Opinion: The Democrats do have their own version of Donald Trump, but it’s not Bernie Sanders
As the race to confirm who will be on the Democratic ticket later this year heats up, various political commentators have begun likening the current frontrunner, Bernie Sanders, to the incumbent Republican President, Donald Trump. This comparison usually stems from their status as ‘establishment outsiders.’ However, in reality, there is another candidate still remaining in the Democratic field who could be much more accurately described as the Democratic version of Donald Trump.
First, let me start with the existing comparison of Sanders and Trump, made by outlets such as The Washington Post, here. The first claim in the article is that Sanders is divisive, much like Trump, only not along ethnic lines, but class ones. The writer compares the “1 per cent,” which Sanders often rails against, to the “illegal aliens,” which Trump blames for “the ills of modern America.”
The problem here is that the two are not comparable. In the case of Sanders, he is railing against a political system that far too often prioritizes the needs of the rich over the needs of the working class. The “1 per cent” are not a marginalised group, far from that. For the most part, they are billionaires who use their own money, power and influence to dictate policy to their own ends and support candidates who align with their interests. This is one of the reasons that bills meant to solve the climate crisis are so difficult to pass, and the highest rates of income tax have fallen dramatically since Ronald Reagan was in power.
“Illegal aliens,” on the other hand are often the most vulnerable members of society, who have experienced a rise in racially-motivated attacks since Trump took office.
There is a rule in comedy that I feel is appropriate here, ‘always punch up, not down.’ Sanders is punching up, at a group of people who have exerted a disproportionate influence on the US political system for far too long. They are not repressed, discriminated against or vulnerable. Trump meanwhile normally punches down, against those who cannot retaliate against him and have been excluded by powerful institutions since the founding days of America. To say there is any comparison between the two is astonishing.
However, I will address the other concerns in the article, the next of which is the relationship between the two candidates and their media coverage. To be clear the author claims that “Sanders has a tendency towards anti-media paranoia.”
Again, however, the comparison is absurd. For starters, Sanders does have good reason to be aggrieved at the treatment he has received from the press. Just last week an MSNBC commentator likened his early lead in the Nevada caucuses to the fall of France at the hands of Nazi Germany.
But even taking aside the unfair remarks, or subconscious bias. Just consider the difference in how Trump and Sanders respond to the media. Indeed, the statement most resembling the “anti-media paranoia” of which Sanders is accused is a recent one where Sanders insinuates that The Washington Post deliberately delayed reporting on Russian meddling in his campaign until a day before the Nevada caucuses.
That’s it. Trump, for his part, has repeatedly labelled the press as “the enemy of the people,” and has made the words “fake news” an integral part of his brand. Trump has also tweeted a video of him body-slamming CNN, and at various campaign rallies, he has actively encouraged boos aimed towards the press. This is without even mentioning his lack-lustre response to the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, which many, including the CIA, believe was orchestrated by the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia.
So sure, Sanders may be critical of the media at times, but his actions are again incomparable to the ones of Donald Trump.
The final accusation against Sanders is actually against his “army of abusive and obnoxious true believers,” who are mostly found online. However, again there is a clear distinction between Trump and Sanders and this time it relates to their responses to hate.
Sanders has repeatedly condemned any and all violent, vicious or ugly attacks, including just last week. The Senator has repeatedly stressed that his movement is a non-violent one, unlike Trump who has repeatedly encouraged violence against reporters and those accused of having committed crimes.
Granted, there may be incidents where Sanders supporters cross the line but you cannot hold a candidate — who has repeatedly denounced violent means — responsible for the actions of every one of his millions of followers. At some point, there has to be an individual responsibility, and at the end of the day voters are not electing each other, they are electing a candidate, and it is their character that truly matters.
However, having now dispelled the initial myth surrounding the similarities between Sanders and Trump, I would like to propose that another Democratic frontrunner, Michael Bloomberg, has far more in common with the current US President.
538’s National Polling Average currently has Bloomberg as 2nd in the race for the nomination, with 16.3% of the vote, so he is certainly worth considering.
I present this comparison for a few reasons, the first of which is that, much like Trump, Bloomberg likes to make a show of his wealth. Forbes estimates that Trump has a net worth of over $3 billion, while Bloomberg has $55.5 billion. Bloomberg himself has already spent over half a billion dollars in campaign advertising.
But, of course, being rich by itself is no crime, nor does it specifically liken him to Donald Trump. However, Bloomberg’s historic relations with ethnic minorities sounds strangely familiar.
During his time as Mayor of New York City Bloomberg spear-headed a 605% increase in the use of “stop and frisk.” This police practice meant that they could temporarily detain, search and question anyone who looked suspicious, and of course, it overwhelmingly affected ethnic minorities.
If you ask Bloomberg himself though he will tell you that he realised the error of his ways in 2012 and instead presided over a 95% decrease in its use. Though one should note that this account leaves out the fact that Bloomberg created the initial spike himself and that the subsequent decrease only came after a federal judge made it clear that she would soon rule against New York City’s use of stop and frisk.
Additionally, in June 2013 Bloomberg said that white people were stopped “disproportionately,” while minorities were stopped “too little.”
In the interests of further comparison, Bloomberg also became a Republican in 2001, when he ran for Mayor, before registering as an independent in 2007 and finally switching back to becoming a Democrat in October 2018. Similarly, Trump has switched political parties five times in his past, only returning to the Republican party in 2012.
Though again, I should stress that changing party loyalties is not inherently a negative thing. Elizabeth Warren, who is also running for the Democratic nomination, only became a Democrat in 1996. However, Bloomberg’s relationships with women, which was recently heavily criticised by Warren, should be examined further.
Over the years many allegations and lawsuits have been made against both Bloomberg and his businesses, claiming that women have been discriminated against, harassed and degraded. Just one notable incident was of Bloomberg telling a woman to “kill it,” when he found out she was pregnant. Bloomberg did deny this under oath, and he did reach a settlement with the woman in question, but it is far from the only example.
That being said, we may not even know all of the examples because, as Warren noted in the last Democratic debate, many women were made to sign non-disclosure agreements. In that debate, Warren herself made an explicit comparison between Bloomberg and Trump stating that Democrats were fighting against a billionaire who calls women “fat broads and horse-faced lesbians,” before revealing that the man in question was Michael Bloomberg, not Donald Trump.
So, if you are looking for a candidate that has more money than the average person could ever dream of, has a very troubled legacy with ethnic minorities, a history of changing political parties, and a trail of lawsuits and non-disclosure agreements then I present you with either Donald Trump or Michael Bloomberg.