I heard on the news last night that a large number of Sander's supporters view Trump as their second choice.
I find this shocking and completely backwards thinking.
Not if you consider that a lot of each man's supporters don't seem to really care what they say or what they have or have not done in the past.
Well, I suppose it's still might be shocking that so many people are ready willing and able to be taken in by angry populists, but populists have historically been...popular
in this country, and for that matter, around the world.
I'm sure there are plenty of members of the Sanders camp who are convinced that their fellow Bernie supporters are attracted by idealism not populism, but it's hard to square that with Trump being their #2 choice. I doubt that there are many among the Trump camp who feel motivated by idealism and, in fact, find nothing to be concerned about over their man's populist appeal; quite the contrary.
To a certain degree, left and right wing populist movements are not merely opposite sides of the same coin, they overlap.
While it is not a plank in the Sanders platform, and it was the original plank in Trump's, anti-immigration, particularly in Europe, is somewhat common to both left wing and right wing populism.
Not surprisingly, academics tend to view left-wing populism as more benign that it's right-wing sibling. My personal opinion is that this is due to the fact that the majority of academics are left-wingers themselves, who still fail to view the communist regimes of Stalin and Mao with anything approaching the fear and loathing they reserve for the fascist regimes of Hitler, Mussolini and Franco, despite the fact that judged solely by the number of people killed by them, the far left dictatorships of the 20th Century, were far "worse" than their far right-wing counterparts. All grew from populist seedlings, but because far left regimes at least pay lip service to egalitarianism, left-wing academics absurdly cut them slack.
We are all well aware of the horrendous results of right-wing populism in 20th Century Germany and so are the Germans. As a result, Germany is not in the least welcoming or even particularly tolerant of modern right-wing populism. Yet populism is a proven vehicle for successful attainment of power and true demagogues are far more practical than ideological. There is a good example of this relative to what is now called The Left Party
in Germany. Prior to the name change it was called The Party of Democratic Socialism (PDS), and the irony here is that this name was chosen to distance the party from its communist antecedents.
From what I understand (And perhaps Walter can provide his more insight on this) the PDS changed it's name to The Left Party
, arguably, positioned nominally "closer" to the good old communist days, in part, to counteract the controversy created when its chairman, Oskar Lafontaine used the term Fremdarbeiter
( alien worker
during an anti-immigrant rant. Apparently the term is associated in some way with the Nazi Party and anything in that category seems to, understandably, irritate the sensibilities of the German people.
Lafontaine wasn't a phony leftist though. He also had this to say:
"Financial capitalism has failed. We need to democratize the economy. The workforce needs to have a far greater say in their companies than has been the case so far."
It's perhaps not as befuddling as it might first seem that a large number of people who support the populist Sanders see the populist Trump as their logical second choice, and visa versa.
This my problem with populism. It is not based so much on a set of values or principles but on basic desires and fears, and as such it can accept any number of different means to achieve the desires and drive away the fears. It appeals to base emotions not concepts, logic or aspirations. Now, to some extent all politicians are populists. They win votes by promising people they will get want they want, and that they will be safeguarded against what they don't want...in their lives, but most of them at least attempt to provide something of an aspirational vision.
Few things are all or nothing though. Trump has his vision: He's going to make America great again, by which he means he's going to make America an unapologetic winner "again." He's far more cunning than a lot of his critics accept or will ever acknowledge, and it's possible that every aspect of his campaign and his message has been well thought out and planned. However, while I'm certain he is not, despite appearances, winging a campaign of the Id, I also think he's personally obsessed with winning and views much of life in terms of wins and losses. For millions of people who feel they have been tasting a lot more defeat than victory over the last 8 to 10 years, Trumps fixation on winning is exciting.
Depending on where you live and how old you are, you may remember the classically cheesy Ball Park Franks commercial wherein Luis Tiant, having left the Boston Red Sox and joined the NY Yankees, broadly smiles into the camera and with a hot dog in his hands declares "It's great to be with a weener!"(1) Usually, this is so and Trump's supporters seeing him as a big winner, want him to take them along for the ride. (2)
Some people want things like "free" college tuition, "free" universal healthcare, a bigger chunk of their paycheck, or the freedom to own and/or carry a gun. Yes there are principles and values associated with these desires but , generally, only when the desire is to provide them to others, not oneself.
Populism is only a short distance away from demagoguery and Trump is either a baby-step away or right there, depending upon your point of view. Sanders has a greater distance to cross, but he can easily span the ground by going overboard in his demonizing the wealthy and Wall Street.
To many of their supporters, both of these guys are the middle finger personified. The fact that one is on the right hand and the other on the left doesn't matter as much as we might expect.
(1) My friends and I used to argue about whether or not Ball Park Franks hired the Cuban Tiant because with his accent, "winners" came out as "weeeners" and, of course, this sounds exactly like "weiners," another name for hot dogs. I thought it was merely a happy coincidence, but one upon which they quickly and cleverly capitalized...much the way Trump recognizes and seizes opportunities.
(2) Trumps obsession with winning could be his downfall. He's not a good loser and if his supporters detect a chink in his armor of winning, they could easily take flight and jump on board a new winner's
bandwagon. If it unravels for Trump, I suspect it will be rapidly and with lots of drama.