By Dr. Jim Ferguson

This will be my last Focus column of 2023. And even though there is little difference week to week, we are all, nonetheless, time-focused creatures. In his trilogy on the origins of Western Civilization, Thomas Cahill imagined a moment when God first appeared to humans and established that present moment in time. And as a result, there was a past before He appeared and the promise He would come again. Western Civilization is based on Judeo-Christian precepts and therefore views time linearly. You might find it odd, but some Far Eastern and Mesoamerican cultures envision time as circular.

Each year-end I think about starting over. In Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol,” the Ghost of Christmas Present lives but one day, and ages before our eyes. Fortunately, our timelines are much longer, “threescore and ten…and if strong, fourscore” (Psalms 90:10). Consequently, I’ll look much the same on New Year’s Day as I will on New Year’s Eve – and it helps because I’ve learned it is not wise to overindulge.

I’ve been thinking about populism and planned to begin the New Year with this important topic. You might consider this subject like a book on elephants – more than you care to know. However, spending a few minutes considering an issue so relevant to our time is a small price to pay for citizenship, especially since The Knoxville Focus and my FergNotes on this topic (CliffNotes) are free.

Populism is defined as a political strategy based on an appeal to the interests of the common man. The word derives from the Latin word populus or people. Some definitions describe the concept as

“anti-establishment or anti-intellectual or unorthodox policies which appeal to the common man rather than traditional parties.” Other definitions describe the term as “grassroots democracy or representing the common man.” In our current time, Populism is frequently described negatively by elites in academia, the ruling class and the media, since it is often derisively associated with President Trump’s MAGA (Make America Great Again) movement.

Actually, populism is often a battle between the haves and the have-nots and is probably timeless. And it is understandable that modern progressives label those opposing their divisive Marxist woke philosophy of class warfare as enemies. Hang with me and you’ll understand why you often only hear one side of the issue.

As Mary Poppins once sang, we have to “start at the very beginning,” at least in the recorded history of Western Civilization. And that means we begin with the first democracies of the ancient Greeks and their populism, and then the Romans’ populism because they conquered the Greeks and the Hellenized world. Finally, we’ll move to the populist uprisings of the American and French revolutions before finishing with the contrasting populisms of today.

You may find history boring, but you should remember George Santyana’s famous quote, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn understood this as he described the way to destroy a people is to destroy their history. The fallacy of destroying Americanism through the destruction of our monuments and traditions by radicals should be evident. But if you’ve missed the signs, read on or wait until they knock on the door and take you to The Gulag Archipelago.

Ancient Athenians derisively referred to the “volatile, landless, urban mob” as the ochlos (the Romans called their mobs the turba). The Greek leaders of the people (ochlos) were called demagogoi (Victor Davis Hanson/VDH). Mr. Webster defines a demagogue, as “a leader who makes use of popular prejudices and false claims and promises to gain power.” Ancient urban protest movements intended to tax the wealthy, redistribute property (wealth), cancel debts, and increase government employment and entitlements (VDH). Sound familiar to the demands of today’s urban mobs?

In the 1790s the French Revolution mobs demanded liberty, brotherhood and government-mandated equality (or did they mean equity aka equal outcomes?). The French Revolution substituted Enlightenment era reason for God and was a disaster, producing slaughter, dictatorship under Napoleon and disastrous expeditionary wars.

Our Founders fashioned a Republic predicated on the Constitution and the rule of law which guarantees equal opportunity, even though man’s rights come from God, not government. These days I wonder if our leaders even believe in that concept or just pay lip service to the Constitution. Maybe we need a demagogue to remind them of their oaths and to hold them accountable to the Constitution. We need to say “No!” to today’s ochlos who have now added reparations to the laundry list of demands from the mob.

And this brings me to the last point for your New Year’s consideration. It seems like there are multiple mobs in America today. One is like the ancient urban mobs of Greece and Rome. They demand “bread and circus,” only it’s called food stamps, reparations and reality TV these days. They have their own demagogues: the Progressive-Democrats.

But the Democrat mobs are actually several. One is led by leftist radicals like AOC and her Squad. The other claims they are liberal and moderate. An example might be Senator Joe Manchin, but he’s such an outcast that he’s retiring from the Senate because he is now unelectable. The radicals have taken over Joe Biden, the presidency and what is called the Democrat party, which is no longer democratic. If you doubt me, consider the “Democrat” judges in Colorado who have removed President Trump from the Colorado ballot in the latest example of election interference and “law-fare.”

The group opposing the Democrats and their urban mob is more rural, more middle class and more conservative. Perhaps many identify as Republican, but this too is an oversimplification. One group’s demagogues are led by the so-called RINOs (Republican in name only). An example is Mitt Romney. The other major faction is the populist MAGA movement led by President Trump.

The operating agreement of our country is the Constitution. We must never forget or allow demagogues to distract us from the opening lines of this magnificent document. We the People must be allowed to choose our representatives and determine what is best for us rather than the rest of the world. If we allow this to be taken from us, we are already lost.