The media in the United States, having prepared itself to tell the story of Hillary Clinton’s coronation as the Democratic nominee for President in 2016, is now having to decide how to handle Bernie Sanders. The Senator for Vermont is polling strongly in early states and, more importantly, offering a passionate defense of the role of the democratic state, the source of much Clintonian triangulation, and Republican contempt.
True to form, the media has decided to draw a false equivalency, and argue that Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump play the same role in their respective primary elections.
Nothing could be further from the truth. Trump’s campaign is based on his personal celebrity, his grotesque arrogance, a series of bald-faced lies about his “up-by-the-bootstraps” success, and the promotion of racist hatred.
Trump recently declared—in between directing a stream of racist vitriolic rants against Latinos in the U.S. and Mexico—that he would be “the greatest jobs president that God ever made”. If Trump is a godly creation, the divinity certainly possesses a dark sense of humour, combining in the hatemongering candidate the brains of an earthworm, the pelt of a red fox on rogaine, the lungs of a howler monkey, and the attention span of a fruit fly.
Trump’s remarks about Mexico and Mexican migrants are particularly despicable. “They’re sending us not the right people”, he whined, “They’re sending people that have lots of problems. They’re bringing drugs, they’re bringing crime, they’re rapists, and some I assume are good people”.
These remarks are nauseating and display incredible ignorance about the migrants coming to the U.S., as well as the ignorance associated with every ugly surge of nativism across U.S. history. Trump’s willingness to generalize, to hatemonger, to pretend that all of the problems facing our country can be boiled down to a problem with one group, is reminiscent of trends in 1920s Europe, when upstart politicians who began their careers as carnival barkers morphed into something far more sinister. The Guardian fact-checked Trump’s claims about Mexican migrants, and unsurprisingly, found them badly wanting.
Trump’s other policy prescriptions sounded like they’d been pulled out of his backside, mid-speech, and included vague rants about cutting education funding, cutting taxes, and destroying Obamacare, replacing it with something better and cheaper (impossible in the unregulated market Trump pledges to defend).
The media would like to present Trump—with his racism, his outlandish ideas, his serial inconsistency, and his substitution of jingoistic homilies for intelligent policymaking—as a kind of aberration in the Republican Party field. But the GOP’s success stems from its ability to tap into unfounded, racist fears amongst constituents, to whip up hatred, and to distract from the economic inequality the party engineers. Trump jut does all of these things in a more unabashed, less scripted manner.
He can’t win a general election with those views, but if polls are anything to go by, it’s entirely possible to do quite well in a party’s primary, which says something about how far our country has to come when it comes to racial tolerance, let alone equality or harmony.
Bernie Sanders represents something quite different. While Trump’s slavering jowls are perpetually foam-flecked in his bid to substitute rage and bluster for content, Sanders has been morally consistent and politically serious for decades, attempting to pass substantive legislation in Congress to better the conditions of the middle- and working-class, and to create a more equal society.
Sanders’ presidential campaign—more than Hillary Clinton’s, and infinitely more than Donald Trump’s—is based on an accurate reading of the problems facing our country and a genuine presentation of policy solutions. His core themes are the growth of economic inequality and the erosion of democratic government and the need for more democratic control over markets which can otherwise terrorise people and deny them access to goods that should be public.
Sanders discusses the concentration of wealth and political power in the hands of a very small number of people; the dangers of corporate cash to campaigns; the erosion of protections for working people; the stagnation of wages for U.S. workers and the implications for an economy lacking a middle class able to spend and stimulate; the long-term ramifications of climate change; youth unemployment, particularly among young African Americans; serial problems with police culture; the need to consider how—as is the case in other democracies in Europe, Asia, and the Pacific—a stronger and better-funded public sector could enhance the lives of U.S. citizens; the threats to our own liberties that data-collection poses; the need for net neutrality; the threat to environmental, human rights, and labour protections posed by the TPP; and the need for cross-party primary debates.
The last, more of a process- than a policy-point, is significant. Republican-leaning voters deserve to hear more than the bilious nonsense that circulates endlessly in the stale, vacuum-sealed debate process. And they deserve to understand that Hillary Clinton—with her triangulation, her hypocrisy, her empty-policy basket, and her endless equivocations—does not represent the progressive politics that once characterized many now-Republican regions of the country until people like Donald Trump and his fellow GOP candidates came along, selling hatred at a cheaper price than the more complicated, if infinitely healthier and more ambitious vision of social democracy.
Trump’s campaign is all about Trump—the celebrity, the ego, the would-be demigod.
Sanders has been resolute in ensuring that his candidacy is not about him, but rather, his message, and the ideological underpinnings—leftist politics ranging from social democracy to democratic socialism—that have transformed for the better the lives of people in many countries the world over. He has repeatedly invoked the need to re-democratize politics, something that Trump—for all his talk about making America great again—is incapable of achieving because he and his party are working so hard to ensure that corporate power gradually displaces democratic power.
The contrast between the ego-driven entertainer and the committed political reformer could not be greater. And the good that social democracy could bring to U.S. citizens could not be farther from the spiral of hate and loathing promised by Donald Trump.