Trump and Sanders are Brothers From the Same Mother: America’s Discontent

Populists on the people’s sides of the barricades, appealing to different kinds of people.

Donald Trump.
Tom Pennington AFP/Getty
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Ron Fournier
Sept. 15, 2015, 8:13 a.m.

Two rad­ic­ally dif­fer­ent politi­cians ap­peal­ing to rad­ic­ally dif­fer­ent seg­ments of the pop­u­la­tion, Don­ald Trump and Bernie Sanders non­ethe­less are tug­ging at a com­mon thread: a rest­less pop­u­lism born of the pub­lic’s be­lief that feck­less, in­com­pet­ent lead­er­ship has rigged polit­ics, gov­ern­ment, and oth­er so­cial in­sti­tu­tions against them.

Doug Sosnik, polit­ic­al dir­ect­or in the Clin­ton White House who co-au­thored a book about Amer­ic­an lead­er­ship with me and former Bush ad­viser Mat­thew Dowd in 2006, wrote a memo to his fel­low Demo­crat two years ago that warned of a pop­u­list move­ment. After a dec­ade of wars, eco­nom­ic tu­mult, and tech­no­lo­gic­al re­volu­tion, he wrote, “Amer­ic­ans’ long-brew­ing dis­con­tent shows clear signs of reach­ing a boil­ing point.”

“And when it hap­pens, the coun­try will judge its politi­cians through a new fil­ter—one that asks, ‘Which side of the bar­ri­cade are you on?’ Is it the side of the out-of-touch polit­ic­al class that clings to the status quo by pro­tect­ing those at the top and their own polit­ic­al agen­das, or is it the side that is fight­ing for the kind of change that will make the gov­ern­ment work for the people—all the people?”

Trump and Sanders have po­si­tioned them­selves on the people’s side of the bar­ri­cade—even as they mingle with dif­fer­ent kinds of people. Their kin­ship shined Monday, when Trump and Sanders ad­dressed massive ral­lies—the bil­lion­aire Re­pub­lic­an in Dal­las and the so­cial­ist Demo­crat in Vir­gin­ia.

Con­sider how each man ad­dressed the un­fair­ness, ar­rog­ance, and in­com­pet­ence of the Amer­ic­an polit­ic­al sys­tem.


Trump: Il­leg­al im­mig­rants don’t play by the rules you do. “It’s dis­gust­ing what’s hap­pen­ing to our coun­try,” he said, call­ing Amer­ica “a dump­ing ground” for il­leg­als. “You people are suf­fer­ing. I’m in New York, but they’re in New York, too. They’re all over the place.”

Sanders: Rich people don’t play by the rules you do. “Broth­ers and sis­ters, our job is to end that rigged eco­nomy and cre­ate an eco­nomy that works for work­ing people.”

Trump: You’re not only suf­fer­ing; you’re not heard. You’re what Richard Nix­on called the “Si­lent Ma­jor­ity.” “It’s back, and it’s not si­lent.”

Sanders: I won’t be si­lent about the plight of minor­it­ies. “I would hope and I be­lieve that every per­son in this room today un­der­stands that it is un­ac­cept­able to judge people, to dis­crim­in­ate against people based on the col­or of their skin.” 

Trump: Politi­cians cater to their wealthy donors and don’t care about you. “I’m not tak­ing all this blood money,” he said, prom­ising to fin­ance his own cam­paign.

Sanders: Let me tell you about money in Amer­ica… “And while the very, very rich be­come much rich­er, mil­lions of fam­il­ies have no sav­ings at all. Noth­ing in the bank. And they worry every single day that if their car breaks down, they can­not get to work, and if they can­not get to work, they lose their jobs.”

Trump: The rich should pay their fair share of taxes. “By the time I fin­ish, he might not have much of a hedge fund left,” he said of a wealthy friend who bragged two years ago of pay­ing no taxes. “We’ve got to lower taxes for a lot of people. Cor­por­a­tions pay­ing far too much, far too much. Middle-in­come people are be­ing decim­ated. They’re be­ing decim­ated.”


Trump: Journ­al­ists, polit­ic­al pro­fes­sion­als, and oth­er pun­dits think they know bet­ter than us. “George Will is a dis­aster,” he said. “An­oth­er one, Karl Rove, he’s ter­rible. He’s still go­ing around think­ing Mitt Rom­ney won.”

Sanders: Gov­ern­ment doesn’t know bet­ter than wo­men what to do with their bod­ies. “I do un­der­stand and I do be­lieve that it is im­prop­er for the United States gov­ern­ment to tell every wo­man in this coun­try the very pain­ful and dif­fi­cult choice she has to make on that is­sue,” he said of abor­tion. “And I hon­estly, I don’t want to be too pro­voc­at­ive here, but very of­ten con­ser­vat­ives say: ‘Get the gov­ern­ment out of my life. I don’t want the gov­ern­ment telling me what to do.’”

Trump: They even lie about me. “They don’t want to say I’m sur­ging.”

Sanders. I’d be humbled by your sup­port. “I am not a theo­lo­gian, I am not an ex­pert on the bible, nor am I a Cath­ol­ic. I am just a United States sen­at­or from the small state of Ver­mont.”

Trump: The elite think they can tell you what to say and what not to say. “I have to be care­ful what I say about com­ing out of some­body’s—I have to be care­ful,” he said, re­fer­ring to his com­ments about FOX News’ Me­gyn Kelly in the first GOP de­bate. “Nose, ears, eyes—those are the only places I’m talk­ing about.”

Sanders: Every­body else in polit­ics thinks they know all the an­swers. I don’t. “I be­lieve from the bot­tom of my heart that it is vi­tally im­port­ant for those of us who hold dif­fer­ent views to be able to en­gage in a civil dis­course.”


Trump: I can fix what the elites won’t. “This is a move­ment that’s hap­pen­ing,” he said. “Now it’s time to really start, be­cause this is go­ing to hap­pen, I’m telling you, I’m not go­ing any­where.”

Sanders: Polit­ic­al and busi­ness elites can’t or won’t fix the biggest is­sue of our times: in­come in­equal­ity. “Mil­lions of people are work­ing long hours for abysmally low wages of $7.25 an hour, of $8 an hour, of $9 an hour, work­ing hard, but un­able to bring in enough money to ad­equately feed their kids. And yet, at that same time, 58 per­cent of all new in­come gen­er­ated is go­ing to the top 1 per­cent. You have got to think about the mor­al­ity of that, the justice of that, and wheth­er or not that is what we want to see in our coun­try.”

Trump: The es­tab­lish­ment is lazy. I’m not: “I have tre­mend­ous en­ergy. Tre­mend­ous. To a point where it’s al­most ri­dicu­lous if you think about it.”

Trump: The es­tab­lish­ment is stu­pid. I’m not.  “I think [Karl Rove] is a total in­com­pet­ent jerk.”

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