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Sanders and Trump in Very Late Capitalism

It has been snowing since Monday morning, and I’ve learned from experience my car can’t handle it. Next time in New Hampshire, rent a Jeep. But I did go to a Bernie Sanders rally at a small college in Nashua yesterday morning. From the perspective of a campaign effectively using its resources, the event wasn’t particularly well conceived.

There were a few hundred people there, mostly young. And more guys than girls; that part of the “Berniebros” thing is true. The gender imbalance at Clinton events is more pronounced. Two dozen young people, staffers or volunteers with Bernie placards, sit behind the stage. For the size of the rally (maybe 500) and the staff effort involved, with journalists and TV crews from all over the world, I thought the Sanders camp would have done better to have had his workers out canvassing, making sure that they contact every marginal or irregular voter in the state, and get them all to the polls.

I’ve heard before that Sanders is a one-issue guy—he talks about inequality, and he’s done little else for 40 years in politics. Everything comes back to that. But the stopped clock is sometimes right.

Like most college educated people my age, somewhat touched by the 1960s, I’m familiar with arguments about socialism. In the mid 70s I took a poli-sci class with Columbia’s most active Marxist, Mark Kesselman, a good scholar and teacher and a nice guy. And like Sanders, he would draw on statistics about American income inequality, wage stagnation, and the lack of class mobility in “late capitalism.” And he presented these arguments well.

But we had in our class a Polish emigre, a fiery young woman named Irena who had been active in Warsaw student dissident politics. Irene, finally in a position to challenge Marxist arguments without fear of legal sanction—went for it. She called bullshit on Professor Kesselman. It was all pretty civil; this was grad school after all. But Irena emboldened the rest of us. For the inequality Kesselman described in 1976 America just wasn’t that severe. Yes, professionals made more than workers, and business execs far more. And yes, the children of doctors and lawyers were more likely to succeed than working class kids. But there was, as I think Kesselman was forced to concede, quite a bit of upward mobility from one class to another. And if a vice president of U.S. Steel made a lot of money (working in the “productive sector” as Irena called it, deploying the Marxian term with a kind of self-mocking irony, because she had no desire for a career there), was that really a crime?

I wonder how that class would go today. For Sanders, like Kesselman, talks a great deal about how much wealth is controlled by the one percent, or the one tenth of one percent, compared to the rest. He talks about how much students go into debt to attend college, in an era when a college education is as necessary as a high school diploma was fifty years ago.

And now, there really are very few U.S. Steels. The wealth of the one tenth of one percent is now concentrated in the financial industry. The money of the middle class has been redistributed upwards to Wall Street. No one calls it the “productive sector,” even ironically. Wall Street pays for the political campaigns, and pays for the politicians. It pays for Hillary Clinton. Sanders’s message is as simple as that. And there is a great deal of truth in it. If Kesselman taught his class today, what could grad student Irena possibly say to deflate him?

Snowed into my hotel room, I’m watching a Trump event on a video feed. It’s a town hall, not a rally. The first or second subject he chooses to address is the cost of prescription drugs. He says it’s a problem he would solve by negotiating better deals with the drug companies, and the other politicians don’t do it because they are in the pay of the drug companies. “Woody Johnson, I know him, nice guy.” But I’m not taking any of his money.

It’s not of course a Marxist message—Trump basically says he is independent of the donors because he’s rich, while Sanders says he is independent of them because he raised tens of millions of dollars in small donations. But both campaigns are criticizing the same thing, in divergent but essentially parallel ways. I don’t think this has a precedent in American history, the leading candidates of both parties running essentially class-based campaigns against a financial elite. Something to contemplate.

Predictions: Trump 28, Kasich 18, Cruz 14, Rubio 13, Bush 13, Christie 10, Fiorina 3, Carson 1.

Sanders 53, Clinton 47.

Scott McConnell, a founding editor of The American Conservative, reports on the 2016 campaign from New Hampshire.

Follow @ScottMcConnell9 [1]

19 Comments (Open | Close)

19 Comments To "Sanders and Trump in Very Late Capitalism"

#1 Comment By Alex On February 9, 2016 @ 8:04 am

Carson plummeted below Fiorina. And how it all began…

#2 Comment By TB On February 9, 2016 @ 9:14 am

SM: “I’ve heard before that Sanders is a one-issue guy—he talks about inequality, and he’s done little else for 40 years in politics. Everything comes back to that. But the stopped clock is sometimes right.”
____________________

Bernie talks about all the basic issues, many of which can be seen as the failure of public morality which results in inequality. But climate change is one not involving inequality. Fighting imperialist wars is another. Wall Street reform would be a third.

#3 Comment By Kurt Gayle On February 9, 2016 @ 9:55 am

A gem of a column!

Scott McConnell: “The wealth of the one tenth of one percent is now concentrated in the financial industry. The money of the middle class has been redistributed upwards to Wall Street. No one calls it the ‘productive sector,’ even ironically. Wall Street pays for the political campaigns, and pays for the politicians.”

In other words, the one tenth of one percent pays for the political campaigns, and pays for the politicians.

Except for Trump and Sanders.

Scott: “Trump basically says he is independent of the donors because he’s rich, while Sanders says he is independent of them because he raised tens of millions of dollars in small donations.”

Scott: “I don’t think this has a precedent in American history, the leading candidates of both parties running essentially class-based campaigns against a financial elite.”

#4 Comment By Johann On February 9, 2016 @ 10:24 am

Free trade gets the blame for almost everything, but deserves none of the blame. The usual suspects like to confuse free trade with crony capitalism. Its not out of ignorance. Its nefarious.

#5 Comment By Schuman On February 9, 2016 @ 10:48 am

One of the best developments of this campaign so far has been the number of conservative, right-wing people who have awaken to the grim reality of crony/globalist capitalism. You know something is happening when NRO blasts them as “economically and socially frustrated white men who wish to be economically supported by the federal government without enduring the stigma of welfare dependency”

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It is also worth noting that Trump is a businessman in an old-fashioned way people can relate to. He is a real estate mogul who employs actual workers to develop actual buildings, instead of just being a bankster shuffling fictional money around.

#6 Comment By WB On February 9, 2016 @ 12:59 pm

Ah yes, nefarious “Wall Street”. Easy target but what does that term even mean? The investment banks in lower Manhattan? The community banks of rural America? The mutual funds investing in, yes, the equities of corporate America? The hedge funds and private equity funds that invest the endowments of our universities and pensions of our unions? Who funds the “productive sector” if not shareholders and lenders? How exactly has the “money of the middle class has been redistributed upwards to Wall Street?” Did the aforementioned companies take it away from them? The banks didn’t distinguish themselves in the 2008 financial crisis, but overly dovish Fed policy and the politicization of Fannie/Freddie deserve at least equal blame.

Both outsider candidates–Trump and Bernie– understand correctly that our manufacturing and service industry middle class has been gutted. But instead of demagoguing “Wall Street”, perhaps they should be focused on reversing the decades of unfettered low-wage immigration, free trade agreements, and corporate tax rates that incentivize offshoring.

#7 Comment By Hankest On February 9, 2016 @ 1:37 pm

Schuman: “He is a real estate mogul who employs actual workers to develop actual buildings, instead of just being a bankster shuffling fictional money around.”

Not really. After going into bankruptcy 4 (or was it 5?) times, few banks would lend him money to build a hen house these days, much less a large development. Most of his money comes from licensing his name for projects being built by other developers, and also from being a game show host.

#8 Comment By ek ErliaR On February 9, 2016 @ 1:59 pm

The best analogies to our current situation are not to be found in 19th C. Marxism but in 17th C. English Leveller v. Grandee republicanism.

Read up on the enclosure acts, which were also expressions of free market capitalism exploiting the copy-holding and day laboring working class. In the end, it really is zero sum game.

#9 Comment By Schuman On February 9, 2016 @ 3:33 pm

Point taken Hankest, I should have put it that real estate was how he got started… but his newer activities are still better than offshore banking I guess.

#10 Comment By TB On February 9, 2016 @ 3:45 pm

WB wonders: “Ah yes, nefarious “Wall Street”. Easy target but what does that term even mean?”
___________

It’s a loose term referring to the Financial Industrial Complex that constitutes as much as 30% of the the world’s GDP on a nation-by-nation basis. The industry permits taxpayer subsidy of commercial investments, many of which are highly speculative. The banks that were too big to fail last time ’round are now even bigger and have a death grip on political parties all over the world. Derivatives on debt equity swaps are legal and are the strychnine killing the current phase of capitalism.
Finance has sold itself the rope with which it will hang itself… but not before hedging its own demise.

#11 Comment By philadelphialawyer On February 9, 2016 @ 5:27 pm

“I’ve heard before that Sanders is a one-issue guy—he talks about inequality, and he’s done little else for 40 years in politics. Everything comes back to that. But the stopped clock is sometimes right.”

Maybe (but see TB, above). But that issue is hardly “parallel” with Trump’s raison d’etre. Sure, there is a bit of ire for the workers of the world in Trump’s overall pitch, but his main deal is, basically, just being a jerk. Vulgar, arrogant, insulting people, being a know nothing, and a belligerent, ill- mis- or just totally uninformed idiot, when it comes to FP, and so on. Just the other day he explicitly endorsed the use of torture.

So, please. Bernie appeals to folks in the Democratic primary voter base who seriously and systematically see income inequality and wealth concentration as the biggest problem in American policy, politics, society and, perhaps, culture. Whereas Trump appeals merely to the least knowledgeable, crudest, and most vulgar sector of the Republican primary voter base.

#12 Comment By Joe the Plutocrat On February 9, 2016 @ 7:02 pm

actually, his father’s real estate is ‘how he got started’. just sayin’…

#13 Comment By Lee On February 9, 2016 @ 9:58 pm

It seems to me if you’ve got Trump taking second in Iowa with not much of an investment and ground game, then both Trump and Sanders clobbering the “establishment” with no much of an organized ground game in New Hampshire.

This is going to be an enduring game changer.

#14 Comment By Neal On February 10, 2016 @ 6:24 am

@WB – what does Wall St. mean?

“But even if there’s nothing technically wrong with this setup, it is exactly why Sanders’s message is resonating. By conventional standards it’s normal for the Democratic Party to appoint someone like Geithner: a Treasury secretary who is also the kind of person who could comfortably be a partner at a private equity firm and get a line of credit from a major global bank to paper over the fact that he’s not as rich as those colleagues. It’s not a scandal; it’s just how the game is played. And for many Sanders supporters, that is precisely what’s wrong.”

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Or this:

“But this is not really an investment strategy so much as a wager on which way oil prices are going,” says Craig McCann, principal at Securities Litigation and Consulting Group, a research firm in Fairfax, Va. “And some of the risks and costs of that wager are masked by the complexity of it.”

[4]

Gambling… that’s what we mean by Wall St.

#15 Comment By Kurt Gayle On February 10, 2016 @ 4:47 pm

@ philadelphialawyer, who says:

“…Trump appeals merely to the least knowledgeable, crudest, and most vulgar sector of the Republican primary voter base.”

Insulting us and calling us names — ”least knowledgeable, crudest, and most vulgar” – is not an approach that’s likely to convince many of us that we shouldn’t keep right on supporting Donald Trump for President.

But I sense that you knew that, philadelphialawyer.

Are you just frustrated that Trump is doing so well?

After all, we Trump supporters are not such bad folks. For the most part – like so many people — we’re pretty decent, hard-working Americans. We’re just looking for a fair shake. We view this election year pretty much the way Daniel Larison described it this morning:

“People have had it with being ripped off, and they know that it will continue if they settle for another conventional candidate. Trump is winning because more voters think Trump gets that in a way the other candidates don’t, and unless that changes dramatically in the next few weeks Trump seems likely to keep on winning by equally impressive margins.”

So, argue with us, philadelphialawyer! Debate the issues with us! Charm us! But best to leave off with the insults.

#16 Comment By philadelphialawyer On February 10, 2016 @ 10:39 pm

KG:

From the NH exit poll data:

“Voters who haven’t gone beyond high school were Trump’s best group by education; he won 45 percent of their votes. His support fell as education increased, to 21 percent among voters with a post-graduate education….”

Notice too that pretty much his entire plurality was built on this factor, as

“His support was remarkably consistent among many other groups – by gender, ideology, partisanship, income and most age groups, save seniors.”

But, if you want subjective rather than objective, just look at what Trump says…that Mexicans are rapists, that he is going to build a wall at Mexico’s expense that will end the problem of illegal immigration (and, now, apparently, the drug problem as well), that he is going to ban all Muslim immigrants, that he not only approves of water boarding (which is torture under international law, and a Federal crime, as well as a crime against humanity, not to mention disgustingly immoral), but even more severe forms of torture, that he is going to get tough with the whole world, and dictate to it, but somehow avoid war, that he is going to, on Day One, mind you, unilaterally redefine the terms of all of our trade agreements with Mexico, China, Japan, and all our other trading partners, that he is going to solve the health care problem, presumably by waiving a magic wand at it, etc, etc.

Beyond that, he is a four time bankrupt (talk about ripping people off!) masquerading as a business genius. Who has done exactly nothing for the working class his entire life. A man who inherited a fortune, and devoted himself to indulging the luxury class, as well being a crass, obnoxious reality TV personality (and whose signature line in that context is “You’re Fired!” ha, ha, ha, that’s great for working people, no?). A man who has zero qualifications for the job. A professional celebrity. A chronic and gratuitously insulting, boorish hack who sells his name to the highest bidder for a living.

And, beyond all that, what we really see with Trump is the classic fascist belligerence, xenophobia, hyper and irrational nationalism, the bullying tactics, the partial co optation of leftist rhetoric regarding legitimate working class grievances, the will to power, the arrogance, the contempt for institutions, the law and order racist tropes, the misogyny, the contempt for knowledge, and so on. I am actually quite scared of Trump, not merely “frustrated” by his success. I can only hope that the GOP voters, or failing them, the general electorate, come to their sense.

And the folks who support him insult themselves by doing so.

#17 Comment By philadelphialawyer On February 10, 2016 @ 10:44 pm

I would add that I find it distressing that many on this site, which I have always found to be the home of a traditional type of conservatism that, while not my cup of tea (being a big ole liberal), at least embodied a measure of dignity, of civility and manners, of respect for history and culture, and so on, seem to think that the Rise of Trump, who embodies the opposite of all that, is somehow a good thing. It is not. It is a disaster for all of us, liberal or conservative or moderate.

#18 Comment By AndOneMoreThing On February 10, 2016 @ 11:43 pm

” and I’ve learned from experience my car can’t handle it.”

Two words: Winter tires. If you live where there’s normally no snow, then your usual tires plus 4 cable chains.

Unless it’s a microcar, any passenger car, front or rear wheel drive but above bonsai size can do just fine in snow, even if it’s at the car’s floor level. When the snow reaches the top of the tires, it’s time to give up 😉

I’ve had several old rwd bucket-o-bolts. One had the standard open differential and old, hardened all season tires; it couldn’t handle 2 snowflakes. Wretched piece of junk. When I caught in a blizzard I threw on chains and passed SUVs spinning all 4 wheels. With tire chains, the car would keep going in snow deeper than the floor; it swept an outline of the undercarriage through the unplowed street.

#19 Comment By Ken On February 11, 2016 @ 12:50 pm

‘New Political Science’ published an interesting interview with Mark Kesselman a few years back, but unfortunately it’s behind a paywall: [5]