“I had friends who were police officers, and I could drive pretty much any way I wanted to,” my uncle started when I asked him to tell me a story one night. We were sitting at my grandmother’s kitchen table, the vinyl tablecloth making our forearms sticky after dinner. I propped my camera up and made a video, asking him a slew of questions ranging from the Dawson Gang to Southern stereotypes. He obliged me, sitting at the kitchen table that night with overalls on, a bubba keg of sweet tea in front of him, and—I shit you not—a half-read copy of Machiavelli’s The Prince propped open in front of him. He gave me one hell of a story:
“Well, one night I went through Littleville. I had that ’66 GTO, and the Littleville Police Chief was a man named Alan Jones—he was a younger guy. Out there in their Dodge—I guess it was a Chrysler New Yorker, I think. Oh, I believe it was a Dodge Police Interceptor, I guess you’d call it. Well they were rolling into their jurisdiction up at the King Drive-In. They were in the left lane—they were fixing to turn and go back. And I just eased up beside ‘em, waved ‘hello,’ grabbed second gear and throwed off three of them carburetors wide open and took off like a bullet. Of course, they came after me blue lights a-going. I got a lead on ‘em, and the first street I come to on North Jackson where I was out of their sight for a little bit.
I took a right up the street and turned around and backed up the hill a little further and watched them come through. And when they came through town I came in behind them. The Russellville Police had already set up a road block. Well, [the Littleville Police] went through it. They had ran up beside somebody else and had panicked him. He must’ve had something in the car because he ran. So they’re running another car they think is me. Well, I just pulled up to the road block and one of the cops was a friend of mine. He said, “was that you pull that little deal in Littleville?” I said yeah, and he said, “Well they’re after somebody going out toward Mountain Star right now. Maybe if they lose ‘em they’ll go back to Littleville,” he said. “Give it a little while and then go back out there and do it again…” Which I did. Thing is, Alan Jones, the Chief of Police, was so impressed by how fast that Goat was he wanted me to take him for a ride in it!”
He told me this story in the Spring of 2013. I was in a Southern Studies course tasked with an open-ended project and somehow wound up with this story. It highlights, for me, how things change. This uncle loves Trump. This uncle buys into the Blue Lives Matter rhetoric.
What happened to when rednecks hated the police and pulled wild-assed stunts like this?
The Well Red Comedy boys have a joke about rednecks shifting toward loving cops. Trae Crowder says something along the lines of: You ever seen Smokey and the Bandit? The hero ain’t fucking Smokey!
This is a long-winded, roundabout way of me talking about populism or a seeming disdain for the establishment that runs deep through my people. On a base level, we know that populism is a political framework that inherently champions the common person, eschewing big business, Big Politics, and mediators in the process. They like direct democracy, a charismatic leader who appeals to the will of the people. We use populism to denote pandering, playing on xenophobia and fear, and consolidating power through strict swindling. We also use populism to discuss historical anti-authoritarian perspectives and regional anti-establishmentarianism.
In a relatively recent Washington Post article, Jennifer Rubin begins with the claim that DJT won the 2016 election “because he convinced enough people in the right states for an electoral victory that he alone spoke for them.” She then dissects the various way Trump has failed this base campaign, which I’ll call autocratic populism. One statistic from polling the Deep South (which she defines as Alabama, Georgia, Tennessee, and Mississippi) found that 6 in 10 adults said they favored granting immigrants a chance at citizenship before deportation, and this is only one statistic in a series of data that shows just how little Southerners or “forgotten Americans” actually agree with any tenant of this Administration’s platform.
In 2017, Henry Olson noted that Trump’s failure to construct a clear populist agenda is probably due to the anti-populist conservative wing that heralds big business or establishment Republicanism. While I disagree with almost all of Olson’s conservative suggestions to coalesce a single republican populist party out of many factions, I do agree that DJT’s “attempted populist revolution is so far merely a ruckus, not a revolt.”
We know Trump’s not a populist. We know that a significant chunk of his base is. But populism runs deep among the American working-classes, the South, the Mid-West, and whoever else falls in the category of “forgotten.”
If Trump’s populist rhetoric is failing, and those people from historically populist demographics disagree with the large majority of Trump’s policy proposals then, perhaps, this is another way of looking at what a select few voices have been saying since this bullshit started and I’ve been trying to shout from the rooftops since said shit went Walking Dead:
Trump’s an autocratic populist. No self-respecting working-class or South/Midwesterner fell for that bullshit, and we are where we are right now because… of….