it, Hacker and Pierson argue that, in today’s knowledge economy, the dominant fissure in American politics is between high-growth urban areas and the rest of the nation. Populous metro areas are becoming richer and more Democratic; small towns and rural areas, relatively poorer and more Republican. These two coalitions—“blue” and “red”—are linked to different economic models and electoral strategies. Increasingly, they exercise unified control in states where they’re strongest, further embedding these models and strategies. What makes this clash particularly explosive is that our political institutions penalize urban places: Blue America may be economically strong, but for a variety of reasons, it is politically weak. Thus, America’s economic future depends on the degree to which the urban knowledge economy can be made compatible with America’s distinctive political order.

In his presentation, Hacker will focus on the Republican side of this story, an arrangement he and Pierson call “plutocratic populism.”  Unique among right-wing populists in rich democracies, President Trump has combined plutocratic priorities and populist appeals, generous rewards for the rich and ginned-up resentment for the rest. Hacker will explain the quarter-century development of this approach within the elite Republican Party, its dependence on the growing geographic isolation and electoral strengths of the party’s electoral base (strengths that were on display even in 2018), and the ways in which President Trump has ramped up both its intensity and its dangers.