The Populist Explosion: How the Great Recession Transformed American and European Politics, by John B. Judis

This fairly brief book takes a look at recent popular movements that have evolved since the 2008 banking crisis and resulting recession. Judis zeroes in on the Tea Party movement during Obama’s first year in office, the Occupy Wall Street movement that followed, and rounds things out with the populists supporting both Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump in the 2016 presidential primary and election.

More importantly Judis places these into a context in American history and from that is able to pinpoint fairly common outcomes from those popular movements. He looks at the early “free silver” drive that pushed William Jennings Bryant into his runs for the presidency. He also reviews the various movements that arose out of the Great Depression, from the groups that supported FDR’s election to some of the counter movements with figures as varied as Father Coughlin and Huey Long. He also looks at the conservative populists supporting George Wallace’s run in 1968 and the difficult-to-categorize run of Ross Perot in 1996.

Judis shows how these movements can drive both allied and opposition parties into unexpected directions, such as the Bryant populists helping to move Theodore Roosevelt into Republican progressivism and Long’s potential primary run moving FDR further left in 1936.

The history of popular movements certainly goes deeper into history than the late 19th century depressions. America was both created and nearly destroyed by popular movements. In an English language context you could go back as far as John Ball or internationally to Spartacus. Judis was probably wise to keep things within the framework of the modern US two-party system, and he does contrast that with the more flexible parliamentary systems in Europe that allow … or force … coalitions providing populist groups a greater voice in government.

It’s a plain-spoken book that doesn’t take on (or deserve) scholarly pretensions. Judis covers his history with enough interesting tidbits to help the book flow well. For anyone pondering current political movements or scratching his head after 2016 it’s a useful overview.