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Smoke and Mirrors in Philadelphia

This election, Clinton supporters argue, is about stopping Trump. In fact, it is becoming increasingly clear that it is about stopping the growing movement in this country in the direction of genuine populism. Speaker after speaker took the stage on the first night of the Democratic National Convention had to fight to be heard over chants of “Bernie, Bernie.” There was little applause for most of the speakers, but Sanders’ reception, when he finally took the stage, made it clear that he is the real popular choice for the Democratic nomination.

What the party doesn’t realize, however, is that Sanders’ popularity is not a product of his extraordinary charisma (almost anyone would seem charismatic compared to Hillary). It’s a product of his populism. No one in the mainstream media seems to get that that is what this election is really about. That’s what Trump and Sanders have in common. Independently of whether Trump’s populist rhetoric is sincere, it is the source of his appeal. 

It’s been observed recently that the liberals have won the culture war. Gay marriage is finally legal, state after state is legalizing marijuana, and we have what not so long ago was actually unthinkable –– a black president!

Some of Trump’s rhetoric may be racist, but his racism is not why he’s popular. There’s always some racist or other vying for the Republican nomination. Yes, racism still exists in this country, but it’s on the wane. Yes, police are murdering innocent black people, but they have always been doing that. The existence of the Black Lives Matter Movement shows that increasing numbers of Americans will no longer tolerate it.

What’s important, Sanders asserted in his speech on Monday, is keeping the revolution he started alive. Hillary Clinton, he announced, must be the next president of the United States! Did Sanders receive death threats from the DNC, or is he just not very smart? Sanders didn’t start the “revolution.” He simply rode a wave of populism that had been building long before he announced his candidacy for the Democratic nomination for president, and nothing is more antithetical to that movement than the Clinton campaign.

An anthropologist from Mars, to use a phrase of the late Oliver Sacks, would have a hard time making sense of the DNC’s support of Clinton in the face of Sanders’ clear majority of popular support. Both Sanders and Trump have tapped a vein in this country. The party that will win the election (assuming the election is not rigged) is the party whose candidate does that most effectively. Clinton clearly does not do that. Polls suggest that if she is nominated, she will lose.

So why is the party pushing her candidacy so relentlessly? Because her nomination would halt the progress in the direction of genuine populism. Halting that progress is more important to the party than is winning the election. Big business controls politics in this country and it is not about to surrender that control to a population that has had enough of it. Trump’s populist rhetoric is likely empty, so the possibility of his election is not so threatening to the forces that control this country as is the specter of Sanders’ election.

“Trump must be stopped!” Democrats chant over and over. But this anti-Trump rhetoric is simply smoke and mirrors designed to conceal the real agenda of the party, which is to stave off the revolution in the direction of genuine populism. Democrats, the party bigwigs, that is, would rather lose with Clinton than win with Sanders. They are the people who benefit from the status quo. They are not about to see that change.

It is changing, though, whether they like it or not, and no amount of smoke and mirrors will stop it.

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M.G. Piety teaches philosophy at Drexel University. She is the editor and translator of Soren Kierkegaard’s Repetition and Philosophical Crumbs. Her latest book is: Ways of Knowing: Kierkegaard’s Pluralist Epistemology. She can be reached at: mgpiety@drexel.edu 

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