In recent weeks, many Americans have posited that Bernie Sanders is the liberal alter ego of Donald Trump. Both are loud and irascible, and both talk of big (some would say “grandiose”) ideas. They both have cult-like followers, and they are both Washington outsiders. Different, yet alike.
Washington Post columnist Dana Milbank writes, …”Their styles are similar: shouting and unsmiling, anti-establishment and anti-media, absolutely convinced of their own correctness, attacking boogeymen (the “1 percent” and CEOs in Sanders’s case, instead of immigrants and minorities), offering impractical promises with vague details, lacking nuance and nostalgic for the past.”
Sanders, who calls himself a Democratic Socialist, is the political opposite of Donald Trump, who has hitched his wagon to an ultraconservative evangelical base. Yet, for their respective supporters, each holds the promise of a similar type of revolution; one that will “explode the status quo.”
Trump brags of leading “a movement the likes of which the world has never seen.”
Sanders talks of a revolution that will result from “the most unprecedented campaign in the modern history of this country.”
And though each man’s base interprets “hope” differently, both men have a message that appeals to the hope of a similar mindset, at least on the surface: Blue collar workers, mostly white, who are disillusioned, tired of falling through the cracks, and weary of a system they think is rigged against them. Their base supporters see these figures, older white men though they are, as outsiders who have their backs, and who came to challenge the system and set it right. (“Help me, Obi-wan Kenobi. You’re my only hope.”)
Both have bases that include extremist supporters who are loud, often abrasive, fanatical, and unconditionally loyal to their respective movements in similar ways. Black-and-white absolutes define and categorize the world into good people and bad people; smart people and stupid people. Villains and victims.
“…Sanders is a populist of the left as surely as Trump is a populist of the right, with a familiar distaste for compromise and a comparable appeal to Americans outraged or disgusted by politics as usual and by the usual politicians,” writes Frank Bruni of the New York Times.
Sanders offers hope in “Medicare for All” while Trump ridicules the idea, signing legislation that gives financial protections to the multi-million-dollar commercial health insurance industry. Where Sanders warns about climate change, Trump has rolled back environment-friendly legislation. Sanders refuses to take funding from Wall Street billionaires as Trump cozies up to them. Sanders wants stricter gun control laws, and Trump promises, “unlike the Democrats, we’ll never take your guns away!”
To say that Sanders and Trump are just opposite sides of the same coin, though, is to not consider a key difference between the two. Our president has bluffed and cheated his way through his presidency, and through his life, making up impressive statistics about his accomplishments, putting himself above the law (and tweeting about it), petulantly supporting corrupt practices and people (such as his recent grants of clemency to 11 of his friends and associates who were all convicted of federal crimes), and practicing corruption himself (for which he was recently impeached).
For all of his bravado and bluster, Bernie Sanders, unlike Trump, is not a cheating businessman, a vindictive employer, a briber of porn actresses, or a sycophant of Putin. And for all of his pie-in-the sky ideas, Bernie Sanders, unlike “alter-ego” Trump, talks about his vision in terms of “you” and “we” and “us,” while alter-ego Trump seeks to magnify only “I” and “me.”
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