Cults of Personality, Similarities between Trump and Sanders

The Scream

Alas, it seems as if the revolution Bernard Sanders has tried to foment has devolved into a prolonged elitist temper tantrum.

Certainly, the impoverished of our country, the “32.8 million adults” who live in “food insecure households,” have not shown up in sufficient numbers at caucuses or voted in primaries, as Sanders himself has acknowledged, bemoaning the fact that “poor people don’t vote.”[1] To make matters worse, when they do, they don’t vote overwhelmingly for him — at least according to the Washington Post:

“Sanders has lost Democratic voters with household incomes below $50,000 by 55 percent to 44 percent to Clinton across primaries where network exit polls have been conducted.”

Sanders has, on the other hand, done a bang up job with younger voters, undergraduates and college-educated millennials, who, if they haven’t actually read Das Kapital themselves, have had it sympathetically explained to them by liberal high school and college instructors.[2] The bad news is that a minority of these supporters have taken “the revolution” rhetoric a bit too much to spleen and turned violent, most notably hurling chairs in general and the c-word in particular at Barbara Boxer during last week’s Nevada Democratic Convention. Afterwards, Bernie supporters bombarded the state chairperson with obscene and threatening voicemails, including a threat to kill her granddaughter, and vandalized the venue where the event was held. Unlike the thugs associated with Trump, who can be identified by their baseball caps and Gadsden “Don’t Tread on Me” tattoos, vulgarians of the Bernie brigade tend to sport pork pie hats and Tibetan mandala ink. Otherwise, you really can’t tell them apart from their behavior.

And, not to put to fine a point on it, despite their antithetical ideologies, Sanders and Trump themselves share remarkable similarities in their MOs.

For example, both propose grandiose policy initiatives without providing details about how these policies would be implemented. Trump, famously, will make America great again by somehow getting Mexico to build and finance a gigantic wall on its side of the border and by coercing China into changing its monetary policy. How, you ask? Don’t ask; trust. Likewise, Sanders will break up banks “too big too fail” and provide free college tuition for American citizens. How you ask? Don’t ask; believe.

What we essentially have in both cases is a cult of personality.

There is a one significant difference, though. Trump condones if not encourages violence at his rallies:

There may be somebody with tomatoes in the audience,” Trump warned people at a rally in Iowa last month. “If you see somebody getting ready to throw a tomato, knock the crap out of them, would you? Seriously. Okay? Just knock the hell — I promise you, I will pay for the legal fees.”

On the other hand, Sanders doesn’t actively condone violence, but rather, merely rationalizes, makes excuses:

“Our campaign of course believes in non-violent change and it goes without saying that I condemn any and all forms of violence, including the personal harassment of individuals. But [my italics], when we speak of violence, I should add here that months ago, during the Nevada campaign, shots were fired into my campaign office in Nevada and apartment housing complex my campaign staff lived in was broken into and ransacked.”

He could, for example, have said something to the effect of “the behavior of a minority of my supporters at the Nevada caucuses was unconscionable, and I want to emphatically condemn it and express my regret that it was done in my name and to make it unequivocally clear to any follower of mine behaving in such a manner that you’re hurting, not helping, our campaign.” He could have also added, “It’s Hillary Clinton who espouses violence as a solution to geopolitical problems, not us.”

I’m not going so far as Josh Marshall and claim that “[t]he tone and tenor of a campaign always come from the top” and “knowledgeable sources” claim “in the last few weeks anyone who was trying to rein it in has basically stopped trying and just decided to let Bernie be Bernie.” However, a lawyer for the Democratic Party in Nevada offered this characterization of the convention violence: “At no time did any Sanders representative make anything more than token gestures towards peace in the hall, and at the times of most intense crisis offered little more than shrugs and smirks.”

Whatever the case, the New Yorker cover artist this week could have replaced the caricature of Trump with Bernie and replaced the elephant with a donkey, and we would have essentially the identical message. It’s not mere happenstance that Chris Matthews interviewed Ralph Nader in tonight’s edition of Hardball.



[2] In fact, I’m talking about myself here.


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