OPINION: Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump are more similar than they appear


Caleb Garbuio, Columnist

He attracts thousands to his rallies, inspires a cult-like following and constantly attacks the media. No, this is not Donald Trump, but Sen. Bernie Sanders.

Since taking the Democratic Party by storm during the 2016 election, Sanders garnered popularity from millennials with college degrees. Sanders appealed to this demographic and marketed himself as a political outcast who refused to accept super PAC contributions to finance his campaign, relying on grassroots efforts. 

Sanders built his reputation blaming corporations and globalization for the plight of many working-class Americans. He promised “Medicare for All,” to rebuild the United States’s infrastructure and a federally mandated $15 minimum wage, which he believed would alleviate wealth inequality plaguing the U.S.

Clearly, Sanders’ policies are different than Trump’s, who is criticized by Democrats as the candidate for the rich and privileged following his 2017 tax cuts. However, both candidates correctly identify issues facing the U.S. and gain popular support from people disenchanted with their government. 

For example, Trump’s message appeals to working-class Americans whose jobs are threatened by foreign workers working for less. Trump’s message appeals to this demographic because he promises to bring the U.S. back to a time when manufacturing jobs provided excellent wages

Since 2016, both Trump and Sanders have relied on half truths and misleading arguments to garner support, an ongoing pattern that continues in 2019. For example, in August, Sanders attacked The Washington Post for a series of unflattering articles published about him. Sanders asserted that because the Post is owned by Amazon founder and CEO Jeff Bezos, it had ulterior motivation for targeting him. The Post’s executive editor, Marty Baron, rightly slammed Sanders for being conspiratorial as news pieces are determined by editors, not owners.

These baseless accusations against the press are nothing new. Trump has criticized the Post for publishing a series of unflattering articles about him. Even if both candidates were correct and Bezos did control what The Washington Post published, this does not mean the articles were false. Since Trump and Sanders argue against the paper and not the information within it, their arguments are invalid because they are arguing against the source and not the material. 

While both candidates use fallacious reasoning to attract supporters, their main similarity is their appeal to the masses for political validation. Disaster has always followed societies and civilizations where charismatic leaders gain political power through the “will of the people.” 

The term “populist” is derived from the ancient Roman political faction known as the “Popularis,” which means “favoring the people. The Popularis movement originated as a response to the growing economic inequality brought on by massive plantations crowding out smaller farms

These landless farmers packed their belongings and moved to Rome, where they struggled to make ends meet. Sensing an opportunity, Gaius Julius Caesar used the will of the people to gain political power, leading to decades of bloodshed, culminating in the fall of the Roman Republic. While Caesar’s actions led to positive reforms, his actions also led to the rise of the Roman Empire.

While exact historical events never repeat, the present often rhymes with the past, since modern civilizations face the same issues people previously faced. Sanders and Trump offer different solutions to similar problems and obtain support in a similar manner. They both appeal to disenfranchised groups who distrust the establishment and feel marginalized, tapping into their fear, anxiety and anger, whipping them into a frenzy. Ever try talking sense to a Trump supporter? What about a Bernie Bro? 

Open-minded discussion with individuals who support either candidate is impossible considering both factions have an aversion to empirical evidence. Supporters of both candidates filter the information they internalize to validate their opinions and claim objectivity. It makes compromise impossible since both sides claim to understand fundamental truths, while claiming the other is ignorant and misinformed. The truth is, subjectivity often intersects with objectivity to an extent, and current research suggests our emotions determine rationality. 

But, if that is the case, then the rational course of action depends on people’s emotions, meaning there is not a right or wrong answer to their beliefs because their perception determines their beliefs.

This is a problem that has persisted with human beings since the dawn of prehistoric humankind. Ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle sought to address this age-old problem in his book “Nicomachean Ethics.” Aristotle argued ethical behavior is found in the balance between two extremes known as the “golden mean.” From one extreme, you have cowardice, and on the other, you have foolhardiness. On their own, they lead to interpersonal problems, yet in the middle is bravery. 

In 2019, Democrats and Republicans are equally divided between two extremes because one candidate is reactionary, while the other is radical. It is only through achieving balance between both polarizing forces that the U.S. can heal from the damage one has caused and the potential havoc the other could bring.

Sanders appears similar to Trump because the political spectrum is circular instead of linear. Since they are so different, they appear similar. Both extremes are closer than we believe.