January 18, 2020

Why Bernie Sanders would lose to Donald Trump

If Sanders had been allowed to win the Democratic nomination in 2016, it would have been an interesting election: two populists both running against their respective party establishments with a lot of overlap in their platforms, concerning, for example, war, trade, and even the enforcement of immigration laws for the benefit of American workers.

But now in 2020, Sanders has completely adopted the DNC imperative: “Trump is not just a pathological liar, and it’s not just that he is running the most corrupt administration in the modern history of our country, or that he is a racist, sexist, a homophobe, a xenophobe and a religious bigot. That’s true. But that’s only half the story. The other half of the story is that is that he is a total, 100 percent fraud.” (link) Besides ignoring the fact that he himself was and is still subjected to similar baseless smears, Sanders refuses to acknowledge the overlap of his and Trump’s positions on war, trade, and pro-worker enforcement of immigration laws. In his embrace of the DNC and hatred of Trump, he completely abandoned the latter. And he voted against the USMCA trade agreement that replaces the mutually criticized NAFTA – because, irrelevantly, it doesn’t address climate change! And regarding war, Sanders may occasionally oppose military intervention, but his language repeatedly supports the rationale for it: demeaning other world leaders as thugs and dictators, asserting the USA as necessary to the spread of democracy (which doesn’t reflect much faith in people’s own desire for it, and instead betrays the same tired finger-in-everyone-else’s-pie jingoism by which neoliberal globalism has spread). It is doubtful that he would defy the CIA in any meaningful way but would only continue “humanitarian” intervention, which in action is no different than old-fashioned pillage and slaughter, and in consequence requires virtually permanent occupation since the goal of freedom, democracy, and equality will always remain unattained (especially where the very intervention destroyed (deliberately, as a threat to USA hegemony) the progress that was already being made).

Sanders refuses to acknowledge – and has instead moved away from – not only the concerns that he and Trump had in common in 2016, but also Trump’s progress and achievements on them. He, like all of the Democrats, is running a fantasy campaign. They have so demonized Trump – and his supporters – that they are running against something that doesn’t exist. They are not operating in reality.

In his New York Times editorial board interview (link), Sanders almost acknowledges why voters rejected a continuation of Obama’s failures and took a chance on Trump. But he cannot accept that their choice was informed. He can only explain Trump’s victory as a triumph of racist and sexist demagoguery exploiting desperate people. That requires him to dismiss most voters as deplorable and irredeemable rather than deserving of his interest or concern. Thus Sanders aligns himself with the self-serving ruling elites, not the people.

How did Trump become president? O.K. And I think it speaks to something that I talk about a lot and that is the fact that the — not everybody, but tens and tens of millions of Americans feel that the political establishment, Republican and Democrat, have failed them. Maybe The New York Times has failed them, too.

Brent Staples: That explains the appeal of racism?

Yeah. O.K. What you have is that people are, in many cases in this country, working longer hours for low wages. You are aware of the fact that in an unprecedented way life expectancy has actually gone down in America because of diseases of despair. People have lost hope and they are drinking. They’re doing drugs. They’re committing suicide. O.K. They are worried about their kids. I have been to southern West Virginia where the level of hopelessness is very, very high. And when that condition arises, whether it was the 1930s in Germany, then people are susceptible to the blame game.

To say that it is the undocumented people in this country who are the cause of all of our problems, and if we just throw 10 million people out of the country, you’re going to have a good job, and you’re going to have good health care, and you’ll have good education, that’s all we’ve got to do. So all over the world, Trump didn’t invent demagoguery. It’s an age-old weapon used by demagogues. And you take a minority and you demonize that minority and you blame that minority, whether it’s blacks, whether it’s Jews, whether it’s Latinos, whether it’s Muslims, you name the group — gays? Gays are going to destroy education in America, we all know, yeah. On and on it goes. And you take the despair and the anger and the frustration that people are feeling and you say, “That’s the cause of your problem.”

Now, I think, you raised the question, let me take it a step further. You haven’t asked me, I suppose it’s somewhere on your list, why I think I’m the strongest candidate to beat Trump. Is that on your list of there someplace? Page 2, all right. And that is that there is a hard-core support for Trump, which I’m not going to be able to get through. You’re right. It is racist. It is sexist. I run into that. It’s hard to believe the attitude toward women in some parts of the country. You really would have a hard time to believe it. We’re back into the 18th century in some of these places. It is homophobic. It is anti-immigrant. Do I think I’m going to win those people over? Nah, no way. But do I think we can get a sliver? I can’t tell you how much, 3 percent, 5 percent, 8 percent, of people who voted for Trump because he said, “I am a different type of Republican. I’m not going to cut Medicare and Medicaid and Social Security. I’m going to have trade policies that work for workers. We’re not going to be shutting down plants in America.”
But Trump has, unlike his predecessors both Democrat and Republican over the past 40 years, actually followed through on that promise. Insisting that it is not true will not win over voters. Unlike his predecessors, Trump has not betrayed his supporters. Calling people racist, sexist, homophobic, and anti-immigrant if they still support him or have come to support him is desperate demagoguery itself, and, with a real alternative in the race – which Sanders himself once represented, but no longer does – it will not win.

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P.S.  The other Dems have even less chance.