Sanders, Clinton, and Trump: the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

With the insurgencies of Sanders in the Democratic Party and Trump on the Republican side, the grassroots have spoken out, expressing their smoldering dissatisfaction and alienation with politics as usual. This popular upwelling points to opportunities for independent politics and even political realignments.

Polling results reported in The Washington Post show that insurgency and even socialism has legs in the world beyond the Beltway:

* 43% of likely participants in the Iowa caucus identify as “socialists” compared to only 38% as “capitalists.”

* 47% of all American voters are willing to vote socialist; 59% among Democrats.

* 56% of Democratic voters had a positive view of socialism; 49% considered themselves “anti-Wall Street.”

The Good

Although an independent and self-professed democratic-socialist, Bernie Sanders may well be the “good Democrat” in this race. Sanders has the potential to legitimize the Democratic Party in the eyes of the party’s traditional liberal base of workers, students, and environmentalists who feel abandoned and only vote Democrat as the perceived lesser of two evils.

Sanders swept the 2016 Democrat New Hampshire presidential primary with a landslide 60% of the vote. He won without accepting corporate PAC money, with practically all the newspapers endorsing his opponent, and with almost every Democratic Party official in opposition.

The Democrat establishment has yet to warm up to Sanders. To date Sanders has 44 presidential primary delegates to Clinton’s 394, the vast bulk of whom are unelected superdelegates.

Nor have many of the liberal Democratic pundits felt the Bern. Noble prize winning economist Paul Krugman lauds Clinton’s “fundamental toughness” while warning that there are “bigger problems with his (Sanders’) candidacy than lack of political realism.”

Interestingly, Sanders has been attacked mostly on his political positions and not on some supposed gaffe. There has been almost no ad hominem demonization campaign against Sanders by the Democrat establishment and its media sycophants as there was when another presidential hopeful from Vermont, Howard Dean, ran on a somewhat insurgency platform – though not nearly as progressive as Sanders.

Dean was pilloried by the establishment media for his supposed “scream” indiscretion, which played 633 times on TV in the four days after he enthusiastically rallied his supporters. This completely manufactured smear campaign effectively eliminated Dean from the race.

So why has the Democrat establishment not stooped to character assassination with their near unanimous opposition to Sanders politically? It could be that these gatekeepers have integrity.

A more likely explanation is that they have a stake in preserving the credibility of Sanders in the hopes that, when Clinton takes the nomination, Sanders will be the sheep dog who herds the dissident masses back into the Democratic Party. Sanders has already chosen not to run as an independent and agreed to support the Democrat nominee.

What if Sanders goes on to win the White House? Would his presidency be any different from Hillary Clinton’s? Sanders holds out the hope for a kinder, gentler imperialism with a less rapacious capitalist face. He wants to reform the beast, but not challenge it.

A historical analogy may be pertinent to assess whether Sanders’ intentions could match his ultimate deeds in terms of affecting a political revolution in the US. Recall that New Deal liberal from Texas who had little stomach for strident Cold War warriors and who wanted to concentrate on domestic reform while ignoring foreign policy. But when LBJ inherited the Vietnam War from his predecessor JFK, the logic of Johnson’s ideological assumptions drove him to become the war monger for which history remembers him.

A similar logic would be operating on a Sanders presidency given the imperatives of imperialism today. Sanders, a supporter of NSA’s domestic surveillance at home and “the war on terrorism” abroad, could end up sacrificing his grand domestic reforms to fund the insatiable appetite of the US military.

The Bad

Is Hillary Clinton feeling the Bern and being pushed to the left? After all she came out against the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). As Glen Ford of the Black Agenda Report comments, Sanders may only have forced Clinton to lie more.

The North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) was Bill Clinton’s greatest achievement in his eight years in the White House. NAFTA sold out the unions and the environment. While many Republicans supported NAFTA, only a Democrat was able to force such a betrayal down the throats of the party’s own constituency to the cheers of Wall Street.

Recall Obama-the-candidate promising to repeal NAFTA, close Gitmo, forbid companies in bankruptcy to give bonuses to their executives, sign the Employee Free Choice Act (making it easier for workers to unionize), etc. Recall too that Obama was the candidate favored with the most financial contributions from Wall Street, who promptly paid back his sponsors when in office.

There is little reason to expect better from Mrs. Clinton, especially on the TPP, which is like NAFTA on steroids.

Clinton promotes herself as some sort of progressive, but she is demonstratively closer to the Republican candidates on key issues than she is to Sanders:

* Reinforce military alliances against China.

* Strengthen US military alliances generally.

* Maintain Israel’s military superiority.

* Establish a no-fly zone, conduct more US airstrikes, arm foreign mercenaries, and allow US Special Forces to engage in combat in Syria.

* Increase sanctions and bolster US weaponry against North Korea.

* Ratchet up US sanctions against Russia and expand US military in Eastern Europe.

Given campaign promises like these, Clinton may well be the one who is out of touch with Democrat base. She may be the “bad Democrat,” but the “good Republican,” in this race.

As a Republican acquaintance of mine presciently crowed the day that Clinton-the-husband won the presidency in 1992, “the best Republican won,” meaning the nominal Democrat would better implement a pro-business/military agenda traditionally associated with the Republican Party. In practice, the Democrats prove to be not the “lesser evil” but the “more effective evil.”

The Ugly

Despite leading in the polls, Donald Trump still has a tough slog to go to get the Republican nomination. He won the New Hampshire Republican presidential primary with 35.3% of the votes. However, what passes for moderates in the Republican Party – Kasich, Rubio, and Bush – got a combined vote of 37.4%. As the horse race continues and the anointed “moderate” eventually emerges, Trump may well lose his lead.

Meanwhile Senator Ted Cruz is on Trump’s right flank. Cruz, a more fundamentalist Christian and a more consistent right-winger, wants to keep the US embargo of Cuba.

In contrast Trump finds himself in the same camp as Sanders on ending the embargo of Cuba as well as abiding by the Iran nuclear deal, opposing the Iraq war, rejecting the TPP, and denying cuts to Medicare and Social Security. Nor does either Trump or Sanders oppose same-sex marriage. Once both candidates were pro-choice, with Trump now hedging on this key social issue.

Of course Trump, with his Islamophobic and immigrant bashing persona, is UGLY. That could be a fatal flaw to his candidacy in a party that must preserve its share of the heterogeneous but usually pro-immigrant Latino vote to win the presidency.

Revolt of the Insurgents in Both Corporate Parties

As the disaster that is neo-liberal capitalism lurches forward, increasing numbers of disaffected and disposed are left in its aftermath. These are the people who are responding most to the insurgency campaigns of Sanders and Trump.

In the 1850s, one of the two major US political parties experienced an anti-slavery insurgency, which split off to become a third party and is today the Republican Party. Meanwhile the parent party, the Whigs, faded into oblivion.

The Sanders and Trump insurgencies may be harbingers of fractures to come within the Democratic and Republican parties as populist peripheries splinter from the parties’ corporatist centers.

Battle for the Working Class

The demographics of both the Sanders and the Trump supporters have some notable similarities…many are working class. The great challenge for the left is to win over these disaffected and disposed or surely they will become the shock troops of the right wing.

This pressing task of winning the working class is not an easy one, because at least part of Trump’s appeal is bigotry and the data suggest a disturbing correlation between his supporters and racism. A similar divide relates to the immigration issue.

It is easy enough for the left to dismiss Trump as a racist and nativist. But it will be a hard nut to crack for the left to figure out how to woo working class people with whom we have unity on some but not all fundamentals in a principled manner and not simply write them off. We need to pull these folks to the left, not push them to the right.

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Roger Harris is on the board of the Task Force on the Americas, a 32-year-old anti-imperialist human rights organization.


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