Time has a nasty way of breaking up marriages of convenience. One such marriage was that of Progressive Technocrats and Progressive Populists in the early 20th century. (“Technocrats” is an anachronism as applied to the early Twentieth Century, but bear with me.)
The early marks of Progressivism which united the two factions were (1) favoring the central government over state and local governments, (2) favoring the Executive over the Judiciary and, especially, the Legislature, and (3) concentrating powers in the Executive. The arrangement appealed to the Progressive Populists because, once a majority elected a President, a unitary and powerful national Executive could accomplish more than a divided, compromising, deliberative government. It appealed to the Technocrats because with the growth of the Administrative State the Technocrats, putative agents of the mighty Executive, could burrow into the bureaucracy and call the shots.
The two formed a formidable power couple during the administrations of Teddy Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson. Indeed to the outside world they were, for a little while, a juggernaut mowing down the constitutional republic’s separations of powers (vestiges of that mutual enemy of the Populists and Technocrats, the Aristocrats).
Internally, the Populist-Technocrat marriage started fraying almost as soon as it had begun. The divorce was finalized in Dayton, Tennessee by the Scopes Trial in 1925. The Scopes Trial was an intra-Progressive battle, with the Scopes side representing the Technocrats and William Jennings Bryan the Populists. The putative cause of argument was biological evolution, but (like most marital squabbles) there was another subject behind the putative one: eugenics.
Franklin Delano Roosevelt tried to reconcile the estranged couple, but succeeded only in creating a tactical alliance between still-estranged parties, and only for a season. The detente didn’t last. And the acrimony between the exes has been growing ever since.
Post-FDR, the Technocrats went on to enjoy a large measure of success, making nearly everyone forget their dalliances with eugenics while wrapping their plans to remake humanity in devices more subtle and terms more cunning. They gained considerable popular support — the thing for which they had once relied on the Populists — and the adoration of one major political party and the Fourth Estate.
Meanwhile the Populists went homeless, bouncing along between neglectful or abusive lovers. That was the status quo until recently, when a new Progressive Populist* appeared, a man with the charisma of William Jennings Bryan but without the sincerity or virtue. Following his takover of the Republican Party, Donald J. Trump has the Progressive Populists’ megaphone to declare to the world the things they could only mutter under their breath for decades.
* Having begun with one anachronism, I end with another. I mean “Progressive” in the original sense. In his campaign and the early days of his administration, Donald Trump and his followers have shown amply that they share the original Progressive infatuation with Executive Power, indifference to individual, State, and local rights, and contempt for separation of powers and Congress.