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History As It Happens

Oct 6, 2022

Why would a U.S. senator pen a polemical attack against a history professor? Florida Senator Marco Rubio labeled Princeton's Sean Wilentz a "cisgender white male" who "reeks of privilege" after Wilentz wrote an op-ed accusing Rubio of standing "in the sorry tradition of the great propagandists” who are guilty of “the deliberate manipulation and falsification of events for political purposes.” In early August Wilentz had been among a handful of esteemed scholars invited to the White House to talk to President Biden privately about threats to democracy at home and abroad. Rubio was not at that meeting, but he claimed to know -- without evidence -- that the historians told the president to ignore "working everyday people and their common sense." In this episode, Wilentz, a preeminent scholar of American democracy, discusses what he describes as the "fake populism" espoused by many right-wing politicians. Unlike the genuine populists of the past, who fought for the economic rights of ordinary Americans against powerful interests such as monopolistic railroads, today's "fake populists" are concerned with vilifying "elites" and "snobs" from the halls of academia to "deep state" bureaucrats.