In perennial quest for an impactful, major candidate, progressives warmly embrace Sen. Sanders. No other national candidate yet offers serious proposals to level the job and career playing field, a measured (not perfect) foreign policy firmness against “dumb” wars, and evolved tolerance for American diversity. What distinguishes Sanders, truly the total opposite to Trumpery, is how he expands high campaign energy with zero venoms. Just like Dan Quayle was hardly JFK, Trump is no Bernie Sanders. And never will be.
One leader prospers by refusing negative cheap shots while the put-down con artist cannot go two sentences without slinging mud or contemptuous slams. Whereas Trump narrowly pitches his demagogic racism to the least aware on the right, Bernie’s grassroots calls against billionaire rule and for economic justice bridges left, right, and middle. Even Sanders’ critics don’t impugn his sincerity or genuineness, a model of loyalty to career principles. That makes Bernie that rare political bird: an honest reformer who infuses political action with the morality of compassion.
No one doubts the battles President Sanders will initiate on Day One for, like the pope, he’s all about systemic disruption of the status quo. How opposite to Trump, with his chin-thrusting bravado, the blowhard riding divisive wedge issues without proposing one single, substantial position on any major challenge. Why should the Donald money bags urge serious reform of the “free market” casino that repeatedly covers repeated bankruptcies?
Simply Left-Right ‘Extremism’
Thus, I laugh-out-loud whenever so many talking heads compare Sanders, whose moral leadership is about socializing the worst of capitalism, with the grandstanding, opportunistic who mouths whatever chicanery wins media time. In what meaningful way is Sanders the “left-wing extremist,” like Trump the “right-wing extremist”? One is about collective, populist insurgency and the other calculated, self-absorbed repugnancy. Both allegedly “speak their own minds,” and “stand against the party establishments;” both channel “rage towards do-nothing leadership,” ardent voices against our gridlocked politics.
When has Bernie made even one “extremist” peep? Or gained by viciously assailing top figures (vs. Trump, whose ridicule knows no limits or taste)? Beyond a few superficial parallels, any scrutiny exposes this soundbite kinship as media fabrication. Contraries swamp facile linkages. Measured by his strong, specific proposals and uncle-like persona, the Sanders’ surge defies all that is Trumpismo –especially glorification of celebrity while reducing politics to old-style, stand-up “insult comedy.” Whereas Sanders lives in the real world, respectful of other thinking beings, Trump offers the clownish vaudeville of facile putdowns, platitudes and prevarication. Nothing more closely echoes Colbert’s satire of the loudmouth, right-wing talk show host than Trump.
With three lies for every truthful lurch, Trump’s the cynical jester who suckers in naive voters just as his casinos predate “loser” gamblers. No surprise, this week his suspect immunity from disgrace is fading as the “real” (uninformed, arrogant, know-it-all) Trump surfaces. Whereas Sanders speaks to everyone’s higher self, Trump is the bottom dweller who exposes the moral emptiness of the rightwing base. And the jaw-dropping joke: the deluded base cheers on this “ex-liberal” faux conservative who’s anything but a good Republican.
Trump Wedges, Sanders Bridges
Trump is the wedge that divides the right, yet even his half truths are buried by vanity and presumption, especially his fantasy claim of governance superiority over craven, “stupid” politicians. There is no “there, there” after months of Trumpery, thus presaging a farcical presidency, equal or worse than the Bush-Cheney fiasco. Instead of critiquing conspicuous consumption and gross inequality, at heart the Sanders’ and Pope’s message, Trump glorifies the worship of “just being rich,” the cancer that eats at America and capitalism. Just what our mounting excesses need: the amping up of American Exceptionalism in bed with Conspicuous Billionaire Consumption. No other visible target of satire, not millionaires O’Reilly or Limbaugh, billionaire WS bankers or the Koch Bros, better exposes what’s wrong with American democracy, electoral imbalances, and need for change more than Trumpster himself.
To compare Sanders with Trump is thus to confuse humane. comprehensive solutions with scurrilous maladies. So for multitudes not duped by your toxic stew, Mr. Trump, you are no Bernie Sanders. You are a parody of what anyone — rich, poor or in-between — should emulate as moral, intellectual or political leadership. Any direct comparison to Sanders is second in hilarity only to wing nuts who “hate government” but cheer Trump’s absurd “solutions” — certain to explode the federal budget. Figure hundreds of billions to re-arm against the Muslim hordes, then build outrageous walls against Mexico, then hire tens of thousands of federal agents to round up and exile 11 million American workers.
Last Hurrah, Top-down Selfhood
Finally, one simple, yet glaring contrast trumps the rest. The Donald’s pageant is a one-man show zealously about one thing: Trump and his laughable, outsized ego: “Trust me and there will be jobs and safety from all threats and restoration of American greatness.” Consider this root of the Trump root vs. Sanders’ selfless movement orientation. “What this campaign is about,” repeats the challenger, “is not just about electing Bernie Sanders for President; it is about creating a grassroots political movement in this country.” Those words could not escape any egotist’s mouth. Trump’s parade of outrages has a life span in the months, then crashes and burns when voting starts — the seasonal rightwing meteor, a media flair-out in decline. The game is up and his polling is downward.
However Trumpery exhausts itself, it will come to nothing in addressing the plight of the middle class, his (loser) poor or discarded downtrodden? That demands a serious adult in charge who understands Washington and the entrenchment circling the status quo — and how to people the barricade against the fortress. That depends on a leader who not only knows how to win votes, but never forgets how systemic reform movements succeed — and it’s not about him, his style or visibility, especially not his ego. Sanders knows a breakout progressive coalition must survive his campaign — win, lose or draw.
For all of Trump’s gimcrackery, the candidate and persona only define his empty “platform,” the farcical wars of words at the heart of his vanity run. Sanders’ collective campaign and moral persona IS his populist platform, thus marking the dramatic contrast that mocks any visceral comparisons. In the end, let’s invoke the good book for pertinent truth, “For those who exalt themselves will be made humble and the humble will be exalted.”