My friends from both sides of the aisle become apoplectic at comparisons between Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders. But they’re wrong.
Nor is it about anger.
Yes, the far right is angry. They’re stewing in anger. Listen to right wing radio, or to Fox News, or look at your Facebook feed and see what your right wing friends are posting to their boards. It’s beyond anger. It’s fury. They’re angry because they feel betrayed, lied to, and left behind, well, because they have been and they are. They’ve been betrayed by the elitist wing of the Republican Party who’s pandered to them on social issues, promising them things that are absolutely impossible, all the while picking their pockets. They’ve been lied to by a cynical, dishonest right wing media. And they’re being left behind according to any measure you choose—relative wealth, influence, standard of living, etc. Shoot, as science has advanced their entire belief system has been exposed as superstition and nonsense. That’s really being left behind, when everyone of intelligence smirks at the things you believe in.
But the far left isn’t angry. Not really. Sure, we’re disappointed Obama didn’t get more done. But we’re smart enough to realize what he was up against. At least he did something—banking regulation, healthcare reform, military de-escalation, economic stimulation, and some attempts at prison and gun reform. It’s not nearly enough. But it’s something. Under the circumstances, he’s probably done okay. So we may say we’re angry, but what we really are is annoyed. He promised to close Gitmo and bring the troops home. He didn’t, and that annoys us. But as politicians go, he’s done his best to deliver on his promises, even the ones we don’t always like—like taking the high road, being positive, and being inclusive.
Just compare the “anger” on the left and right to see the difference. They have Fox News, we have MSNBC. They have talk radio, we have NPR. They shoot unarmed kids down in the streets, we camp out in front of banks for a few days. It ain’t the same thing.
However, Bernie and the Donald do have something in common beyond poorly defined and likely unworkable policies. Both feed off the cult of “it’s-somebody-else’s-fault.” Both start with the assumption that if your life isn’t where you want it to be today, it can’t possibly be because you fucked up somewhere along the line, or you’re just unlucky, someone did something to make it that way. And the someone that did it didn’t do by accident or because they have a genuine and sincere disagreement based on a different worldview, they did it because they’re bad people who are personally out to screw you. Both replace policy with paranoia.
In the Donald’s case, it’s pretty much everybody, but in particular dark-skinned people. When he says “Make America Great,” we all know that by “great” he means “white and male.” (Well, obviously not everyone knows that because somehow he’s found women and a few blacks who support him, but anyone with an IQ higher than an average body temp knows that’s what he means.) A black president, who can’t possibly be a real American because he’s black, has ruined us with incompetence and a hidden agenda. As an example, Trump cites a poor doctor friend of his who’s decided to close up shop and retire because of all the paperwork. (Boy, that’s who I feel sorry for—doctors rich enough to retire at will.) Brown and yellow people have stolen your factory jobs. Nowhere in The Donald’s view is it his followers’ fault. Somebody did this to them. They want to find that person, or someone who looks a bit like them, and bomb the crap out of them.
Then, they’ll be winners according to Trump. It’s sad, but Trump followers are attracted to messages about winning for the simplest of reasons—they’re losers. At the most basic level, maybe Trump’s right. The only way they’re ever going to be winners is if they can figure out a way to kill everyone who’s more ambitious.
Bernie’s a bit more artful about it, but he’s making the same pitch. “It’s not your fault. The system is rigged against you. The rich are screwing you.” Now to some extent he’s right. Wall Street and big business has rigged the tax code. As I’ve written in this space before, university presidents should be in jail for price gouging and collusive behavior. And new class barriers are being erected as fast as the moneyed rich can buy legacy slots at Harvard.
However, what Bernie leaves out is the idea of individual responsibility. If you don’t want to be sitting home watching TV because the factory in your hometown closed up, then get an education and move. If you don’t want to be paying off two hundred thousand dollars of school debt with a job as a barista, don’t get a degree in sports management or art appreciation or English or diversity studies. Get one in engineering or accounting. You’re not stupid. Yes, the universities led you on and lied to you, but you had four years (or more likely five or six) for goodness sake. How long did it take you to figure it out?
The system is rigged, but it’s not so rigged than most individuals can’t get ahead and do well. Still. There’s still plenty of room at the individual level to succeed, but it requires taking personal responsibility.
In most ways, Bernie and Donnie aren’t alike, but in one key way they are—both appeal to a segment composed of those who attribute their unfulfilled ambitions to malevolent, extrinsic forces, rather than personal choice.