The horizon is not so far as we can see, but as far as we can imagine

Why Trump, Corbyn and Sanders Are Doing Well

Let’s state the obvious about Trump.

No, not that he’s a joke, or a sign of fascism, or any of that.

Rather that a lot of what he says makes sense. His policies aren’t as crazy as people make out, and people who support him aren’t as stupid as the media pretends.

  • He doesn’t want to cut Social Security. Jeb Bush does. Obama has talked this up.
  • He wants full universal healthcare. Yeah, he badmouths Obamacare, but he’s badmouthing it from a position of, “Give them the real thing.”
  • His idea of returning manufacturing to the US and doing bilateral trade deals is not insane, or crazy, except to neo-liberal apologists and people too stupid to realize they’ve imbibed the economic philosophy of neo-liberalism, whose results have been the stagnation and then absolute decline of ordinary American wages. This is how capitalism worked for about half of capitalism’s history. Disagree if you like, but it’s not crazy.
  • His idea of simplifying the tax code enough so that ordinary people don’t need professionals to fill out their tax forms is a good one. Jimmy Carter, by the way, wanted to do the same thing.

I’m not a fan of Trump, there are plenty of reasons why he’s problematic, but he’s actually an economic populist on many issues. People shouldn’t overlook that this comes married to some nasty nativism, but I’m tired of people who are lumping all parts of the Trump campaign together.

Populist, nativist, runs off at this mouth.

And folks, he told the truth about buying politicians.

Trump is doing well because he is telling some truths other politicians won’t, and because his actual policies sound good to right-wing populists. Populists have been divided into right and left for a long time, but it’s feelings that matter to right-wing populists. Trump comes across as a straight shooter and that’s why they’ll vote for him. (It is also why many of them will cross the lines to vote for Sanders if he’s the Democratic nominee and Trump isn’t the Republican one.)

Anyone who feels like a “run-of-the-mill” politician loses big points in the current environment, because people feel like normal politicians are why we’re here, in this shithole economy, with no end in sight and plenty of reason to believe it could get a lot worse.

Sanders, Trump, and Corbyn in England (whom I’ll write about in a bit) are all doing well because of this dynamic. People are sick of the status quo and they will take a chance with anyone who is willing to actually bloody well try something different than the usual. And because most people don’t parse just on policy positions (nor should they, since politicians lie), what they are looking for are candidates who don’t act like the normal candidates and who therefore might actually do something different.

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Further Notes on Meditation and Cultivation


As Corbyn Rolls Towards the British Labour Nomination


  1. Tom

    I can swallow Trump. Albeit with bad taste. But damn just anyone not compromised by big money would be an improvement by magnitudes.

  2. Ian Welsh

    Oh yeah, I’m not a fan. But there’s more to him than a joke candidacy as the polls should tell people.

  3. markfromireland

    Agree with you about Trump. I don’t know (and don’t care) enough about Sanders to comment on him one way or the other.

    Looking forward to reading your thoughts on Corbyn. What I find interesting is the horror with which Neo-Liberal New Labour greet the prospect of having somebody who is after all nothing more than a fairly run of the mill socialist in a position of power in their party. Then there’s the even more hilarious reaction of the Neo-Liberal Conservative party establishment who simply cannot conceive of a world in which, to take just one example, the majority of the British people want the railways to be renationalised. Personally I hope Corbyn wins, a political party led by somebody who has demonstrated again and again that he believes what he says and is willing to fight for those beliefs. It is way past time that the Josephite orthodoxy that has held sway in England ever since Thatcher mounted her takeover of the Conservatives was challenged. A democratic debate what a novelty that will be to anyone born after Thatcher’s rise. I wonder how they’ll cope.


  4. Dear Ian,

    You might want to take a look at the Chinese currency. Sorry you do not get the joke.


  5. Ian Welsh

    Dear Stirling,

    I have noticed, since everyone’s been squealing like stuck pigs over a move that the Chinese should have been expected to be considering.

    I’ll get around to writing about it when I feel like it.

    If I feel like it.


  6. Yesterday is when the situated morons that are left in charge of things over the summer went in to Mona Lisa overdrive, now we will see if the real people will come to a deal. they did on Syria ( primarily the USA and Russia) which may or may not hold. they are progressively drawn to put one on Greece, but there is less success on. what people do not recognize is that the technodrones are busy when the rest of the population is paying attention.

  7. Trixie

    Let’s not forget that Trump has repeatedly — and unapologetically — said he would take care of the poor: It’s the right thing to do. And he makes it very clear that he won’t accept any pushback on that point. Hell, even Sanders doesn’t have the guts to make that claim outright even though many of his policies are targeted in that general direction.

    Problem (among many) with Trump is that he’s astonishingly thin-skinned; a diva even. He reminds me of Palin in this respect to say nothing about his (and her) inability to form a full sentence. Also? YUUUUUGE. And while it makes for great entertainment, I for one, don’t look forward to getting droned when I troll him on Twitter. Can POTUS sue the U.S.? We’ll find out.

  8. Escher

    Aha! So this is why the U.S. media (even Fox!) treats Trump like the Antichrist (though see Matt Taibbi on how this works at least partly in his favor). Clearly it’s not just the xenophobia: see Peter King, Tom Tancredo, etc.

    I hadn’t paid enough attention to the Republican side to know he took these positions. Sounds like he’d be a better president for working Americans than Obama.

  9. Peter VE

    A small sign: last November, 22% of the electorate in Rhode Island voted for Bob Healey for Governor, whose main platform was “I’m not business as usual.” Today, the most powerful politician in the state is trying to figure out how he can shovel tax money to the local sports franchise without the taxpayers approval. The career politicians really don’t get it, and by the time they do, it’ll be too late for them.

  10. Escher, “I hadn’t paid enough attention to the Republican side to know he took these positions.”

    That’s because the mass media quotes nothing but the “outrageous” sound bites that Trump makes, portraying him as a clown. They do not ever cite the positions he takes which might account for his popularity, even when they mention his standing in the polls, instead pretending bafflement at how such a buffoon can possibly be favored by so many people. Republicans, they claim, must be really, really stupid.

  11. Pelham

    I’m not a fan of Paul Krugman, but he gets halfway to a decent point when he says that Trump is no less credible policy-wise than any other Republican candidate.

    Trump is actually better than that. His policy positions make more sense, and his inflammatory manner that’s way outside the usual boundaries gives one at least a sense — perhaps false — that he means what he says.

    And this election cycle may be good timing for that sort of show. Any candidate treading the well-worn ruts of the usual campaign rhetoric carries more than a whiff of terminal rot about him or her, regardless of what they say or promise.

  12. John B.

    Is policy something you can just farm out? Because The Donald doesn’t really have a clue regarding policy. He has said nothing that makes me think he has any interest in the actual hard work of governing. And c’mon; his prescription for the southern border is completely insane. Let’s see if I have this right: A really Yuuuge wall that runs the length of the border that’s really tall that the Mexicans pay for and keeps the “illegals” out and that has a huge door for the “legals”. His bombast and hate attracts the same bunch that call themselves the teaparty because these guys are haters too and have no interest in real solutions to any of our problems. I get your point Ian about the right wing populism and I think that’s correct, but the guy is a joke as a “politician” and while that may make some feel better it’s only a panacea because all the rest are jokes too. His only real difference is that he doesn’t need the other billionaires and corporations money. That’s his ace in the hole.

  13. John B.:
    Is Trump any more of a joke than Walker or Jeb Bush? Of course not. Neither one of them care about governing either, besides shoveling money to their donors.

  14. Trixie:
    Every last politician is really thin-skinned. You rarely see it because it’s not often they are challenged by the little people.

  15. Socialist

    Just another beautiful example of how the people in charge of the US come up with new clowns every single election that seem different from the ones before. Every single time. And every single time the voters get fired up about something in these never ending circus. Well, as long as the voters are still buying into how the system is able to reform itself the more painful the change will be.

  16. John B.

    I agree Phil. And I believe I said that at the end of my comment above…

  17. EGrise

    The thing about Trump is that he’s a precursor: some ambitious politician, one who understands how to govern and how the game is played, is going to see what Trump accomplished and will use it as his playbook to get around the GOP candidate-control system, building his own empire/machine in the process.

    A more-or-less sincere populist with political & media savvy who understands power politics and has the backing of doggedly-loyal conservative voters? Hard to imagine a more irresistible force, especially if his only opponents are the feckless Democrats. And letting that person get his hands on the controls of the unitary executive will be very interesting – in the Chinese proverb sense.

  18. Ian Welsh


    yup, pitched that article to a few places, so far none have come back wanting it.

    Interesting, eh?

  19. Greg T

    GOP party elites prefer a controllable candidate like Jeb Bush or Scott Walker. Bush is from a multi-generation political family, so he has some latitude to use discretion. Walker does what the Koch brothers order him to do. Trump is way too independent for them, and as an executive, he’s used to giving orders, not taking them.

    Moreover, Trump is the only GOP candidate who is speaking to the real economic concerns of the voters. Mike Huckabee is the only other candidate in the field with a streak of economic populism, but his megaphone isn’t as loud as Trump’s. The GOP establishment has a problem here: they don’t want Trump to win the nomination, but they’re afraid of having him go third party where his presence favors the Democratic candidate. The strategy will be to peck at him and hope he withdraws on his own. Otherwise, they’ll have to carpet bomb him at the risk of alienating his core supporters. At some point, The decision-makers may decide it’s better to get Hillary in the White House, rather than risk a Trump victory, so they’ll force him into a third party run.

    On the Democratic side I don’t think Bernie Sanders is in the race to win it. His candidacy is an effort to help Hillary win in the general.

  20. Kris Kaul

    Wow. I was swayed by this article, not having really paid attention to what Trump was putting forward policy-wise, but after reading this article about Trump at Pando I wouldn’t put more value in what he says than the CO2 he used to spout them. And I also wonder about whether Stone and Trump (or maybe the Bush team) is behind the people protesting Bernie Sanders on race.

  21. Cynthia

    Ok, so Trump is a contemptuous chauvinistic jerk with a dyed Wombat pelt for hair. BUT, he did step out and say that unemployment is 20%, not 5%, and that ZIRP has caused a number of bubbles that is good for him and the wealthy, but bad for the rest of us.

    Don’t expect the other flock of elitist scumbags to say anything like that. Ever.

  22. Greg T:
    That’s just the problem. Trump will not withdraw if he’s first or second in the polls. The longer he stays at the top the more he’ll believe he really can win. And that’s dangerous for the GOP.

  23. Karl Kolchack

    It is a shame about Trump’s mindless nativism, because unfettered immigration IS the flip side of the “free” trade coin. If illegal immigrants were not tacitly recruited to come to America to “do jobs Americans won’t do,” employers would have to raise wages to a competitive level.

  24. Capital mobility without labour mobility is the worst of all worlds though. It means that the little people are prisoners but the big people are not.

  25. Declan

    Per Tom’s opening comment, a large and growing portion of Americans, just want someone other than Lucy to hold the football – anyone, even if it’s Pig-Pen or Woodstock. And really, who can blame them.

  26. V. Arnold

    I think you’re all fucking nuts as regards the “candidates”!
    What candidates? Trump? Oh please, he’s a dangerous loon; akin to a Hitler.
    I even think Ian has shown his strengths, however, study your bloody history! If by some miracle he got elected? He’s be killed or forced to tow the line.
    The very extremes today are a product of the very policies of pre-war/pre Weimar Germany.
    There are no viable candidates running for the 2016 presidency. Sanders will be crushed or bought.
    By viable I mean differencial in a way that matters.
    Obama, shithole that he proves to be, is the perfect example of idealism clashing with the reality of the U.S. governance. It’s a done deal; fixed policy; just where do you think you’re living? Iceland? Where votes matter (you do have the electoral college)?
    Gods be good; you’all live in wonderland…

  27. Giselle

    Trump’s point of view is medieval particularly about women and immigrants.

    I think you’re mistaken about why he’s popular. This primary season hasn’t been remotely about issues and its been am entirely soundbite campaign with the most outrageous, egregious statements at the forefront. Witness Huckabee saying his ridiculous oven comment and immediately jumping a few points in the polls.

    No, the real reason for trumps popularity is that he’s unabashedly saying what the simian, nativist base of the Republican party believes: all our problems are due to immigrants, uppity women, and minorities.

    With sanders he’s playing the now standard left face of the democratic party that Kucinich, Dean, and even Jessie Jackson once played. He’s a gatekeeper to bring heavily disillusioned liberals and progressives that have witnessed the horror of the Obama regime, into the futility of the democratic party as it follows the Republican party in its rightward lurch of a police state, massive spying, subsidizing bankers, and provoking conflicts across the globe.

  28. One has happened is that the money line has punched through the popularity line, Clinton and Bush are parodies without ideas. This has happened before. that is why Trump, Bernie, and other candidates running for other elections are not starters, people are basically telling the inner establishment to come back with other ideas. Instead the inner establishment is thinking about running the VP, which shows how crass and stupid they are. The outside wants to consume, but not promote, thus we get in to the situation where non-candidates from the inside face non-candidates from the outside.

  29. realitychecker

    Agree with the points Ian makes, but would add that much Trump support probably comes from those who think (correctly) that the “political correctness” pendulum has swung too far in the direction of subjugating truth to feelings.

  30. S Brennan


    A very succinct set of sentences:

    “At some point, The decision-makers may decide it’s better to get Hillary in the White House, rather than risk a Trump victory, so they’ll force him into a third party run. On the Democratic side I don’t think Bernie Sanders is in the race to win it. His candidacy is an effort to help Hillary win in the general.”

    BlackAgenda has labeled Bernie a “sheepdog” keeping the flock under the wholly owned corporate tent of the Neo-Democratic-Party…and no, it’s not your father/grandfather’s [depending on your age] party of FDR.

    Someone more clever than me, needs to give the Democratic Party a nifty handle that declares it’s transition to international corporate sycophant.

  31. Sandman

    S Brennan–

    I tried to work something together about “coveting the favors of the donor class more than they fear the wrath of their constituents” … but I just couldn’t make it snappy, you know?

  32. S Brennan

    It’s got to have snap. I’m sticking with NeoDemocratic until some “snappy” wordsmith comes up with a better term for the hijacked party of FDR.

  33. DMC

    Trump is “the man on the white horse” to the Republicans. When Trump says something, the base tends to believe that he means it, rather than just saying what the polls sugest he ought to say or what the Koch Bros/Sheldon Adelson payed him to say. It may be outrageous or stupid or reactionary but the very fact of its believablity is such a contrast to the rest of Republican “clown car” that Trump is running away with the polls. Why vote for some plutocrat’s lickspittle when you can vote for an actual plutocrat and cut out the middle man?

  34. S Brennan


    Whatever Trump is…he’s not “poll driven”…he’s way to impulsive, I don’t know where you read that, but it sounds like a professional critic doing some “poll tested” criticism.

  35. Greg T

    S Brennan-

    How about ” The New Ordeal “

  36. Carla

    @Giselle–good analysis. Thanks.

  37. different clue


    Here’s a couple of “name that party” suggestions.
    The Clintobamacrat Party.
    The New Yuppie Scumocrat Party.

    For what they may be worth . . .

  38. DMC

    S. Brennan,

    I didn’t mean to suggest that he was poll driven rather the opposite as you say, he’s much too mercurial, not to say egomaniacal, to care about polls. He’s the “visionary” type rather than the idealouge, in that he’s all about the ends (and therefore considers that the ends being adequetely and accurately described is essentialy the whole of the fight) and pays people to take care of the means. Idealogue’s are all about the means and assume the proper ends will come about as long as the ideology is followed for sufficient time and with sufficient fervor.

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