Victory for Jeremy Corbyn MP in the Labour leadership was first derided as a dream by many critics and observers, who saw it highly unlikely that an elderly but vocal man with little to no experience of frontline politics, seen as out of kilter with the mainstream political ideal, could be elected the Leader of Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition. But the leader of Labour is now, um, one Jeremy Corbyn MP.
In America, there seems to be a counterpart situation. There is an elderly but vocal candidate with little to no experience of frontline politics, seen as out of kilter with the mainstream political ideal, now gunning for the nomination to the presidential election… but not just for the one party.
Enter Bernie Sanders, Vermont Senator; and Donald Trump, businessman and television personality.
To the surprise of probably everyone, both Sanders and Trump have come from the edges to the centre of attention. No longer is it the case that these two candidates can be brushed aside as the strangers from the weird sides of politics.
If both men receive the nomination from their respective parties to fight for the position of President, America will be polarised: a social democrat against a populist, nationalist conservative. Neither represents the mainstream view: both Democrats and Republicans are afraid that they will win the nominations and lead their parties. Many Democrats cannot imagine a open socialist appealing to America, but many Republicans think that the public would rather vote for Sanders than for the clownish Trump.
Donald Trump declared his intentions to run for presidency in June 2015 and has gone from underdog to top dog. Within a month of announcing his campaign, Trump became a front-runner; this month he is polling 37% support of voters, the highest share of the numerous candidates. Trump has previously been a Republican, an independent and a Democrat but rejoined the Grand Old Party in time to enter the 2016 presidential nomination race, having hinted at standing several times in his life. Among other things, he is pro-life, would replace the Affordable Care Act with a capitalist healthcare system and thinks that global warming is a giant fib. A point of pride for Trump and his ‘Trumpeters’ is his promise to, in the words of Sarah Palin, “kick ISIS ass.”
To an outsider, Sanders is the obvious candidate. (“Bernie Sanders. It’s not even a question,” my housemate said when I asked him for whom he’d vote.) Beside his overflowing bank accounts, Donald Trump is rich in bluster and bravado but skint when it comes to political experience and skill. His policies are barely legitimate, all melting down to being the greatest at everything. He promises he will be the greatest president in history, running the country like no other president before him.
But Sanders’s positions stretch to the political left of the current Democrat thought, so much so that many think of him as a dangerous socialist. Socialism has hardly been popular in the United States of America. Plenty of Americans alive today have lived through an era of vicious anti-Communism, fearing Reds under their beds whose evil ways would destroy America’s moral decency and wreck its economy. Even for Americans a little more informed about socialism, who do not instantly equate it to anarchy, it is still a scary idea. Trump himself has called Sanders a “maniac” and a “socialist-slash-communist” who would give everything of American away. Sanders does not try hard to distance himself from accusations of socialism. Having a socialist in in the White House would be like having George Orwell elected as successor to Joseph Stalin’s Russia. But could Sanders do it? Or will it be Hillary Clinton fighting Trump (or another Republican)?
So for whom would the American people vote? If Sanders and Trump were to be nominated to fight for the presidency, the American people would have to choose between two seemingly-unelectable candidates: will it be a simpleton or a socialist? A man who tackled and shaved Vince McMahon bald at Wrestlemania 23 for World Wrestling Entertainment? Or for a man in favour of socialised healthcare and heavy financial regulation?
One seems to be everything that is overblown and ugly about American capitalism and the other is a keen critic of capitalism and its ills; both wish to lead the most famous capitalist nation of the world.