It is understandable that Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders have been able to garner a tremendous amount of support among many who are inclined to think ill of the system (which is rapidly becoming a majority of the U.S. population).
Both men are a refreshing alternative to the scripted politicians that comprise the “mainstream” presidential candidates, and both are raising topics of interest that many people find compelling but which the establishment candidates will not touch for obvious reasons.
Bernie Sanders is essentially a single-issue candidate, and his issue is the widening class divisions that have appeared in the United States in the era of globalization, and which are now the greatest at any point in the past century. Trump is essentially addressing the same issue, albeit from a different implicit ideological perspective.
Both candidates are critical of the fact that the US electoral system is an oligarchy that is dominated by corporate money and media propaganda. Both candidates also appeal to the political, cultural, and demographic divisions that presently exist in the United States, which are now also the greatest of any point in the past century.
It is also true that both candidates are generating certain positive effects. Trump is throwing a wrench in the neoconservative machine that runs the Republican Party and the so-called “conservative movement” (Conservatism, Inc.), and has the neoconservative establishment running scared. Sanders is undermining the neo-liberal heiress apparent for the Democratic Party, and this can only be a good thing.
Nevertheless, both candidates are essentially a focus of false hopes, and neither present a credible political program for “attacking the system” in any meaningful way, assuming this is something they would actually want to do in the first place (which is doubtful).
Sanders’ entire program essentially amounts to advocacy of the expansion of the welfare state, and fulfilling the longstanding left-liberal-reformist dream of bringing Scandinavia to America. Simply put, this is an impossible ambition, and cost prohibitive due to the present fiscal liabilities of the United States, not to mention a national debt of nearly $19 trillion, the equivalent of America’s annual GDP. Even if the United States were to adopt a Scandinavian model of tax structures, and reduce military spending from the present volume of approximately 5% of GDP to the European model of around 1% (or less), the ability of the United States to dramatically expand social spending without growing its already over the top public debt and fiscal liabilities would still be severely constrained. For example, the U.S. prison system alone is currently having the effect of rendering insolvent many of the individual states. The proclaimed Sanders agenda is not doable.
Donald Trump’s economic nationalism is perhaps a more viable economic program, although one that is thus far long on rhetoric and short on substance. It is certainly possible to reduce outsourcing (to the degree there are any jobs left to outsource) by raising tariff barriers to imports, although this would likely have the effect of raising consumer prices for certain goods such as the relatively cheap commodities that are sold in superstores like Wal-Mart. Restricting immigration to a greater degree might have the effect of pushing wages upward in some sectors if greater limitations were imposed on the legal immigration of high-skilled technical workers, or the illegal immigration of low-skilled manual workers.
Proposals of this kind might have been somewhat meaningful a quarter century ago when figures such as Ross Perot and Pat Buchanan were raising the same issues and making the same suggestions. Nowadays, however, efforts of these kinds simply amount to “too little, too late.” Reasonable people can disagree on how to go about reversing the present trend towards the recreation of the class structures that existed in Western industrialized nations prior to the Great Depression, if not the nineteenth century. However, the evidence is clear that a moderate mercantilism or revived Fabianism is clearly not the proper path, and that far more radical and extreme measures will eventually be necessary.
Even more problematic are the views of both candidates on international relations. For all of the right-wing hand-wringing over the alleged “socialism” of Bernie Sanders, Sanders’ supposed “socialism” essentially amounts to the standard brand endorsement of a middle-class oriented welfare state of the kind that has existed in virtually all Western countries since the middle of the twentieth century. Sanders is a essentially a continuation of the tradition of the “New Deal Democrats” that have been eclipsed in the Democratic Party by neo-liberals such as the Clintons and Obama in recent decades. However, the New Deal Democrats of past times proved to be just as adept at growing the warfare state as the welfare state (see Franklin Roosevelt, Harry Truman, Lyndon Johnson, Hubert Humphrey, Henry Jackson, etc etc etc). Sanders’ lengthy history of compromise with the warfare state in order to advance his welfare state agenda would likely fall solidly within this tradition.
One does not even need to be a socialist to agree with Bruce A. Dixon’s remarks:
“In the real world, …Bernie Sanders is no kind of socialist. Socialists stand for the working class, the poor, the common man and woman regardless of nation and color. Bernie’s socialism stops at the water’s edge, as he endorses apartheid in Israel, the Pentagon budget and the global empire of hundreds US bases and vast military industries that eat half the nation’s wealth annually. This makes Bernie no friend of the poor anyplace outside the US and not so much the friend of the poor inside it either, really no kind of socialist at all. Bernie know this, and has rarely if ever called himself one in recent years. But he allows, even encourages us to call him that this year because socialism is popular.”
As for Trump’s views on international relations, his opposition to the long overdue deal with Iran by itself is enough to indicate that serious anti-imperialists should want nothing to do with him. And while Trump has been touted as a supposed critic of the war in Iraq, his position is hardly that of a genuine non-interventionist such as Ron Paul or even Pat Buchanan as the public record of his past comments on the issue of Iraq makes clear.
Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders are not revolutionaries, nor do they pretend to be. Serious revolutionaries are all those who wish to see the American empire overthrown internationally, the domestic federal system dissolved, the police state rolled back and ultimately defeated, and corporate plutocracy dismantled in the economic sphere. This would generally include most of the movements and tendencies described in the ATS statement of purpose, and all those who are in general agreement with the majority of the ARV-ATS 25-Point Program. Whether we are left, right, or center; black, white, or brown; socialist, anarchist, or nationalist, it should be abundantly clear that Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders are merely fool’s gold.