A really progressive, bleeding-heart, socialist social-worker friend of mine voted for Donald Trump.
When she told me that the other day, I was stunned. She enthusiastically voted for Al Gore, John Kerry and Barack Obama BOTH times. Why would she vote for Donald Trump in 2016?
She recognized some strangely implausible similarities between Bernie Sanders, who she absolutely loved, and Donald Trump, who wasn’t Hillary Clinton. Yeah, I saw those too, but it wasn’t enough to make me lose my mind in the voting booth. Maybe you had to love Bernie first and really hate Hillary, but I was dumbfounded.
So, I mulled it over. On the surface, Sanders and Trump represent opposite extremes … Sanders the socialist would have attempted to end mixed capitalism as we know it while Trump is a consummate businessman … Sanders would have increased taxes on the “wealthy” to unsustainable levels so as to redistribute wealth to the “poor” while Trump advocates for lower taxes on everyone … yes, they seem very different.
Then again, they both believe that the government is the people’s salvation and they both called for overthrowing the existing elites and replacing them with a more intense form of top-down rule. And that, I think, is what appeals to my very statist friend.
History is instructive here. The Nazis and the Communists hated each other in the interwar period and eventually fought each other to a bloodbath in World War 2. After the Nazis lost control of the nations they’d conquered, the Communists filled the void, trading one tyranny for another.
Although the ill-informed imagine these system as somehow representing polar opposites, they really aren’t. Both systems stemmed for the teachings of Hegel. They extolled the primacy of the State and practiced economic central planning. Both upheld the nation over the individual and created a cult of leadership. Both experiments with top-down social order ended in calamity and massive violations of human rights.
Why did two extremely similar systems with a common source become so antagonistic to one another? I’m going to guess it had something to do with fighting over the same resources … or maybe it was a personality thing.
As some pundits pointed out with Trump, American politics in 2016 looked like an updated version of the 1930s. The revolutionary left and right actually converged as both fought the establishment to make the government bigger without their supporters really seeing the convergence. That’s left to those of us who stand outside of partisan politics.
Sanders and Trump differed on particulars. Trump is against gun control, and Sanders extolled it. Sanders wanted to pillage the rich, and Trump doesn’t want to be pillaged. Sanders made a big deal about global warming, and Trump doesn’t seem to take it seriously.
They largely agreed on having a nation state as the central organizing unit of life itself. They had different priorities on who it should serve and where the state should expand most, but they agreed on the need to protect and enlarge state power. They hold no guiding principles that would limit the state from overwhelming the individual. Just look at some of the big issues — healthcare, immigration, and control of lands by the federal government — their positions were largely indistinguishable.
Yes, their supporters loathe one other. Each considers the other an enemy to be destroyed … unless they really hate Hillary, in which case there might be room for compromise. The Sanders-Trump fight wasn’t about power so much as it was about who could use that power.
Most of their supporters didn’t see it that way, of course. They imagined themselves to be rebels fighting power itself, whether represented by Wall Street, the party establishment, the paid-off politicians, the bureaucracy, the billionaires, the foreigners, the special interests, and so on. Neither attacked government authority because they both aspired to use it and grow it for their purposes.
These thoughts precede me. F.A. Hayek in The Road to Serfdom (1944) clarified the difference between the thought paradigms of his day were not substantitive. They were stylistic.
“The conflict between the Fascist or National-Socialist and the older socialist parties must indeed very largely be regarded as the kind of conflict which is bound to arise between rival socialist factions. There was no difference between them about the question of it being the will of the state which should assign to each person his proper place in society.”
Hayek understood that it is a matter of the demographics. The old socialists sought support from within working classes and depended heavily on the support of intellectuals. The new socialists (Fascists and Nazis) were supported by the young generation, “out of that contempt for profit-making fostered by socialist teaching.” These people “spurned independent positions which involved risk, and flocked in ever-increasing numbers into salaried positions which promised security.” They were demanding a place yielding them income and power to which their training entitled them but which seemed perpetually out of reach.
Hayek was talking about 1930s Europe, but it’s a pretty good description of Sanders supporters, who were overwhelmingly young. Betrayed by the educational system, stuck with a bleak job outlook, burdened with debt, trapped in a broken healthcare market, feeling like the system is rigged against them, they turned to the politician who promised heaven on earth through the pillaging of the wealthy elites.
Then you have the fascist and national socialist right, with its own forms of scapegoating and its own class appeal. They blame the nation’s troubles on outsiders — the immigrants, the media elite, the Muslims, the intellectuals and their political correctness. They created a new form of identity politics based on nation and race. The idea of equality is a mere cover for a power grab, a subversive trick to furthering the interests of the elites and those evil “others.”
Hayek noted that neither faction emerged in a vacuum. “Their tactics were developed in a world already dominated by socialist policy and the problems it creates.” But instead of viewing the problem as statism itself, they pushed for state power to be used in a different way.
My friend is from Iowa and rails against her home state’s Republican voters who haven’t yet figured out that the military, the surveillance state, and immigration control that they love so much stem from the government they claim to hate. On the other hand, she rails against the government and fails to see that the social support network that she loves so much, that enslaves so many people in perpetual poverty, also stems from the government she hates.
We could ignore this insanity like my anarchist friends do. Well, maybe they like to watch the old failed political system running aground on the reef of human nature. After all, it’s happening in both parties and the public sector is showing intense strain as it scrabbles for control. Can they control Trump or is their promise of better living through bigger bureaucracy flopping?
The political sector becomes more unstable and ridiculous by the day. You can see this as tragic and terrible, or fun and delightful. It’s kind of entertaining and terrifying at the same time. I think it will ultimately be a good thing, but change is always scary and we’re teetering on the edge of a massive ravine of change.