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Between Populism and Settler Colonialism: A US Case Study

United States political history is a uniquely populist and settler one. While there is plenty of scholarship on populism and on settler colonialism separately, there is a significant gap in understanding how the political phenomena are connected. To begin to remedy this gap, I argue that particularly in the US political context, populist and settler-colonial sociopolitical logics are both historically and theoretically interconnected. Both political phenomena are central to understanding the foundations of American socio-political life. Working in a theoretical-historical mode, I identify five ways in which settler colonialism and populism have intersected, and in the process produced a set of functions: to categorize, stigmatize, dismiss, authorize, and defy. These function reveal a mirrored internal logic to populism and settler colonialism. Using this theoretical analytic, I will then discuss four major moments of populist politics in the US: Shay’s Rebellion, Andrew Jackson’s presidency, the emergence of the People’s Party, and Donald Trump’s presidency. Ultimately, this thesis will reveal that both populist and settler-colonial political logics are interdependent, foundational, and continuous features of US politics and that, therefore, populism and settler colonialism in the US context ought to be considered in tandem.