Trump’s actions are aimed entirely at what he perceives as supporting his bloated ego, while Sanders is someone who is little concerned with his personal advancement, Greg Camp argues.

First published in February 2020.

As Bernie Sanders moves into front runner status in the Democratic primaries, comparisons between him and Donald Trump are once again coming out on the establishment left and on the right of our political spectrum, a claim of similarities that first appeared in the 2016 election season.

The implication, for supporters of Biden, Bloomberg, and Buttigieg, is that we must nominate the safe centrist, rather than taking a shot on doing something big. This is meant to frighten the voting middle and shame us progressives. But what the people drawing this comparison do not realize is that they are in a way correct, and that is exactly why Sanders ought to be the choice of the left.

The points on which the two are called the same are concentrated in their populist appeal and on the behavior of their supporters. Both draw large crowds to rallies, and the people on social media who are still with Clinton while contemplating which middle-of-the-road Democrat to support now accuse members of the MAGA crowd or the so-called Bernie Bros of abusive behavior. Both Sanders and Trump identify narrow interest groups as the cause of America’s problems – Muslims and migrants in the latter’s view, Wall Street and military contractors for the former. And both promise sweeping changes – forward or backward – to make America great.

This ignores the radical differences in policy goals of the two politicians. But one lasting danger of Trump’s campaign and presidency is that he has mapped out a path for a future competent demagogue to exploit. He has reminded us of a weakness that democracies have, a flaw that our founders hoped to ameliorate through the electoral college. Populist movements even with the best of intentions possess an inertia that can end in tyranny if we are not careful at each stage to respect the rights of all, especially of those who disagree.

At the same time, what Sanders and Trump have done, learning in part from the 2008 campaign of Barack Obama, is to show that when the establishments of the major parties ignore the needs and interests of ordinary Americans, replacement is an option. In that sense, they fit into a long tradition of American politics of swings back and forth between the commoners and the people in power.

This is not to ignore the dangers that Trumpism adds to mass appeal. At risk of committing a No True Populist fallacy, though, I will observe that Trump’s actions are aimed entirely at what he perceives as supporting his bloated ego, and that, while I admit that Sanders may have me fooled or that I may have fooled myself, my impression of him is of someone who is little concerned with his personal advancement. The test here is to consider the effect of the politician’s platform. A rally can gratify anyone, but Medicare for All looks a lot more other oriented than does using American foreign policy to win an election, no matter how much Alan Dershowitz may insist that a candidate can call his win necessary to the national interest.

The conventional view of Trump’s win cites fake news as a key cause, but here again, there is a revelation being hidden by misplaced attention, an understanding of why fake news could have so much influence. It has not been so long ago – not even outside this century – that a limited set of gatekeepers decided what the general public would be allowed to see. While their expertise added value to the media, they also froze out concerns that their social circle were unaware of. And these traditional broadcast corporations have alienated their audiences as a result.

What social media has done for the country is to give a voice to the masses. We among hoi polloi have an obligation to become well informed on the topics we discuss, but there has been a liberation in the ability to say things that will circle the globe at the speed of typing. We have been given a taste of information’s power, and for many, the 2016 election was about moving forward with that or returning to a condition of media coming in plastic wrapping and sitting on authorized shelves.

As I hinted at above, this has its associated risks. Conspiracy theories are still false. The Earth is an oblate spheroid that is 4.6 billion years old, and vaccines do a necessary job. And this is why education policies are a key plank in the progressive platform. But unless the establishment has found a way to censor the Internet in the western world, we have walked as a society through a one-way door, and the strategically rational thing to do is to figure out how to operate in the new reality.

The Sanders campaign appears to have learned this lesson. And as with all tools, the important question is how they are being employed. Assertive populism worries the establishment of both parties, and we need their counterbalancing influence, but we also have to see what motivates the crowd and where they are going before choosing easy dismissal dueto some shared elements of technique.🔷


Check their Voting Record:

🗳️ Bernie Sanders

🗳️ Joe Biden

🗳️ Michael Bloomberg

🗳️ Pete Buttigieg

[This is an original piece, first published by the author in on 16 February 2020. | The author writes in a personal capacity.]

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(Cover: Flickr/The White House/Shealah Craighead. - Donald Trump. + Flickr/Gage Skidmore. - Bernie Sanders. / Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.)