It has become common in the mainstream media, terrified by the thought of anti-establishment politicians crashing their cozy parties, to describe Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump as two sides of the same coin, both being extremists who are beyond the pale of normal politics. Justin Raimondo of the website Antiwar.com, a site whose philosophy can be roughly described as anti-war, pro-free market Republicanism with a dollop of libertarianism (sometimes given the label of paleoconservatism) takes a more nuanced look at the similarities and differences between the two.
While the Sanderistas are a movement of the “left,” Trumpism is less easily categorized as a rightist phenomenon. On domestic economic issues, Trump is all over the place: he wants to lower the tax rate, but penalize the financial speculators: he opposes Obamacare, and wants to allow competition between insurance companies over state lines, but he also wants to take care of the indigent. He is protectionist on trade, tough on crime, and even tougher on immigration – all stances one would normally associate with the paleo-conservatives. And yet when it comes to defense spending and foreign policy, on close inspection he is remarkably “left”: he opposes a new cold war with Russia, doesn’t’ want us in Syria, highlights his opposition to the Iraq war, and has recently declared that he opposes hiking the military budget. He wonders aloud why we are pledged to defend both South Korea and Japan while they “screw us over’ on trade.
Indeed, when it comes to foreign policy he is a lot closer to Sanders than to any of his Republican rivals. And on trade policy, too, the Sanderistas and the Trumpists sound eerily alike: both movements are protests against the hollowing out of America’s industrial capacity and the rise of paper-pushing financiers as the robber barons of a New Gilded Age. The divide between them is not so much ideological as demographic: Sanders holds the loyalty of the under-30 crowd, while Trump garners the allegiance of their parents and grandparents. What unites them is their rebellion against the political class and a system built on cronyism and perpetual warfare.
What the twin victories of these two protest movements prefigure is the rise of a new nationalism in America. Not the outward-looking aggressive militaristic nationalism of pre-World War II Europe, but the introspective insulating “return to normalcy” nationalism of prewar America: wary of foreign adventurism, almost exclusively concerned with bread-and-butter issues, resentful of a “meritocracy” that rewards anything but genuine merit, and in search of a lost greatness they may never have experienced but only heard about.
This represents a deadly challenge to the regnant elites, who can be expected to fight both Trump and Sanders to the bitter end. The stakes are high: at home, a system that enriches the politically connected at the expense of ordinary folks, and abroad, an empire that spans the globe. The beneficiaries of the status quo won’t give up their position easily – and yet they are clearly losing their grip on power. It’s quite a sight to see: the only analogy I can think of is the mass extinction of the dinosaurs in prehistoric times.
The liberal corporatists who have, up until now, controlled the Democratic party can be expected to use every trick in the book to derail the Sanders campaign, and the smears are already being circulated by the Clintonians, who are experts in the field.
In the GOP, the neoconservative faction, which has had a hammerlock on the party up until now, has already unleashed its venom on Trump and his followers, but have been unable to mobilize a “Stop Trump” movement: the “Establishment lane” is too split to mount an effective opposition, and is likely to stay divided until at least after Super Tuesday. With the humiliation and looming final defeat of Rubio, what we will shortly be witnessing is the end of neoconservative dominance in the Republican party. The neocons have been shown up as generals without much of an army: surely this is a development that anti-interventionists can only welcome with open arms.
The elimination of neoconservative influence in both parties is something that would have long-lasting benefits.