Trump, Sanders and American rage

February 11, 2015

Trump, Sanders and American rage against the Establishment

The yearning for leaders from the fringes will have profound implications for the US and the world

For those who are worried that Donald Trump is a new Mussolini in the making, I have reassuring news. Based on his performance at a weekend rally in Plymouth, New Hampshire, Mr Trump is far too boring a speaker to make a convincing fascist dictator.

His long, rambling discourse — sprinkled with complaints about how long it had taken him to drive to the venue in the north of the state — left his audience yawning, with some leaving early to get to Super Bowl parties. Even Mr Trump’s traditional crowd-pleasers about “building the wall” with Mexico received only tepid ovations.

Yet, despite his manifest flaws as a speaker and as a human being, Mr Trump has succeeded in dominating the run-up to the US presidential election for months.

His success in the Republican race — and that of Bernie Sanders, a self-described socialist, on the Democratic side — testifies to how the political establishment has lost the trust of voters.Many Americans seem to have concluded that the political system is so corrupt and dysfunctional that only a total outsider can be trusted to take charge.

The point was driven home to me while talking to a potential Trump voter on the fringes of the Plymouth rally. This man, a prosperous-looking lawyer, told me that if he did not vote for Mr Trump he would opt for Mr Sanders.

The Trump and Sanders pitches to the voters have certain strong similarities. Both lambast all mainstream politicians as in hock to corrupt special interests and lobbyists. Mr Trump, a billionaire, makes a virtue of the fact that his campaign is self-financed — making him immune, he says, to the pressures brought to bear on all the other Republicans by their donors.

Mr Sanders has raised most of his campaign money from small donations and has put Hillary Clinton on the back foot by pointing to the hundreds of thousands of dollars she has accepted in speaking fees from the likes of Goldman Sachs.

Mr Sanders’ argument that “the business model of Wall Street is fraud” is finding an audience. Indeed, if anybody has said a good word about Wall Street in this election, I must have missed it. The most that Mrs Clinton will do is to suggest tentatively that “greed” in high finance, while bad, is not the only pressing problem facing the US.

She will be the Comeback Hilary–Who Knows!

The battle for the US presidency has shifted into a new gear as caucuses and primary elections are held state by state until June. In her speeches, Mrs Clinton consistently displays her impressive grasp of detail and public policy. Yet her campaign’s argument that she would be “ready on day one” to be president emphasises her status as a consummate member of the political establishment. That seems risky when large parts of the US public seem to detest the political elite.

By contrast, both Mr Trump and Mr Sanders are running from the fringes of their parties. Both have said things that would be regarded as political suicide in a normal year. Mr Trump is probably the most openly racist candidate since George Wallace, the segregationist, in 1972. Mr Sanders calls himself a “democratic socialist” — in a country that has always rejected socialism.

Yet the fact that both men are happy to smash rhetorical taboos has strengthened their respective claims to be genuine outsiders. That seems to be what voters are looking for.

Both men go into Tuesday’s New Hampshire primaries as strong favourites to win. The conventional wisdom remains that they will trip up later in the campaign. But, then again, a year ago the idea that Messrs Trump and Sanders could be the winners to emerge from New Hampshire would itself have been regarded as absurd. So who knows?

What is already clear, however, is that America’s political class is only beginning to grasp the depth of the anti-establishment mood that is gripping the US. Almost eight years after the financial crisis, this mood seems to be growing in strength, not weakening. President Barack Obama’s announcement last week that the US unemployment rate is now below 5 per cent barely registered on the campaign trail.

Instead, all the talk is of students reeling under unpayable debts; and of parents having to work at two or three low-paid jobs to make ends meet. The idea that the economy is “rigged” in favour of insiders is now embraced, in some form, by most of the candidates in both the Republican and Democratic parties.

Yet almost all the candidates running in New Hampshire make unconvincing populists. The very fact that they are running for president is a strong indication that these people are successful members of the American elite.

Even Senator Ted Cruz of Texas, who casts himself as the ultimate outsider, is a former Princeton debater married to a Goldman Sachs banker. That kind of dissembling only increases popular cynicism about politics — and facilitates the rise of apparent iconoclasts.

If America’s yearning for anti-establishment leaders from the political fringes continues, the implications will be profound — for the US and for the world. The system, dominated by the Democrats and Republicans, has always rejected the political extremes. That means that, behind the day-to-day dramas, the nation has benefited from a deep political stability, which has contributed greatly to its economic strength and global power. If America’s immunity to extremism is ending, the whole world will feel the consequences.

10 thoughts on “Trump, Sanders and American rage

  1. It not complex at all and infact makes perfect sense. They hate everyone with connections which is well outlined by Outliers ie to make it you need abnormal connections and it is pretty much wired. So rank outsiders to the establishement of politically connected rankers are getting smashed as “american feels they need these complete outsiders to smash the cadre”

  2. If the US is to change and its middle class saved there is only one candidate in the race… Bernie Sanders… He will not and cannot change it on his own but his Presidency, more than that of anyone else’s, might set in motion a grassroot movement necessary for the country.

    It will be interesting to see how the rug is pulled from under his feet…

  3. I am hoping Clinton would win because effectively that means Bill Clinton is back in power. Perhaps, Al Gore can chip in as Vice President……….again………

    Then he can say the same thing to Najib……….hehehehehe

  4. 1. Sanders is a northern Europe-style Social Democrat.
    That is mainstream by European standards. It is only in America that
    a Social Democrat can be considered on the political fringe.

    2. Sanders is the most significant democratic socialist
    politician since Eugene V. Debs. Debs won 1 million votes when he ran for President in the early 1900s on the Socialist Party ticket.
    He was imprisoned for opposing America’s involvement in WW1.
    And then the Socialist Party was hounded into oblivion by the post-WW1
    Red Scare.

  5. Frankie Leung wrote:
    “It is more complicated than what is described in this article.”

    Exactly. Statements such as the US being “a country that has always rejected socialism” show either a lack of historical knowledge or an attempt at disinformation. FDR’s popular administration was nothing if not socialistic – it was not surprising that Reagan called FDR “a communist.”

    Contrary to what the article suggests, Americans are rebelling precisely because the present political set-up is unquestionably extreme. Never before has a US government been so decisively under the thumb of a privileged, corporate class, so much so that, as a recent Princeton University finding revealed, the country is no longer a democracy but a plutocracy. Sanders is simply trying to claim democracy back for the American people. Whether he would succeed against the power of the 1% remains to be seen.

  6. Isa Manteqi wrote:
    “I believe Debs won his votes WHILE in prison…?”

    That was in 1920. Debs had “violated” the so-called “Sedition Act” when he, correctly, accused president Wilson of going back his word not to enter WW1.

    There was another progressive – Henry Wallace – who was FDR’s vice-president. Wallace was often hounded by the rich and privileged who insisted on treating the Soviet Union as an enemy almost immediately after WW2. Though eventually compelled to make anti-Soviet remarks he was nevertheless labelled a Soviet spy and similar unproved charges. Many of Sander’s progressive changes involving racial justice, healthcare, the prioritizing of diplomacy instead of military force, etc could be traced back all the way back to writings/speeches of Henry Wallace.

  7. The Super PACs are already at work spending millions on TV commercials that lampoon these two so-called non establishment candidates. That is the reality of US politics if you cannot get the support of the Super PACs you cannot get ahead in the complicated Electoral College System.

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