The two biggest surprise stories of the 2016 presidential election so far have been Democratic Socialist Bernie Sanders and real estate magnate (and possible supervillain) Donald Trump’s rise to popularity at the expense of more traditional candidates. While Sanders has made his bones wooing younger people and riding a tidal wave of class warfare with an understanding of economics that could be called rudimentary at best, Trump has gone the other direction, aiming to gather an army of older, disaffected voters who want to erase any progress the country has made on racial and social issues. At a glance, the two camps seem to be further apart on just about everything, other than being ignorant on key issues and being extremely angry about it.
Now Sanders thinks he has the key to exploiting that anger and is planning to exploit it to make Trump’s followers feel the Bern. That’s not hyperbole either, as he explained himself on Dec. 27 on Face the Nation.
“Look, many of Trump’s supporters are working class people,” he told John Dickerson, “and they are angry. They are angry because they are working longer hours for lower wages. They are angry because their jobs have left this country and gone to China or other low wage countries. They’re angry because they can’t afford to send their kids to college or they can’t retire with dignity.”
Of course, what Sanders left out is that the very policies he supports, things like excessive minimum wage hikes and protectionism, are the very things that drive business out of the country. It’s a classic case of a socialist leaning person not understanding how incentives work in a market economy.
People, and by extension the businesses run by those people, are averse to spending money or resources in a manner that will get them a lower return. When costs in a country are lower than in another it would only be natural to move operations to that other country. This goes for hiring people at a lower wage, purchasing goods and services, or simply paying a much lower tax rate. Of course, Sanders’ plan for that is to simply raise the taxes even higher, or impose penalties on businesses who try to succeed.
And don’t get us started on his free college tuition plan. He somehow thinks that by throwing a whole lot of money (that he thinks grows on trees) at the problem, it will somehow reduce the costs. In fact, the primary reason college tuition is so high is precisely because there is too much government money involved in the process. While Trump may have questionable ethics when it comes to business, and even questionable business acumen, there is no doubt that he understands how a market economy works.
Sanders has another problem gathering Trump supporters as well. Many are social issues voters who, despite the fact that Trump is almost the 180 degree opposite of what the Bible would call the ideal, consider themselves Christians. That means they are anti-reproductive rights, anti-marriage equality and generally lean a bit too close to the line of racism and xenophobia. Sanders is none of these things. Well, he may be a little xenophobic, but that’s more because he thinks immigrants are bad for the economy, another way he is economically illiterate.
He also treads onto thin ice when he comes dangerously close to repeating then candidate Barack Obama’s snafu of painting middle America as a bunch of “bitter clingers.” The Primary theme of Trump’s candidacy is that people on the coasts are elitist and dismissing their concerns on many issues. To his credit, Sanders has taken a pro-Second Amendment stance much more so than other Democrats (and even some Republicans), but when he calls Trump’s supporters racist (true or not) he runs the risk of alienating them in a big way.
To be sure, there aren’t any candidates for either of the major parties that are perfect, and in fact almost all of them have some serious shortcomings. But until Americans are politically brave enough and want real substantive change enough to actually vote third party, we will almost certainly be stuck with terrible Democrats and Republicans for a long time to come.