The Absurd Sanders-Trump Comparison

Stephen Marche wrote in The Guardian, “The same specter of angry white people haunts Saunders’s rally [as Trump’s], the same sense of longing for a country that was, the country that has been taken away.”

Jonah Goldberg penned in the National Review an article entitled, “Sanders and Trump: Two Populist Peas in a Pod?” He argues government incompetence and lies sparked “populist backlash” on the Right and Left, and that Sanders’ and Trump’s “programs overlap a great deal.”

His “evidence”? He notes “Sanders has praised Trump’s favorable statements on single-payer health care” and juxtaposes Sanders saying capitalists benefit from the cheap labor of illegal immigration and Trump saying “real immigration reform puts the needs of working people first — not wealthy globe-trotting donors.”

In The New York Times, David Brooks writes Sanders and Trump  have “no plausible path toward winning,” that these “cults never last,” and that “these sudden stars are not really about governing. They are tools for their supporters’ self-expression. They allow supporters to make a statement, demand respect or express anger or resentment.”

George Packer in The New Yorker article “The Populists,” while correctly highlighting the stark difference between Sanders’ “plausible reforms” through “elections and legislation” and Trump’s “just let [me] handle it” absurdities, nevertheless echoes Marche and Brooks, and then says:

Responding to the same political moment, the phenomena of Trump and Sanders bear a superficial resemblance. Both men have no history of party loyalty, which only enhances their street cred—their authority comes from a direct bond with their supporters, free of institutional interference. They both rail against foreign-trade deals, decry the unofficial jobless rate, and express disdain for the political class and the dirty money it raises to stay in office.

The whole comparison between Sanders and Trump is truly absurd, and accomplishes nothing except serving as a slur to discredit Sanders, who has 32 years of elected office experience and is the most popular senator in the nation. Whether this is the purpose behind the comparison is up for debate, but the result, obvious to any rational person, is that Sanders is dragged into the mud with a racist with no political but much fear mongering experience.

What other purpose does this serve? What is the point of noting these two politicians have armies of passionate followers and have skyrocketed in the polls in a brief time period? That anti-establishment candidates are popular in a time of great discontent with the establishment?

That is true, and it is right to report it, but if such information isn’t immediately followed by the drastic differences between Sanders and Trump in both personalities and policy goals, if political theorists grasp at straws to show their followers have the same motivations, it likely amounts to nothing more than the establishment of guilt by association. Put Sanders’ name next to Trump’s and hope the disgust toward the latter will somehow shift toward the former.  

This foolishness is not hard to replicate. Watch. Noam Chomsky is a Leftist historian and philosopher who is generally ignored by the mainstream American media. David Duke is a white supremacist, the former Grand Wizard of the K.K.K., and a Republican politician who is generally ignored by the mainstream American media.

Why are they being ignored? There must be parallels between their personalities and beliefs, and of course those of their followers, to explain this. How are they the same? They’re both white and have many passionate white followers. Their followers must be angry, hungry for change. They’ve both written books. The Southern Poverty Law Center called Duke “the most recognizable figure of the American radical right.” David Horowitz called Chomsky “the most prominent leader of the radical Left, with cult status among the group.”

But why go hunting for what they have in common as an explanation for why they are both ignored by the mainstream media, when really their only commonality is they are both ignored? Could it be they are ignored for very different reasons? Perhaps because Chomsky is a fierce critic of the American government’s massacre of innocent people overseas, but Duke openly despises black people? Perhaps their followers have different sentiments, too, explaining why they gravitate towards one or the other, but not both.

Yes, Sanders and Trump both came out of nowhere. Both have huge followings. They aren’t typical candidates. They’re “populist,” i.e. representing the interests of ordinary citizens. Sometimes they talk about the same American problems — joblessness, trade, immigration, corruption — just like every single other political candidate.

After that, there are no similarities. Sanders hugs a young Muslim woman at a rally and promises to do everything in his power to “rid this country of the ugly stain of racism.” The crowd cheers. Trump looks on as a Muslim woman, “Salam: I come in peace” emblazoned on her shirt, stands up at a rally in silent protest. She is removed by security, to the glee of the screaming crowd.

Sanders goes to a mosque to demand an end to religious bigotry; Trump calls for the monitoring of mosques and the banning of Muslim migrants, and is open to registering Muslims in a database or issuing them special identification.  

Sanders stands with striking fast food workers to show solidarity in the push for a higher minimum wage; Trump opposes a higher minimum wage and thinks wages are “too high” already.

Sanders declares, “Black lives matter…we need to combat institutional racism from top to bottom” and fix “a broken criminal justice system”; Trump shares racist misinformation online, takes out ads in newspapers calling for the execution of black suspects, and is sued for refusing to rent to blacks. His supporters beat a black protester. Neo-Nazis call him “glorious leader.”

Sanders wants a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants; Trump stereotypes them as rapists and drug dealers, and wants to round them all up and deport them. His supporters beat Hispanics at rallies and on the streets, chanting “USA! USA!”

Looking at the most common themes of the campaign thus far, Sanders and his followers are most angry at the powerful, the few growing rich off the labor of the many and controlling government policy to boot. Trump and his fans are angriest at the powerless: immigrants escaping dire poverty and drug violence in Central America, blacks protesting police killings of unarmed neighbors, Syrians fleeing a brutal civil war.

In short, Sanders is a good man who genuinely wants to better society for many powerless, marginalized groups, and a lot of Americans agree with him. Trump is a bigot who stokes white pride, anti-immigrant hatred, anti-Muslim terror, and other dangerous ideas, and a lot of Americans — too many — agree with him.

Anyone who has paid any attention to current events (or the candidate platforms) knows the Sanders-Trump comparison, beyond their swift rise, is empty. They are not “peas in a pod.” Their programs in no way “overlap a great deal.” You may find “angry white people” at both candidates’ rallies, but they are not similarly-minded angry white people.

Sanders and Trump are very different men saying very different things and are adored for very different reasons. In such a “political moment,” this isn’t the time for political thinkers to draw parallels that don’t exist just to put something in an editor’s hand for the day, or to feign intellectualism by presenting something true (Sanders and Trump have passionate followers) and expanding it into something false (their passions stem from the same needs and desires), or, worst of all, to slander a good man.

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