The two most similar candidates running for president currently are Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump. Despite their aesthetic differences and opposing vanity attributes, they are both uniquely different than the candidates they face in their respective races. Yes, they both capitalize on anger and yes they are both insurgents who break the mold, but the real similarity lies in their conflicts with their respective party tickets and their approaches to the issues about which they are most vocal.
Both Sanders and Trump are relatively unconcerned when it comes to foreign policy. Yes, they will answer questions when forced to, but unlike the late Marco Rubio and Hillary Clinton, they do not build their soapboxes atop grand models of global interventionism. The Donald complained loudly a few debates back about the amount of expenditure lavished upon regime change pet projects overseas which garner intangible and incomprehensible benefits for the American people while our roads and bridges crumble back home: “We have spent $4 trillion trying to topple various people that, frankly, … if we could have spent that $4 trillion in the United States to fix our roads, our bridges and all of the other problems, our airports and all of the other problems we have, we would have been a lot better off — I can tell you that right now.” Back in February of last year Bernie Sanders argued for his proposed infrastructure bill by arguing that it would be far cheaper than the Iraq war and actually provide a tangible benefit for the American people. They make essentially the same argument on this point, much to the chagrin of the DC war party which is supported by both Democrats and republicans.
Another specific policy in which these two share great similarity is international trade. Trump and Sanders both bemoan the awful deals that have been made with other nations and the very real negative effects felt in sectors of the American workforce. Sanders has loudly voiced his opposition to the TPP, along with older standing deals like NAFTA. In a paper written against TPP Sanders makes the following argument:
The TPP follows in the footsteps of other unfettered free trade agreements like NAFTA, CAFTA and the Permanent Normalized Trade Agreement with China (PNTR).
These treaties have forced American workers to compete against desperate and low
-wage labor around the world. The result has been massive job losses in the
United States and the shutting down of tens of thousands of factories. These corporately backed trade agreements have significantly contributed to the race to the bottom, the collapse of the American middle class and increased wealth and income inequality. The TPP is more of the same, but even worse.
China has been one of the worst offenders. While promoting China’s addition to the World Trade Organization in 2001, the U.S. agreed to permanently confer on China what is known as “most favored nation” trading status. EPI estimates that the United States has lost 3 million jobs to China since that decision was made . . .
The deck is further stacked against American workers because foreign countries — which make billions selling to our markets — keep U.S. goods out of theirs. Japan, for instance, refuses to provide open access to U.S. car makers in Japanese dealerships. These non-tariff barriers make it impossible for American manufacturers to compete. TPP will fling our doors open to more Japanese cars while leaving their doors largely shut to ours.
When these manufacturing jobs disappear, the effect is widespread. When workers are forced to compete with low-wage countries like Mexico and China, it drives down wages across the economy.
Their core reasoning is exactly the same: large corporations and their backers in the US government are selling out the average worker in favor of deals that increase wealth that the average worker will not directly enjoy. Sure, your Japanese made car might cost you less, but you need a job in order to buy one. They are approaching the issue from the perspective of a worker, not an economist. In the long term, free trade is great and a net gain in wealth, but people don’t vote for the long term and they don’t give a rat’s ass whether many Americans save money on cheaper products when the form of manufacturing which employed them for years just got, to use a term, shanghaied.
Both Trump and Sanders are appealing to years and years of domestic abuse by the powers that be. I’m not arguing that the abuse is overly intentional or as severe as it is made out to be, but the momentum of their insurgent campaigns are a testament to how many people have fallen through the cracks during structural changes in a globalizing economy. Sure, the suits in Washington can point to a graph that shows that everything is fine, and it really is as far as GDP and comparative advantage goes, but the grand mistake by the more macro-oriented politicians is a belief that any average citizen will choose a graph over their pocketbook. As someone who went to college for economics, I entirely understand the models, but I also know that the animal spirits will not stay bottled up in the face of 15 years of stagnant wages and a soft job market.
Power to the People
Aside from politics, Bernie and Trump both find themselves in very similar situations when it comes to their respective primary campaigns. Both of them are quite popular with voters and have proven that they have the voter backing needed to run an effective campaign, but they have also run up against their respective parties. It is a popular line among Republican pundits to claim that Trump is not a real republican. Along the same lines, Bernie’s socialism puts him outside the more mainstream proclivities of the average Democrat voter. I think this chafing has been addressed on a surface level, but the real story hides in the structure of the political parties.
A political party is a corporation like any other. The candidates are the products which they advertise to the American people, and they back said products with money garnered by donors who find their array of policies beneficial to their businesses and livelihoods. The Republican and Democrat parties do not exist to better the lives of the average American person. They are like headhunters who pair talent with supporters who are looking for a certain kind of chief executive. Unlike other corporations they aren’t looking for market share but they are looking for government share. This becomes a tricky balance of keeping the big donors who have specific desires from a candidate and the voters who also have demands. One provides money and the other provides votes.
Both Trump and Bernie have run into the same problem: they have votes, but they don’t have the backing of the large donors. Neither of them want the backing of the large donors. This has put both parties in a bit of a jam. If they swing for the establishment centrist, then they risk losing votes, but if they bite the bullet and go for them, then they risk disenfranchising their donor base base. Sanders and Trump have forced this dichotomy on both sides of the aisle and brought out the simmering anger of the working class against the political machines. In this way they are more independents than a Republican and a Democrat and they have more in common with each-other than their respective parties.
The two men are also very similar in their campaign tactics. One example of this is scapegoating. Many people give Trump grief for his arguments that the American middle class is the victim of shadowy foreign powers who seek to exploit them for their own enrichment. His typical examples are Mexico, China and Japan. In the Trump paradigm, these nations are screwing over the average Joe because our leaders are unable to make fair deals with them and allow the people to get screwed in the process. The lobbyists and corporate fat-cats laugh all the way to the bank while paying lower taxes and saving on labor costs. Bernie Sanders peddles an equally simple scapegoat narrative, only his purveyors of oppression are primarily within the city gates. In the Sanders paradigm, the wall street speculators and big bankers exploit loopholes in the economy and create precarious economic bubbles that lead to crashes. The big guys get bailed out and the average citizen is left with an empty pension.
Like most popular narratives, there is a kernel of truth in both Sanders’ and Trump’s stories. There is just enough truth to make people angry, and that’s all either of them really need to draw such big crowds. They are both preaching a sort of class warfare, only Bernie plays the saintly and selfless servant of the people and Trump plays the guy who has been in the boardrooms: the traitor to the donor class. Neither of them minces words when telling people they are being screwed. Being slighted garners a visceral reaction, and both candidates capitalize on this.
Look no further than the dust-ups in Chicago. Bernie and Trump supporters clashed head to head, because they are the two groups angry enough to throw punches. Their respective candidates have convinced them that the other is out to destroy America. Bernie points to a vague xenophobic fascism and Trump points to a selling out to other cultures and other economic interests. It should be no surprise that some people can’t make their mind up between the two
. Both of them are offering a high-stakes revolution against “the man” and their respective parties, and both have received astonishing levels of support. Personally I like both of them for different reasons and am crossing my fingers for a Sanders and Trump general election, although that hope is quickly fading. That being said, I would not give my vote to either. As a general rule you don’t hand over the keys to a Jacobin.
(Photo Credit: Credit: Reuters/Lucas Jackson/Jim Young)