Words matter.

Trump has been called a “populist.” The Brexit movement has been called “populist.” Marie LePen, who ran for president of France on an anti-immigration platform, was called a “populist.” Bannon and his anti-Establishment movement funded by the billionaire Mercers are called “populists.” No doubt, someone thinks the Koch brothers are “populists.”

None of these people are populists, not in the literal sense of representing ordinary folk, nor in the historical sense of connecting to a movement that surfaced in the late 1890s.

Populism as a movement means “for the people,” for the ordinary people, for working people. It should not be confused with appeals to nationalism, racism, and chauvinism. Demagogues appeal to base instincts, but they are not populists by doing so.

If you support a plan to take away health insurance from millions of people, you are not a populist. If you support tax reform that cuts the taxes of the richest people in society (for example, by eliminating the estate tax and by reducing the tax rates for those with the highest income), you are not a populist. If you support the privatizing of public services so that they can be transferred to private ownership, you are not a populist. If you support the privatization of public education, you are neither a populist nor a progressive, because both movements fought to expand government services, not to privatize them.

The Populist Party of the late nineteenth century emerged to fight against the rich and powerful interests of the day on behalf of working men, farmers, and the powerless. The Populist movement of a century ago–also known as the People’s Party–genuinely wanted leftwing reforms that favored the great mass of people, not the rich. It wanted the protection of government, not its destruction. It defended common folk and farmers against the bankers, the railroads, and powerful capitalists. It allied with the labor movement. It was a leftwing movement for the empowerment of the voiceless. The Populists were part of an agrarian revolt against the powerful interests that ruled their lives, especially the banks and the railroads.

Bannon and his billionaire buddies, including Trump and Mercer, are subversives who want to destroy the government and destroy programs that protect the neediest among us.

When Trump rails against the elites, it is a joke. He is a billionaire, not a farmer or a dispossessed laborer. He does not speak for the poor or for working people, though he sometimes pretends to. A populist does not live in mansions with a large staff of servants. A populist does not own golf clubs, hotels, and casinos. A populist does not play to ethnic and racial hatreds. A populist seeks to unite the common folk to advance an economic agenda that protects them from being preyed upon by people like Trump and Bannon and the Koch brothers and the Mercers.

Calling them “populists” not only distorts the actual and historical meaning of the word, but gives them the veneer of sympathy for the working poor that they cynically manipulate.

In Europe, those who are wrongly called “populist” are more accurately referred to as nationalists, or in extreme cases, as fascists who want to purify the ethnic stock of their country.

Disagree if you will, but read more about Populism before you do.

Here is the Populist Party Platform Of 1892.