Trump Like Sanders? Hardly. More Polar Opposites in Mindsets, Values & Proposals


Early on, facile, pro-Donald pundits linked the Trump and Sanders candidacies. Many leftists followed, mesmerized by any evidence of insurgency against entrenchment. As the notion is less true now than then, how amazing this fable doesn’t invite weekly corrective eruptions. It’s not as if core agendas overlap. Quite the opposite, as tone, values and policy disparities swamp superficial linkages. Amidst staggering, mind-bending campaign lying, defamation, and chicanery, time to expose this needless distortion that in the end insults and reduces Sanders’ historic importance as systemic reformer.

One decisive, incontestable difference: Trump’s nomination per current polling demolishes the nation’s most dominant party, jeopardizing its WH and Senate chances, perhaps vaunted House majority, with ripples across countless state races. If Trump fulfills this doom and gloom scenario, that welcome implosion brings down the GOP’s House of Reagan. Sanders as nominee not only doesn’t fracture the Democratic Party but revitalizes a broken, cowardly party with new and young, sustainable, grassroots support. What else truly matters over time?

Mystified by Trump’s opening surge, talking heads searched out patterns: one on the left, one on the right got cobbled together because they appear to indict the status quo (as if one clear thing). Don’t both confront “establishment” hegemony and voice small-fry “populism” plus reject bad trade agreements, hard times, and Washington insiders? Both appear to question military fiascos (though in such different terms). Sanders certainly threatens national and party power centers; Trump, aggressive, often vacuous rhetoric aside, focuses on wrecking how the GOP works, not how to repair the world or Main St. How many billionaires and insiders fear Trump’s wealth addiction or privileged stardom in the rich and famous elite?

Appearances vs. Reality

True, in one season two improbable upstarts confront party favorites, engage less active voters, and foment noisy protests, even a “political revolution.” Typical after a two-term presidency without clear, popular heirs. But Trump is stylistically a deviant (quasi-liberal) Republican, while Sanders resurrects the strongest, reform Democratic legacy, the culmination of the Progressive Era spanning Wilson-FDR-LBJ. Trumpery wants to chainsaw his adopted party, Bernie to revive the best, progressive Democratic triumphs.

That’s why hordes of rock-ribbed Republicans can’t stand Trump (beyond the doomsday electoral dread) because he’s no true conservative, amplified by his arrogant, rich-kid style and shotgun belligerence. How many Democratic stalwarts denounce Sanders’ idealistic politics (however hard to pull off) or declare him unqualified? Few to none. Yet savvy leftists still echo Trump-Sanders parallels, per this dicey Salon headline, “Hey, Democrats, stop gloating — your party is imploding right before your eyes, too.”

The clear record exposes profound opposition, especially what matters most: the mindsets that would orchestrate WH administrations. No surprise, considering how  their backgrounds, experience and philosophies radically differ, let alone that one offers workable solutions and Trump tosses off contempt, condescension and sound bite verbiage. Can anyone imagine Sanders echoing Trump this weekend, “If I acted presidential, I guarantee you I wouldn’t be here” [making speeches]?

Run America Like a Business

Trump is an egocentric, hustling entertainer whose own media dominance surpasses his initial WH fantasies. Only now is this undisciplined amateur hiring (dueling) professionals to reverse astronomical disapproval numbers. Trump is an unashamed billionaire braggart whose empty motto — make America great again —- promises salvation but only but with knee-jerk GOP memes: reduce taxes, banish federal waste, corruption and regulatory interference (both discredited job creators) — all orchestrated by super-rich tycoons running the US as a for-profit corporation.

Don’t worry about Democrats or Congress or the Courts, Trump declares: all will cower before his personal magnetism and negotiating genius, delivering riches beyond the dreams of avarice. A virtual Trump coup d’etat thanks to his magic Midas touch — or more darkly, a velvet glove over a merciless iron fist, with the Trump Oligarchy Parade in full charge. Delete the Trumpster’s wars on immigrants, women, minorities and Muslims, all that remains is the harshly ruthless “business of America is business,” a world divided by big winners and hard losers.

Sanders could not be more different: an unassuming, leftwing movement-maker who targets corrupt big business as the enemy, proposing government as the only real offset. Sanders’ compassionate progressivism views unfair taxation and corporate welfare as enriching the 1% at everyone else’s expense (literally). Clearly, Sanders’ vision is opposite to Trump’s hypnotic gestures — to awaken the collective, 99% how its self-interest is battered by reckless bankers and the 50 CEOs running the most injurious oil, mining, chemical and industrial powerhouses. Sanders is the inclusive, tolerant champion of the majority, Trump the nasty divider into hostile tribes.

Sanders’ Enemy: Profits Above People

While Sanders defies the oppressive status quo, he refuses to fabricate any Donald-style cult of personality. Opposite to Trump’s bizarre magic thinking with its instant payoffs, Sanders argues systemic reform is a hard, long, collective quest. Trump badly delineates the “status quo” he detests, using it as scapegoat symbol for his fear-mongering gloom and doom. Sander never claims messianic powers whereas Trump offers himself as the no-cost, self-financed savior only a truly stupid country would dare reject.

Does Trump indict inequality or the god-given privilege of fat cats to accumulate as much treasure as possible? Does Trump not defend the fraudulent “free market” that concentrates wealth by taking it from the middle and working classes? Does Trump indict state subsidies in housing (having enriched him) or for oil and mining firms? Or push for fewer trillions to the world’s most damaging business, “defense spending,” as in arms, proxy warfare and global militarism?

At odds with Republican memes, Trump ridicules Obama’s foreign policy as both too much or too little, declaring failed wars haven’t kept suspicious Muslims, let alone terrorists, in their place. Aside from threats of massive, banishment or far more violence, Trump has no real-world anti-terrorism program — beyond “elect me.” World safety then depends on his being the world’s best negotiator yet how many fanatics welcome peace talks or compromise? For Trump, the Iranian nuclear deal is awful because it’s not punitive, heavy-handed or imperialistic enough, sounding like any tin-pot, saber-rattling monarch disciplining the serfs.

Trump, the Reactionary ‘Maverick’

Trump is no maverick here, echoing brutal neocons plus von Clauswitz: that war is simply the continuation of (imperial, exceptionalist) policy by other means. To enemies of American greatness, all bets are off. In Trump’s jungle model, it’s always us vs. them — following Rumsfeld-Cheney delusions. Why per business logic did we spend billions on nukes if we never use them?

In fact, Sanders the democratic capitalist-socialist defies the concentrated power that drives Trump’s “dominance is all” strongman bluster. Unlike Trump, Sanders wants systemic change of domestic economic priorities and political structures (especially on taxes and insidious lobbyism), plus a curb on US foreign belligerence. Sanders wants government to be part of the solution while Trump, like Reagan, rails against tyrannical government as the great obstacle to profits and prosperity.

Does anyone believe Trump’s worst primary outrages, often indefensible lies, won’t face serious, edge-a-sketch “adjustments”? Trump’s minions readily admit it’s all an act, done simply for disruptive, primary mud-slinging. Here certainly emerges their crowning difference: Trump lies with record-breaking frequency; Sanders stands alone, among today’s politicians, for telling more truth judged by independent measures.

Differences Doom Trumpitudes

Overall, Sanders looks to temperate “socialism,” which Trumpery will mock and slander as full-throated communism. One glorifies rule by oligarchs, worshipping inequality, the other makes inequality his core message; one suckers the disadvantaged, fear-based crowd, the other appeals to the better angels on the left and center. All “populist” linkages disappear because Sanders’ programs conspicuously serve the majority with greater opportunity, education and advancement; Trump is the master illusionist whose policy voids reinforce widespread grievance by favoring the biggest winners and more of the same.

Indeed, Sanders stands for all the Trump hates. Trump is the poster child, the perfect, disruptive storm that drives the Sanders movement. Time to banish this highly misleading distortion: Sanders is not like Trump or vice versa unless core polar opposites are cousins. The unassuming Sanders presents people-oriented messages that widen debate. Trump’s proto-fascist, money-driven demagoguery shrinks debate with deceptive war cries.

And here’s the final difference: Trump is the theatrical, front-running top dog out for himself, out to win, right now, whatever the. Even when push comes to shove, Sanders remains the principled, committed underdog pushing to start a movement, whether he wins this year or the next or in four years.


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For over a decade, Robert S. Becker's independent, rebel-rousing essays on politics and culture analyze overall trends, history, implications, messaging and frameworks. He has been published widely, aside from Nation of Change and RSN, with extensive credits from OpEdNews (as senior editor), Alternet, Salon, Truthdig, Smirking Chimp, Dandelion Salad, Beyond Chron, and the SF Chronicle. Educated at Rutgers College, N.J. (B.A. English) and U.C. Berkeley (Ph.D. English), Becker left university teaching (Northwestern, then U. Chicago) for business, founding SOTA Industries, a top American high end audio company he ran from '80 to '92. From '92-02, he was an anti-gravel mining activist while doing marketing, business and writing consulting. Since then, he seeks out insight, even wit in the shadows, without ideology or righteousness across the current mayhem of American politics.