Populism is generally taken to mean a political movement that challenges the incumbent political elite and may overwhelm it. If in doing so, or at a subsequent stage, the movement becomes violent or departs from the confines of the orthodox constitutional system altogether, it ceases to be populist and becomes revolutionary or anarchic. In long-running democracies, economic fluctuations and occasional vagaries of talent of the political leadership assure that there will be populist political activity that will try to win big political prizes by constitutional means and by exploiting and evoking public discontent with the political class.

Though the United States has been fertile populist ground, its populist movements have never seriously threatened to overthrow the existing method of choosing governments. The United States was born of a revolution, but it was preeminently an act of...


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