Everyone loves to hate, mock or ridicule Donald Trump. If you want a quick buzz before bedtime—okay, maybe a blacked-out drunken stupor that precludes the possibility of even finding your own bed—take a shot of whiskey every time you hear Trump’s name mentioned by any of the three or four late night talk show hosts during their opening monologues. You won’t have to flip channels to cop a buzz. They’re all Trump, all the time. Considering that roughly 40% of Republican Party voters support him—maybe 40 million people or so—it’s quite remarkable that no one seems to mind. Maybe the Neanderthals supporting Trump really aren’t so stupid as the talk show hosts implicitly believe, and get that he’s a bit of a bombastic, bellicose buffoon, and think it’s kinda fun to make fun of him, but still see him as the only candidate worth supporting in the Republican field. That’s roughly how I feel about him.
Bernie Sanders, the upstart septuagenarian socialist Senator from Vermont by way of a secular Jewish upbringing in Brooklyn, New York, just won caucuses in Alaska, Hawaii and Washington by enormous margins over the favored Democrat (or perhaps I should say, ‘Democratic favorite’), Hillary Clinton. Nobody much makes fun of Sanders. Maybe because he’s so seriously focused on spreading his socialist message. It kind of spoils the fun when someone appears to be genuinely sincere in their political proselytizing. Sanders’ seriousness recalls the skit on Saturday Night Live about the girl at the party you regret having talked to. Or maybe he gets a pass from late night comedians because he’s lighthearted enough to occasionally make fun of himself, even through all the seriousness. But probably it’s because no one really believes he has any real chance to be elected president, which it might be pointed out was the same thing people thought of Hillary Clinton’s last opponent for the Democratic nomination.
Trump and Sanders together surely enjoy a plurality, if not an outright majority, of support among registered voters. Which isn’t all that surprising, since the candidates are more alike than they are different, and their supporters have in common one very important attribute: they are overwhelmingly White and American. By “White” I mean non-Hispanic, non-Black, non-Asian people of European descent, including Northern European Jewry—a real melted pot that would have no hope of cohesiveness or collective identity except that they are opposed by Blacks and Hispanics and Immigrants. By American, I mean people whose ancestors came here long ago—generally second generation or more. Relative to Immigrants, by which I mean those who recently arrived or who were born here to recent arrivals, Americans are far longer established in the country. They comprise the nation Trump is referring to when he says he wants to “Make America Great Again.” ‘America’, for him and his supporters, does not include people who don’t speak American (not British) English as their first language. It does not necessarily preclude Blacks, but they have up to now been firmly behind Hillary Clinton.
Trump’s is a nativist campaign, so necessarily at times sounds xenophobic and racist. He rails against Immigrants for having taken American jobs. Sanders rails against the real costs of free trade—lost jobs, poorer environment, worker exploitation at home and abroad, and ever-increasing inequities in income distribution. Thing is they’re bashing different sides of the same thing—the New World Order (for lack of a better euphemism) that arose after the collapse of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War.
Characterizing this New World Order are a) declining or stagnant wages for American laborers; b) rapidly concentrating share of income and wealth in the top percentages of income and wealth (the rich getting richer); c) muscular American military engagement across the world for the benefit of American capitalists (not, no matter how often it is pretended, for American civic values); d) capture of each major political party establishment by capitalist elites spending enormous sums directly and indirectly for access and influence; e) lack of immigration control; f) rampant offshoring of jobs to American trading partners operating without even rudimentary labor or environmental protections.
The bottom line: The New World Order screwed over American workers.
This election cycle, American workers are finally beginning to see which way the wind’s a blowing. The Republican rank and file are coming around to the realization that the culture wars the Party tries to sell them are actually a diversionary tactic promulgated by the Republican elite who sold their souls to imperial capitalism and its practitioners as soon as the Berlin Wall fell. (By ‘imperial capitalism’ I mean capitalism that ranges the world over, something like the ships of the Dutch East India Company or the British East India Company, seeking out profitably exploitable opportunities, including people, nations, environmental resources, etc., with no regard for the costs left in their wake. Imperial capitalism is capitalism unfettered by social responsibility. It is free-rider capitalism of the worst sort. It sends soldiers to their deaths to protect its ability to peddle its wares; child laborers to its mills at the break of dawn to trudge at hard labor all day long; pollution into the water and land and sky without regard. It is 17th century capitalism in the great tradition of British joint stock companies commissioned by the Crown, but in the 21st century.)
There was before the fall of the Berlin Wall a sense that we were all in this thing together, or at least among Republicans, that all the white people who didn’t consider themselves intellectual and emotional snobs, were in this thing together. Rank and file Republicans were accustomed to hierarchical social structures, so understood that some among them would be richer and more powerful than others. But they didn’t imagine that there would develop an elitist element in their midst that was so unabashedly focused on power and wealth that they’d throw the rank and file under the bus to achieve it.
The scales fell from their eyes, in stages at first, then all at once, when a charismatic leader not beholden to elitist establishment Republicans finally began speaking to their fears over what unfettered imperial capitalism had wrought. Turns out that it never really mattered all that much to them whether the state did or didn’t allow gay marriage, or that their candidate couldn’t competently quote scripture, so long as their economic future was secure. But now they realize their economic security has been intentionally sacrificed on the altar of imperial capitalism, allowing people who they considered their cultural brethren to get rich at their expense and disenfranchisement. So now they simply ignore the culture war totems to focus on the economics. They understand they’ve been dished a bowl of thin cultural gruel by their Party’s establishment for having agreed to provide political support to a Party controlled by rich capitalist overseers who are the very people ripping the economic rug from underneath them. Their anger is expressed as opposition to immigration and immigrants and offshoring and what they see as one-sided trade treaties.
Some are even beginning to realize that post-Cold War military engagements (Iraq and Afghanistan, mainly), supposedly bringing order and liberal democracy to benighted places around the world, are really just excuses to enrich the military-industrial complex capitalists while providing the muscle needed to protect the ventures of imperial capitalists. The elite get richer and more powerful while the rank and file offer up their sons and daughters for slaughter.
The Democrat rank and file are experiencing much the same revelation, but being a less racially homogenous group, are expressing it less through xenophobia and racism than through anger at the rich capitalists many of its members protested through the Occupy movements. They, too, are against free trade and unfettered immigration—in short, the same imperial capitalists and their methods that Republicans oppose–but are more likely to couch their argument in terms of foreign worker exploitation and the broken communities it creates back home. But they are resolutely against our post-Cold War military engagements, many of them from the very beginning.
Politics makes strange bedfellows. Pick any political cliché and it’s apt to apply to the situation here, which, while unusual for American politics, is quite ordinary in the context of history (else we wouldn’t have the clichés). Trump and Sanders supporters have as their common enemy imperial American capitalism and capitalists. Both groups can see that their common enemy is slowly eroding their power and relevance. A common enemy can operate like an electromagnet, supplying the charge that pulls opposite poles together. Through their political exploitation and economic disenfranchisement of the American working class since the end of the Cold War, imperial American capitalists and capitalism could provide the charge that pulls the quasi-fascist elements of the Republican Party and the quasi-socialist elements of the Democratic Party together in a tight bond in opposition. It’s not as ridiculous as it sounds. Before the Cold War, the Soviet Union was our sworn ally. Hitler provided the electromagnetic charge.
On the Democratic side, the only thing saving Hillary Clinton is the Black vote. Blacks have monolithically supported Democrats since Lyndon Johnson and the Civil Rights Era. They have reflexively supported Ms. Clinton in the primaries, presumably in recognition of Bill Clinton’s reputation as the first “Black” president. But their economic interests are more closely aligned with the Trump/Sanders supporters than with establishment Democrats, who are basically no different than establishment Republicans, except their diversionary tactic is to pretend they believe Black lives matter when in fact they only matter on election day. What has their monolithic support of Democrats done for them economically? Not much, it could be argued. They are as likely as Whites to lose a job to an immigrant laborer or to offshoring. Obama’s election was surely an emotionally satisfying experience, but really, what changed as a result? Not much of anything except Black expectations, which, after briefly soaring to lofty heights, crashed firmly back to earth when it was realized that all they got in Obama was another establishment politician who happened to sport an African tan.
I doubt either Trump or Sanders will be nominated by their respective parties. Trump will win the largest number of delegates, but perhaps not enough to give him an outright claim to the nomination, which will throw the Republican convention into convulsions, which may result in someone being drafted to run. Because of superdelegates, Sanders was mathematically eliminated from competition before he started. But once the two political revolutionaries are rejected by their parties, it wouldn’t be at all surprising if they joined forces for an independent bid for the White House. Because if they did, they would very likely win. The enemy of my enemy is my friend.