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Populism is a political mindset that elevates "the people" over "the elite." It is anti-big-corporations, anti-government, anti-mainstream-media, anti-internationalism, anti-cultural-change, anti-politician, anti-"the rich" and anti-"the highly educated." More than anything, populism is anti-establishment. There can be left-wing populism and right-wing populism. Either way, the world is divided into the good people as "we" and evil as "they." Populism undertakes to redistribute economic, political and cultural power from "them" to "us."

Candidates seeking to ride populism to electoral victory play upon voters' widespread fears and feelings of victimhood. They use simplistic phrases such as "We the People" and "The People Are Coming!" Examples include the revolutions in France and Russia two centuries and one century ago, the rise of the Nazi Party in Germany, the recent Brexit crusade in the United Kingdom, and the current MAGA/America First/Christian nationalism movements in the United States.

Botulism is a rare and potentially fatal disease. It can cause paralysis and the inability to breathe. And, for these reasons and more, botulism almost begs for analogies to its rhyming twin, populism.

The germs that cause botulism can originate from the soil (which we can analogize to rural areas), or from water (coastal cities). So, too, the germination of populism, which can arise in economically struggling small towns or inner cities. The toxins from either source are equally insidious. Honey can be another incubator of botulism spores, and the same word suggests thoughts of the political sweet talk and economic desires that can inspire populism.

The similarity continues with the early symptoms of both menaces. Botulism first manifests itself with weakness, fatigue, and difficulty seeing and speaking. Populism starts the same way, in that federal politicians notice their nation looking fragile and their constituents feeling tired of it. Populism then spreads when inarticulate candidates who lack vision appeal instead to base mass emotions such as fear and hatred. Sometimes, these politicians rise to power despite their struggles as visionaries or speakers.

Botulism, like most diseases, is most lethal when left untreated. The political histories in France, Russia and Germany reveal that it took devastating wars, starvation, and citizen deaths by tens of millions before those nations were stabilized. To a lesser extent, Great Britain also has suffered since populism forced Brexit.

Treatment for botulism is with an antitoxin and supportive care. The question for America today is this: What could be the parallel remedy for populism?

Journalism and political science professors teach that "sunlight is the best disinfectant" for rooting out corruption in high places — such as government. This adage is an argument for transparency and freedom of the press. One would think this could be at least a partial antitoxin to ease the ill effects of populism, as the media could shine its light on the falsehoods and overpromises being offered to "the people."

The problem today, however, is that many (most?) media outlets cater only to the portion of the public that already agrees with them. Therefore, the people are not seeing and hearing that their own would-be political leaders are playing on their emotions and misleading them. It disinfects nothing for each media outlet to shine a light on the wrongs of only one party.

With media treatment likely spreading the toxins of populism, a better therapy is for "the people" to fight off the disease naturally and prayerfully with supportive care from those close to them. That care can include frequently reminding our loved ones that we really do need America's institutions, like democracy, the Constitution, legal immigration, our higher education and cultural organizations, our 50-state union, our successful businesses and capitalists, our international allies, a free press and all three branches of our federal government.

To those who see such things as "elite" and "the establishment," we should point out the benefits of striving to join, reinforce and reform them from within rather than enabling those who would burn them down.

Quentin Wittrock is a retired lawyer and founder of Principle Based Politics. He is a former candidate for the U.S. House in Minnesota's Third Congressional District.