In What's The Matter With Kansas?, Thomas Frank argues that conservative faux populists stoke public resentment of elites for the purposes of enriching those very elites at the expense of the public at large:
Backlash theorists, as we shall see, imagine countless conspiracies in which the wealthy, powerful, and well connected -- the liberal media, the atheistic scientists, the obnoxious eastern elite -- pull the strings and make the puppets dance. And yet the backlash itself has been a political trap so devastating to the interests of Middle America that even the most diabolical of string-pullers would have had trouble dreaming it up. Here, after all, is a rebellion against "the establishment" that has wound up abolishing the tax on inherited estates. Here is a movement whose response to the power structure is to make the rich even richer; whose answer to the inexorable degradation of working-class life is to lash out angrily at labor unions and liberal workplace-safety programs …
If you have any doubt of the truthfulness of that argument, consider this: Glenn Beck is urging his listeners to donate money to the Chamber of Commerce.
Now, the Chamber of Commerce is not simply an advocacy organization pursing an ideological agenda, like the National Rifle Association or the National Right to Life Committee. It is a trade association representing some of the largest corporations you can think of. Its board of directors counts among its members executives from Pfizer, Lockheed Martin, AT&T, US Airways, JPMorgan Chase & Co., IBM, and Verizon. It is The Establishment incarnate.
And Glenn Beck is calling on his hardworking listeners to donate money to the Chamber. He is literally asking American workers to give their hard-earned wages back to their employers, so their employers can use that money to advocate a public policy agenda that benefits the rich at the (again: literal) expense of everyone else. It's incredible. It's such a twisted scheme that it's easier to believe as a piece of performance art meant to mock right-wing pseudo-populism. Though if it was art, it would be dismissed as overly broad and heavy-handed.
But Glenn Beck is completely serious. He wants you to send your money off to the Pfizers and JPMorgans of the world, as a gift. For Glenn Beck, it isn't enough to have a power structure that favors the corporate elite. He wants you to pay for it, too. That's what passes for populism these days.