Old Whitewater and Populism

The Scene from Whitewater, Wisconsin Most of the figures who represented an Old Whitewater outlook have faded from the scene. Their high water mark was several years ago; they’re receding now. Their like won’t be seen again.

Their decline, however, comes in the immediate conditions of an impatient populism. That populism doesn’t represent a New Whitewater, but replaces Old Whitewater’s errors with a new set of mistakes.

Old Whitewater was (and what’s left of it still is) hierarchical, insider-centric, mediocre in policy and understanding, but with a boundless sense of entitlement. The present populism that creeps about is ground-level, ignorant in policy and understanding, with an impatient insistence that it has its way.

They both share some characteristics, including a powerful nativism, but the key difference is that this local populism has no deference or respect for Old Whitewater. They’re not submissive, and won’t take direction from a few aging town fathers. (Organizations with primarily older members still show considerable reverence to an older way, but those organizations are themselves in decline.)

There is another key difference: populism’s likely to burn itself out quickly; the older way it’s supplanting will have had a longer run.

(There’s little stranger than watching one of the old guard, wholly committed for a lifetime to a hierarchical, insiders’ approach, try to transform into a storm-the-Bastille kind of guy. A whole life facilitating opacity doesn’t easily shift into a convincing advocacy of transparency.)

Neither Old Whitewater nor the creeping populism that now replaces it are worthy outlooks: they’re both bottom-shelf approaches.

There’s reason for optimism. There’s nothing of the current scene – nothing – that cannot be overcome, decisively, if one will only hold to expansive rights, continental standards, and a methodical approach.

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