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Populist anger and a sole resort to push back against philanthropic elites


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Philanthropy Daily

I’ve wrestled with the phenomenon of conservative populism ever since the peculiar events of 2016, and I’m still not entirely clear what it is. But I thought I would share a few observations this afternoon, sketchy as they may be.

It’s true that philanthropy is in fact becoming a target of this populism. But it’s hardly alone. Indeed, it’s by no means the most-prominent target.

Right-wing populism today views virtually all major American institutions with immense distrust. And I do mean all. Some institutions have been in bad odor for quite some time: certainly government; “lamestream media,” as Sarah Palin put it; Hollywood; higher education. But other sectors have only recently come into disrepute: high tech; the security services; and perhaps most notably, the business corporation.

As populists see it, all these sectors—occupying the commanding heights of our society—are controlled by wealthy, powerful, entrenched elites who espouse an ideology that’s deeply hostile to conservative values.  

Populists seek to preserve, or to restore, a nation of strong families, schools that teach the fundamentals, police that enforce the law, neighborhoods that are safe, houses of worship that adhere to orthodoxy.

But all those values are held by elites to be reactionary and oppressive, and those who treasure them are regarded as intellectually and culturally inferior.  

Now, you might say that this has nothing whatsoever to do with foundations. After all, you’re not obnoxious elites, so why would the peasants with pitchforks, as Pat Buchanan described them, come for you? Well, let’s take an honest look at your situation. 

First, you are, in fact, sitting on a pile of money. That has historically attracted populist hostility, especially from populists on the left. You may say it’s a very small pile of money, but viewed by everyday citizens, it doesn’t look all that small. And within reason, you have incredible leeway to do with it as you please.

Most of you have college degrees, graduate degrees in many cases, or professional training of some sort—in other words, the credentials of an elite.

You make pretty good money and have good benefits. You work remotely or in a nice office, probably in a pleasant part of town. 

And you’re not likely to be put out of business or voted out of office by the competition, because … there isn’t any. 

From the viewpoint of a homeowner next to the tracks in East Palestine, Ohio, you look suspiciously like the comfortable, cosseted elites that run the other major American institutions.:snip:

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