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Donald Trump, Bernie Sanders and the politics of division

22/09/2015

I watched TVNZ’s Q and A programme on sunday morning which featured a short piece  on the dramatic rise in popularity of the erstwhile Democratic and Republican presidential front runners in advance of the 2016 election.

As many commentators have already observed, of course, it is fairly absurd to spill too much ink on candidates in the party primary phase of the extremely truncated US electoral cycle more than a year in advance of an election to decide who will replace Barack Obama at 1600 Pennsylvania in the White House but both candidates have drawn significant media coverage for their outspoken views on many issues.

The Q and A report highlighted the apparent stark differences between Sanders and Trump. On a superficial level, both candidates do appear polar opposites but this is deceptive and, in my opinion, their populist rhetoric conveys common threads.

Both campaigns illustrate the point at which fascism and socialism intersect around a common desire to unite people by creating an “other” to serve as enemies responsible for people’s problems. Trump uses basic xenophobia to tell supporters the Chinese and Mexicans are the source of problems. Meanwhile, Sanders rallies against the “billionaire class” and makes the case for “economic justice”.

Both, if their rhetoric equate to their policy platforms, are economic protectionists (note Sanders is no fan of immigration). Their rhetoric plays to those disaffected and disillusioned by politics but ultimately trumpet an exclusionary message. This politics of division, which both candidates share, rests on the common belief that we live in a zero sum world, that anything I should gain must come at your expense  or vice versa.

Their platforms are also nothing new (neither is Jeremy Corbyn’s) but rather the tried and true political tactics of divide and rule.

PS: New York Times columnist David Brooks wrote about the rise of the Anti Establishment candidates last week

Manawatu Standard columnist, Liam Hehir has written a detailed and intelligent analysis of the rise of Trump and Corbyn and the parallels between the two

 

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