Trump and Sanders aren’t that different

Christian Finch, Staff Columnist

Populism as a political strategy is one that has seen more than its fair share of use. Because of that, it is extremely prominent in many countries. A belief in populism can be held by anyone regardless of political position, which is what makes it so potent – and potentially dangerous. As infuriating as it may be to hear, some political candidates who would normally be thought to be diametrically opposed have a tendency to take up populist positions and use populist rhetoric – namely the incumbent president, Donald Trump, and the Democratic hopeful Bernie Sanders. At first glance, one might think to suggest that Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders would share anything other than their country of origin is moronic. But under the surface, there are more similarities than one would think.

To show how similar the two are, we need to make sure that we understand what it means to be a populist. Oxford Dictionary defines populism as “a political approach that strives to appeal to ordinary people who feel that their concerns are disregarded by established elite groups.” With this definition in mind, the picture begins to become a bit clearer. When one looks at the words used by not just Trump, but  by the larger portion of popular Republican and conservative mouthpieces, the rhetoric used paints the picture that liberals, Democrats, etc. are out of touch with the voters, uselessly educated with degrees that aren’t practical and are far removed from the minds of common Americans. This is a strategy used to distance the politician from the voter, and it has a very strong precedent in the United States. Historically, the best example can be seen in the campaign of Andrew Jackson, who commonly used this stance to distance himself from his opponent John Quincy Adams. This ultimately led to his victory and the ushering in of the “Age of Jackson.” But for today, it just means that populism has a precedent and can work politically.

Now let’s take a look at rhetoric from the leftist crowds – those who support Sanders. They would make the claim that it is the wealthy, greedy individuals who use their money only for increasing their own capital and harming the lower classes who are out of touch with Americans. This rhetoric isn’t new, either. There were massive pushes for more left-leaning government and economic policies following the Great Depression and to a lesser extent in the period between both world wars. The key takeaway is that this is not new by any stretch of the imagination. Words may not be enough to convince someone that Trump’s and Sander’s approach to politics is similar, so another example would be how they make their platforms. Populists generally tend to focus on single issues; they can have more, but they tend to mainly revolve around one core issue. Trump focuses on the strength of the economy, the stock market, trade, unemployment and jobs in general. Sanders is renowned for his hyper-fixation on healthcare coverage, co-payments, access to healthcare and the general cost of medical treatment. It bears reiterating that they can and do talk about other issues, but few would deny that the vast majority of their focus is placed upon these single issues.

While this column isn’t meant to be a direct attack on populism itself, it is worth bearing in mind that populists have a historical tendency to locate scapegoats for the country’s issues – Trump’s generally being the Democrats, and Sanders’ being people in the country that have exuberant amounts of wealth. Regardless of who wields populism as their political vehicle, in other countries, it has historically led to a massive amount of harm to others. This is a similarity that must be watched with extreme vigilance.