Populism as the equal and opposite reaction to American Democracy.
Internationally populists and the populism are seen as generally undemocratic. The term populist itself is so broad it can encompass the likes of Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders. While in America the term populist can have a positive connotation, it generally brings to mind Nazi Germany and various regimes that one would not want to be seen in relation to. I think it’s also relevant to point out that positive perceptions of populists generally favor the left leaning variety. This presents a sort of accountability double standard that some may rationalize as fair through political discourse. Nonetheless, populism is globally seen as anti-democratic.
Schumpeter’s definition of democracy states, “the democratic method is that institutional arrangement for arriving at political decisions in which individuals acquire the power to decide by means of a competitive struggle for the people’s vote.” What is not in this simplistic definition is the immense elitist importance Schumpeter puts on representation. Schumpeter argues that a typical citizen can not govern because they would appear elementary, infantile, and would resort to primitiveness. He goes further to state that, “People can not be carried up the ladder.” This elitist view of representation elevates those who are “fit” to govern as almost inhuman or godlike. The argument is that the people who can adequately and appropriately govern are not intrinsically the same as those they govern; they are superior. How does this relate to populism? 
Populism’s definition is more vague. In the text “What is populism?” written by, populism is described as a form of politics meant to appeal to the people by opposing the broad elite who are interfering in the voices of the masses being heard. A vast majority of politicians by this description are populists. A downfall of populism is that it allows a single person the authority to boast that they represent everyone. Therefore, what a populist portrays to those they represent is that any opposition is not only wrong but immoral, corrupt, illegitimate, and produced by the elite. Populists don’t take into account pluralism and the obvious differences that exist within a population’s opinions and beliefs.
Populism is simply a societal reaction to the elitist undertaking of democracy that does in fact interfere with direct representation. The notion that there is a general elite that is the enemy persists to be the campaign go-to for many political candidates. While Bernie Sanders’ says he is for the people and against the elite, Trump also says he is for the people and against the elite. Comparatively, what matters is who you deem an elite. While populism in theory would deem any opposition a part of the elite, it is important to clarify who is the elite. In the current United States’ conservative case of populism, the elite is merged with liberalism and the idea that all liberals are an blockade to the voices of the conservative masses being heard prevails. In the U.S.’s more liberal case of populism, the elite mostly refers to the rich and socially mobile individuals who can assert their power politically and therefore effectively usurp the interests of “the people” more broadly speaking. The validity of each side can be effectively argued. 
These two populist approaches to American politics, now represent the extremities of the American political and ideological spectrum. Despite being extremes, both approaches have received tremendous support. The question arises, how can two completely opposed groups, have the same reasoning for existence while still opposing each other? Assessing this dynamic points out a core issue that inevitably develops within democracies. People feel as though they aren’t being represented. There must be a cause for this lack of representation and both sides attempt to point out the root of the problem. Both liberal and conservative populists claim to blame the elites. So, elitism is at the root of the contemporary U.S. populist movements.
Although, there is no simple way to foster better representation, we can analyze the U.S.’s system of democracy that was created by elites and for elites. The U.S.’s democracy was created by elites to represent those that they looked down upon and deemed incapable of making just decisions. Even the institutions we see as democratic are considerably anti-democratic (i.e. the courts and electoral college). At the core of conflict within populism lies the core of conflict within democracy. The majority of those who do the bidding for our nation are consumed with their own interests and/or the interests of the elite who have a substantial amount of political power over them. Populism is simply an attempt to rectify the state we live in, that in fact doesn’t justly represent “the people” on either side of the spectrum and wasn’t created to do so. American democracy is simply anti-democratic and has been since its creation. As a prime example of Newton’s Third Law, populism, as we see it now in the United States, is an equal and opposite reaction to the mere existence of democracy.
1.Schumpeter, Joseph A. Capitalism, Socialism, and Democracy. HarperPerennial, 2008, 263-269
2.Müller, Jan-Werner. What Is Populism? Penguin Random House, 2017.
wow thats actually interesting that populism can be a controversial response to American democracy
You’re not entirely wrong about U.S. democracy being created by elites to govern those they consider less capable of governing themselves. However, I feel that there is a disconnect in your post in regards to how and why the U.S. government was established to be the way it is. I don’t think that the rise of populism can be entirely attributed to political elites, though they do play a major role in how populism functions. The elite are essentially powerful, often educated, and affluent members of society. They make easy targets for populist figures because the elite are obviously very different from the average man or woman.
I noticed in your argument that institutions we view as democratic, specifically the courts and the electoral college, are anti-democratic. I’m not entirely sure where that point is coming from. One of the most democratic things about any government is having a court system that works and helps maintain checks and balances. Within the most recent presidency, the courts have worked hard to keep the executive power in check. In addition, the electoral college isn’t necessarily something that can be rated as pro-democratic or anti-democratic. While people have grown to feel that the system is unbalanced and unfair, it functions exactly how it is meant to and has not undermined our government system.