Trump, Sanders: Two Sides of an Anti-Establishment Coin?

Betteridge’s Law of Headlines teaches us that any headline ending with a question mark demands the answer, “no.”

Donald Trump easily won New Hampshire’s Republican primary Tuesday night. That’s not surprising – he was leading for weeks. What was surprising is that Ohio Governor John Kasich came in second, Texas Senator Ted Cruz finished third, and Marco Rubio’s brief post-Iowa momentum collapsed. Granite State Republicans picked a coarse celebrity populist, and followed him up with literally the only sane Republican candidate left standing.

Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders utterly destroyed former Secretary of State, First Lady, and Senator Hillary Clinton 60-38. That’s a humiliating defeat for Clinton, whose own inevitability seems to be getting the better of her in 2016 as it did in 2008. Sanders makes a far more compelling argument to frustrated left-of-center voters than Clinton; her poor showing is her own fault.

It’s time now for Fiorina, Carson, and Christie to leave the race. Christie bet everything on New Hampshire and couldn’t break double-digits percentage-wise. Carson is now a punch line, and Fiorina is simply not a contender, and never was.

A lot of pundits argue that Trump and Sanders are two sides of the same anti-establishment coin—that they are the figureheads of movements that are sick and tired of politics as usual. All of that takes place before a backdrop of politics as usual that will only outrage Sanders’ supporters—the Supreme Court enjoining the administration’s rules to address pollution and carbon emissions, and Congress’ refusal to hear the President’s budget. The latter is especially galling, because the behavior of Congressional Republicans towards President Obama has been little more than an 8 year-long temper tantrum, with the sole aim being to oppose and embarrass him. But in so doing, they beclown and disrespect themselves.

Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders voters are dissatisfied with the status quo, but there the similarities end abruptly. Donald Trump (and, frankly, Ted Cruz) are so pugilistically right-wing that they know exactly what they’re doing—they’re planning to fundamentally transform America, to coin a phrase. The America they envison, however, would be a horror not only for us, but for people around the world. They are literally battling over who can commit more war crimes once elected.

Cruz is unliked and has carefully crafted a reputation for being someone completely unreasonable, unthoughtful, rude, and unproductive. Remote are the chances that the American people would elect someone so fundamentally uncharismatic and unlikeable, and as many hard-right Republicans who love him for what they think are his “conservative” bona fides, the general electorate is much broader and politically diverse.

Trump’s rise is predictable because he’s a celebrity and he knows how to put on a show. He knows what to say to rile his crowd up, and he’s unapologetic about it. He lurches from bellicose point to crude threat and his followers eat it up. The fact that he has literally no idea or plan to actually carry out any of his empty diktats matters not.

It’s not just about rah-rah war crimes though.

But my God, Trump is a phony. He’s a guy who was born a millionaire, but pretends he’s Archie Bunker. He lives in a palatial high-rise, but talks like he lives in a modest one bedroom in Astoria. He has never not been a member of New York’s real estate and media elite, but he talks like a cab driver or a character in a Damon Runyan short story. All of this is a carefully crafted tactic because his whole schtick is to appeal to the angry, disillusioned older white male.

Trump’s almost Putinesque conspicuous, nouveau-riche glitz and consumption are attractive to people who would spend their money exactly like that if they hit the Powerball. The demographic appeal comes in as a direct reaction to a feeling that the country under Obama has changed into something they don’t recognize. They don’t like same sex marriage, they don’t like Planned Parenthood, they don’t like that we haven’t invaded Syria or “bombed the shit” out of ISIS. They don’t like Obamacare or Medicaid or TANF or SNAP or anything else that in any way helps the poor and underprivileged, thus unreasonably constraining the ability of the rich or big business to get richer or bigger.

Sanders’ supporters are also fed up with the establishment and status quo, but they are younger, more diverse, and don’t think Obama went nearly far enough in transforming America from a country that spends $600 billion on its military with a casual routineness—will invest a trillion dollars to completely de-stablize the Middle East, but then cries poverty when asked to help feed the hungry, care for the sick, or educate the young. Sanders supporters don’t want to roll back the rights of others, but seek to ensure that America return its power to her people, as the founders intended.

Trump appeals to hatred, division, scapegoating, and resentment. He is quick to resort to schoolyard bullying, calling opponents names and carefully affixing blame on people whom it’s easy for his constituency to hate: Muslims. Mexicans. Women. China. Obama. On the other hand, Sanders expands upon Obama’s own 2008 playbook. He calls for unity, hope, shared ideals, goals, and purpose.

This is Brooklyn vs. Queens; left vs. right; love vs. hate; red vs. black; unity vs. division; help vs. harm; thought vs. reaction.

There’s one very critical thing separating Trump’s movement from Sanders’: evil. Donald Trump is sinister, and he isn’t just inciting an angry mob, he’s handing out the pitchforks and torches. Ezra Klein boils the danger of Trump down perfectly,

Trump is the most dangerous major candidate for president in memory. He pairs terrible ideas with an alarming temperament; he’s a racist, a sexist, and a demagogue, but he’s also a narcissist, a bully, and a dilettante. He lies so constantly and so fluently that it’s hard to know if he even realizes he’s lying. He delights in schoolyard taunts and luxuriates in backlash.

But before you demean Trump as just another carnival barker,

He’s not a joke and he’s not a clown. He’s a man who could soon be making decisions of war and peace, who would decide which regulations are enforced and which are lifted, who would be responsible for nominating Supreme Court Justices and representing America in the community of nations. This is not political entertainment. This is politics.

Do you think that Donald Trump would run a thoughtful administration? While Sanders preaches equality, access, change, fairness, thoughtfulness, democracy, and reinvigorating the middle class, Trump preaches hatred, misogyny, war, racism, resentment, and anger. The whole thing is based on resentment and anger, but if Trump wins the nomination, there simply aren’t enough angry, resentful, xenophobic white people available to win. He is a populist demagogue and a textbook reactionary. Klein goes on to explain, accurately, that Trump addresses anger with anger, and is completely without scruples or shame.

Bernie Sanders takes hits for being an old socialist hippie with disheveled hair and lefty ideas. Indeed, his amazing showing in New Hampshire isn’t because he’s from the neighboring state of Vermont, but in spite of it. But there is a fundamental goodness in him and his proposals that, at least in part, informs his support across almost every demographic. Call it democratic socialism or social democracy, all of it is just words, and as awful as the right-wing attacks on Sanders will be if he’s the nominee, most people agree that he has identified the correct problems, even if they disagree with his solutions.

Donald Trump, on the other hand, would “make America great again” by ruling like an African dictator—an intemperate strongman who would lead through fear and threats—things that are decidedly ungreat and un-American.

The establishment is under attack, and that’s good. That’s how peaceful political revolutions work at their core, by shaking up the status quo when the people become dissatisfied. Our system doesn’t allow for you to take up arms against dysfunctional government; it gives you the power to effect political change, if you want it.

If Sanders and Trump win their respective parties’ nominations, the choice will be very clear: empower the average American, or transfer power to an even more exclusive, less temperate, one-man elite? Trump isn’t a joke and he isn’t a clown. Sanders wants to feed the hungry whom Trump dismisses. Sanders wants to ensure that people who need it get health care, while Trump would repeal Obamacare and replace it with vaporware. Sanders wants to educate the youth while Trump quite literally ran a for-profit online college that is accused of massive fraud. On top of all of this, there’s not a whole lot of Democrats nostalgic for the 90s.

This is real life, and it’s time people took it all seriously. Sanders and Trump aren’t two sides of the same coin. Sanders has one side of the coin, and Trump has junk bonds.

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