Populism is typically born in places like
It's not supposed to hail from
You could say that
Looked at through a historical lens, a billionaire Manhattanite from
And yet, what you might call "blue state populism" is here.
It's a fantastic moment to compare and contrast, as they used to say in school.
If you can ignore the fact that he's a billionaire who brags about having been part of the corrupt political system he promises to overthrow, Trump resembles some of the great populists of yesteryear. He's a nationalist who promises to restore the country to the greatness his followers nostalgically desire. He's a nativist whose one core issue is stopping illegal immigration -- and now any immigration of Muslims, "temporarily." And he's a consummate panderer -- or, if you prefer, "fighter" -- who channels and validates his supporters' frustrations. As the fictionalized
Sanders, meanwhile, is all about populist economics -- literally. With the exception of his pacifism, he is almost incapable of talking about anything else. But his worldview would be totally recognizable to
The proper role for populist-run government is to make the puppetmasters pay, literally and figuratively. Our economy is "designed by the wealthiest people in this country to benefit the wealthiest people in this country at the expense of everybody else," Sanders insists. The "billionaire class" has rigged it all, and he's so angry about it, he often seems more interested in tearing down the rich than building up the poor. (To borrow a Seinfeldian phrase, Sanders sounds like an old man sending back soup at a deli.)
This is one place where Sanders and Trump overlap. They want to make the people ruining this country pay. Sanders wants to impose a cartoonish "speculation" tax on
The one area where Trump and Sanders break totally with populist practice, other than geography, is religion. Nearly all of the famous heartland populists of yore were steeped in Christianity and spoke its language fluently. Long's "Share the Wealth" plan, for instance, was vaguely derived from the Bible.
Sanders is a "not particularly religious" Jew who hates to talk about religion. Trump, because he's seeking the
That may be a sign of the times. Or it may just be the kind of politics you get when you start a populist prairie fire so far from the prairies.