Longism is a political term in reference to the ideology and characteristics of Huey Pierce Long, Jr., a famous left-wing Louisiana demagogue who established a de facto machine within the state's Democratic Party that lasted in prominence for decades during the 20th century. The radical populist Long, seizing upon the banner of representing the common man against the entrenched elite, established a solid base of poor rural whites among the Northern region of the state though alienated the "Old Regulars" who comprised a part of the opposing faction whose views were dubbed anti-Longism.
Longism and antiblack racism
Despite popular mythology by authors such as T. Harry Williams portraying Huey Long as racially enlightened by the standards of his time, the Long Machine perpetuated Democratic discrimination against black people. Long barely challenged his contemporary white supremacist status quo since the state Constitution of 1898, indicating, according to Glen Jeansonne, a lack of either belief in racial equality itself or the courage to advocate on behalf of it.
Jeansonne writes, "It is more likely that Long shared the prejudices of his Winn Parish neighbors." Long's base of supporters was solid among North Louisiana, "a stronghold of the Ku Klux Klan," while Catholic, anti-Klan South Louisiana was considerably divided over Longism. Contrary to the further portrayal that the "Longists" were pro–civil rights in comparison to the anti-Long forces as rabid white supremacist demagogues, virulent racism permeated both factions, and disenfranchisement of blacks resulted in watering down the Bourbon faction whose political strength relied on manufactured votes of the black population, thereby likely facilitating the populist Long's rise to political power.
Unlike other Southern states where race-baiting proved advantageous for Democratic office-seekers, the "race issue" in Louisiana became irrelevant following the 1898 constitution. The era of the Long Machine during the 1920s did not preside over an increased enfranchisement of blacks; the minuscule black electorate remained the same while the white electorate almost doubled. The 1920s–30s Long era also failed to benefit blacks economically, and Long employed race-baiting in attacking an old-age pension plan by anti-Long contender Dudley LeBlanc:
|“||And LeBlanc is going to pay pensions to Negroes too, because don't you think he's going to overlook his lodge brothers. It will cost $20,000,000 a year to pay the Negroes' pensions alone, and you white people will be working the year around to pay those pensions to Negroes.||”|
—Huey Long, cir. 1931
In an interview with civil rights activist Roy Wilkins, Long "specifically denied ... that he planned any special economic or political program for blacks." Education also remained Jim Crowed, and "New Orleans had not a single vocational or trade school that blacks could attend." Trade unionism among black people were discouraged, they were accommodated with the least priority in hospitals, and their presence was prohibited from parks and swimming pools; Long never challenged such racial barriers, rather indicating his support of segregationist policies in, at one point, condemning a plan in nearby Mississippi to establish a theater for blacks. In addition, the Long Administration never appointed any black individuals to notable public positions.
Long's famous Share Our Wealth program accepted black members, but only as "second-class constituents" and in regions "where it would not unduly antagonize whites." Long's chief lieutenants, Gerald L. K. Smith (the organizer of Share Our Wealth) and Leander Perez (his impeachment attorney), were outspoken white supremacists throughout their political careers.
Anti–Ku Klux Klan?
Longism commonly is assumed as an antithesis to the Second Ku Klux Klan due to open antagonism between Huey Long and the Klan's Imperial Wizard Hiram Wesley Evans in 1934, when the latter vowed to campaign against pro-Long Democratic candidates and was cautioned by the Louisiana leader, "that Imperial bastard will never set foot in Louisiana."
However, the Second Klan lost its influence by the 1930s, disillusioned among the vast majority of Americans following publicized moral scandals within its leadership exposing its hypocrisy (despite campaigning in the 1920s on supposed "moral values"). Huey Long's anti-Klan stance by the 1930s, therefore, was an expression of political practicality rather than principled opposition to the KKK, whose support he welcomed when the hooded organization was at its peak the previous decade. In his 1924 and 1928 campaigns, Long respectively became an alleged honorary member of the local Alexandria Klan and accepted a donation of $30,000 from a KKK official.
Long's public opposition to the Ku Klux Klan, as Jeansonne notes, was expedient and by a time when the organization lost influence, while he did not oppose the Klan at its peak in the 1920s and instead embraced it then.
Longism's expenditures often grossly prioritized comparably trivial pursuits; at the Louisiana State University, over $14,000 was spent on the school band while less than $1,500 combined for its law school and graduate school.
Contemporary admiration from the "right"
Donald Trump and his brand of "Trumpism" has been juxtapositioned with Huey Long and Longism. In addition, the conservative media outlet National Review has noted increasing "right-wing populist" adoration for Longism:
|“|| In a May column for American Greatness, writer Pedro Gonzalez waxed poetic about Long, directing modern-day conservatives to seize his political “blueprint” as their own. The Kingfish, Gonzales claimed, “actually was what Donald Trump only pretended to be” — a successful fighter for the common man. Coming from one of the most Trump-centric outlets on the right, it was an eye-opening assertion.
In his hagiography of Long, Gonzales implies that the politician fought for the working class because his “poor white” upbringing gave him an understanding of human suffering. But, in the true spirit of a good grift, the backstory Long told about himself — and Long apologists still tell today — is a lie. Though on the campaign trail, he led voters to believe that he was raised poor in a log cabin, he was actually born to an affluent family who lived on a sprawling estate in north Louisiana. Throughout an adulthood spent in public life, Long would lament to crowds that he was as poor as they were, even as he lived lavishly on the taxpayer dime, indulging his penchants for extravagant clothes, luxury homes, booze, and fine dining.
—Ellen Carmichael, August 1, 2021
In addition to "right-wing populists," the more extreme white supremacists on the "alt-right" also extol Longism.
- Huey Long. Social Security. Retrieved May 30, 2023.
- Jeansonne, Glen (1992). Huey Long and Racism. Louisiana History: The Journal of the Louisiana Historical Association, Vol. 30, No. 3, p. 265. Retrieved May 30, 2023.
- "Huey Long and Racism," pp. 266–67.
- "Huey Long and Racism," pp. 270–72.
- "Huey Long and Racism," pp. 273–75.
- "Huey Long and Racism," pp. 279–80.
- Bailey, Greg (October 9, 2016). The Troubling Donald Trump-Huey Long Connection. History News Network. Retrieved May 30, 2023.
- Mercer, Adrian (May 1, 2018). Trump's Disturbing Similarities with One of the Most Corrupt Politicians in U.S. History | Opinion. Newsweek. Retrieved May 30, 2023.
- Nelkason, Annika (March 3, 2019). When Demagogic Populism Swings Left. The Atlantic. Retrieved May 30, 2023.
- Carmichael, Ellen (August 1, 2021). Huey Long Was Wrong. National Review. Retrieved May 30, 2023.