An enduring theme in US politics is tension between people on the right who favour limited government that serves individual and elite interests and people on the left who prefer active government with emphasis on a broader public interest. Recently, the political landscape has shifted from the dominant ideology of neoliberalism toward a far-right authoritarian populism with parallels to mid-20th century fascism. This shift appears in regressive societal characteristics – such as xenophobia, racism, homophobia, and misogyny – that were thought to have diminished in an increasingly progressive 21st century. An argument can be made that authoritarian populism is a continuation of longstanding patterns of elite influence, in which regressive elements serve as techniques to distract the public from the governing economic agenda. The essay examines this phenomenon and explores potential future effects on US society.