Thursdays, 11:50–1:15, May 10–May 17
Instructor: David Heymsfeld
The Populist and Progressive movements of the late 19th and early 20th centuries were both efforts to limit the excesses of free market capitalism and political corruption. The explosive growth of the American economy in the late 19th century was accompanied by serious problems of corruption, economic inequality, inhumane working conditions, urban squalor, major depressions, and rural poverty. There were strong demands for government action by two political movements. The Populists, a grassroots movement centered in the West and South, embodied a politics of resentment: they believed that farmers and industrial workers were the victims of powerful elites, including railroads, banks ,and an uncaring government. The Progressives, a nationwide movement led by middle and upper class professionals, saw many of the same problems and urged the application of expertise and efficiency to develop policies serving the needs of all, furthering the “public interest.” As characterized by journalist George Packer, Populists were motivated by “anger upward” and Progressives by “sympathy downward.” Although the issues have changed since the 1890s, the differing approaches of populism and progressivism have continued to be important in our political discourse, most recently in the “populists” Trump and Sanders and the “progressives” Obama and Clinton.
David Heymsfeld, an OLLI member, was a congressional professional staffer for 35 years. He has taught several OLLI courses on history and is a volunteer guide for the Newseum.