Donald John Trump and George Corley Wallace; Bernie Sanders and Henry Agard Wallace

A Trump lookalike.

The late Richard Hofstadter, in my view, will always rank as the greatest of all historians of American intellectual history.  “Intellectual history” is focused on the history of ideas and thinkers, rather than the chronology of events.

By the way, New Jersey has one of the leading experts on Richard Hofstadter, none other than his student at Columbia, former Governor Jim Florio.  I have always felt that the 1981 gubernatorial election between Jim Florio and Tom Kean was the greatest matchup of intellectual talents in American electoral history.  I cherish my friendship with both men.

Four of Hofstadter’s books have a prominent place on the shelves in my apartment library. The first three are essential for any serious student of American history:  The American Political Tradition and The Men Who Made It, The Age of Reform, and Anti-Intellectualism in American Life.

Yet it is the fourth book, which originally ran in 1964 as an essay in Harper’s, The Paranoid Style in American Politics, which explains the political success of both Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders better than anything I have read to date.

The Paranoid Style explains how in times of widespread public frustration and discontent, political candidates and movements thrive on appeals to the paranoia of voters, who are looking for some conspiratorial outside force to blame for their inability to cope with their unmet economic and security needs.  The “conspiratorial force” identification can differ from candidate to candidate; yet the methodology of the demagogic appeal is always the same.

In the case of Donald Trump, his identified evil force was nonwhite, non-Christian individuals and groups, both foreign and domestic.  In the case of Bernie Sanders, the demonic danger was capitalism and capitalists.

The Trump reaction to his conspiratorial villain manifested itself in terms of xenophobic and nativist appeals to racial and religious bigotry and hatred of immigrants.  Trumpist values were translated into policies of foreign and domestic isolation, including engaging with thuggish autocrats like Russia’s Vladimir Putin and Hungary’s Viktor Orban, and embracing the doctrine of America First.

The Sanders belief in the evils of capitalism and capitalists has been translated by him into advocacy of policies of Socialism in the domestic sphere and the guideline of Blame America First with regard to foreign policy.

And remarkably, both the Trump and Sanders movements have their historical roots from previous presidential candidates with the last name of Wallace. The Trump candidacy is a populist descendant of the George Corley Wallace candidacies for president in 1968 and 1972.  The Sanders candidacy is a virtual direct offspring of the Progressive Party presidential candidacy of former Vice President Henry Agard Wallace in 1948.

I made the connection between the Trump candidacy and the George Wallace candidacy early on, at the time Trump first announced his candidacy for the White House in the summer of 2015.  My following column, “George Corley Wallace and Donald John Trump” was written shortly after he announced his candidacy:

This column proved to be accurate in all respects except one:  I stated that Donald Trump could not and would not be reelected.  I could not have been more wrong.

I will not make the same mistake with Bernie Sanders.  To my utter consternation, Sanders now has a strong chance at both winning the Democratic Party nomination and defeating Trump.

Contrary to the notion of a Trump enhanced by the impeachment outcome, Trump has been badly politically injured by it.  As shown by the polls, a majority of Americans think he should be removed from the presidency for his abuses of power.

And the recent economic news showing that the rate of GDP growth in 2019 was only 2.3 per cent provides ample evidence that the Trump claim of an improved and galloping economy on his watch is a total fraud.  The Trump GNP growth rate of 2.5 percent since he took office is less than that of the last three years of Barack Obama and, in fact, is even less than that 3.28 percent rate of Jimmy Carter.  The domestic economy issue will be a negative, not a positive issue for Donald Trump.

Further clouding the Trump reelection prospects are recent statements from administration sources that the Trump administration is considering reductions of benefits under the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare), Medicare, and Medicaid.  Healthcare is the new third rail of American politics.  It cost the Republicans control of the House of Representatives in the 2018 election and threatens to cause them to lose control of the White House and the US Senate in 2020.

And while Trump has not been enhanced by the impeachment outcome, he has become emboldened to commit even more abuses of power and profoundly bigoted acts.  The proof of this is found in his extending his immigration ban last week to a number of African Islamic countries, without any justifiable cause.

All this makes Trump an extremely vulnerable reelection candidate in 2020.  And it warrants taking a much closer look at the historical roots of Bernie Sanders in the Henry Agard Wallace 1948 Progressive Party presidential candidacy.

Henry Agard Wallace, an Iowa agricultural entrepreneur, first served in government as Secretary of Agriculture under Franklin D. Roosevelt, where he pursued highly interventionist market policies.  By 1940, he was so identified as an effective New Deal spokesperson that FDR designated him as his preferred nominee for the vice presidency for his third term effort.

By 1944, Wallace was considered to be so radical that prominent political figures in the Democratic Party, most notably Democratic National Committee Chair Robert Hannegan were most apprehensive about the health of FDR and the possibility that in his fourth term, upon his passing, Wallace would ascend to the presidency.  Accordingly, they engineered at the Democratic National Convention, the replacement of Wallace on the national ticket by a more centrist Democrat, Harry S. Truman.

As a consolation to Wallace, FDR appointed him as Secretary of Commerce shortly after his January, 1945 fourth term inauguration. After FDR’s death in April, 1945, Wallace continued to serve as Commerce Secretary, but he was forced to resign by President Truman after he gave a speech in September, 1946 urging conciliatory policies of appeasement towards the Soviet Union.

After leaving the Truman administration, Wallace and his supporters established the Progressive Party, which served as a vehicle for his 1948 third party presidential campaign.  There were laudatory aspects of the Progressive platform, including desegregation of the South, racial and gender equality, and free trade.  The rest of the Progressive platform, however, was on the then radical leftward spectrum of politics, including national health insurance, public ownership of large banks, railroads, and power utilities, and appeasement of the former Soviet Union.

Just as Donald Trump is a direct political descendant of George Wallace, Bernie Sanders is a direct political descendant of Henry Agard Wallace.  Just as Henry Wallace favored national health insurance, Sanders favors Medicare for All.  Just as Henry Wallace favored appeasement of the former Soviet Union, Sanders has favored appeasement of Iran by voting against sanctions.  Just as Henry Wallace favored the nationalization of banks, railroads, and power utilities, Sanders has favored nationalization of the Internet and the energy sector.

Yet political descent from a common Wallace namesake is not all that Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump share.

Both Sanders and Trump have thuggish supporters in their ranks, albeit an unauthorized minority.  We have seen since the advent of the Trump campaign of 2015 thugs at his rallies who threaten reporters and African-Americans.  And now, with Sanders, we also see thugs who threaten people at his rallies and troll the Internet to intimidate his critics, as described by Bret Stephens in his New York Times column of January 30, 2020, “Bernie’s Angry Bros.”

Both Sanders and Trump have disdain for foreign policy experts with significant government service or exceptional academic achievement.  Trump has allowed his son-in-law, the remarkably incompetent, pathetically unknowledgeable, and totally inexperienced intellectual thimble Jared Kushner to become his chief policymaker on Middle East matters.

While Matt Duss, the chief foreign policy advisor of Bernie Sanders is knowledgeable and does have a master’s degree from the University of Washington, his level of academic achievement falls far below that of every principal presidential foreign policy advisor prior to the Trump administration over the past fifty years, including Henry Kissinger (Nixon/Ford), Zbigniew Brzezinski (Carter), George Shultz (Reagan), Brent Scowcroft (Bush 41), Madeleine Albright (Clinton), Condoleeza Rice(Bush 43), and Susan Rice (Obama), all of whom have PhDs.  And Duss is totally without governmental experience.

The third area of commonality between Trump and Sanders is the most troubling. Neither Donald Trump nor Bernie Sanders is an anti-Semite.  Yet both are shameless enablers of antisemitism.

Donald Trump is, in fact, unmistakably pro-Israel.  Yet his racism, nativism, and xenophobia have made him a magnet for white nationalists who are also anti-Semites. He has uncritically welcomed these groups into his campaign and given them a veneer of respectability and legitimacy they do not merit.  Trump’s comments lauding the white nationalist antisemitic marchers at Charlottesville as “good people” is a natural result of this legitimization process.

Bernie Sanders is Jewish and lived in Israel for a period of his life.  Yet if elected, he will constitute the greatest threat to the Israeli-American alliance to have ever served as president.

Bernie Sanders has already stated his willingness to cut off aid to Israel if they refuse to acquiesce to his demands for concessions, even if the Israelis see them as threatening their security.  This has made his presidential campaign a magnet for anti-Israel, antisemitic supporters of the vile antisemitic, anti-Israel Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement (BDS), including Rashida Tlaib, Ilhan Omar, and Linda Sarsour.

So there you have it – Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders: Opposite sides of the same demagogic populist coin.  I have contempt for Donald Trump for what he is – a despicable racist, misogynist, xenophobe, anti-intellectual nativist.  I dread Bernie Sanders for what he embraces – appeasement of terrorist regimes and economic socialism.

I am a person of the center-right who devoted his entire adult life to serving the Republican Party in campaigns and in government.  I left the Republican Party because of Donald Trump.  I will remain a center-right independent and will not join the Democratic Party of Bernie Sanders.

I expect Bernie Sanders to win in the Iowa caucuses tonight.  I hope that I am wrong.  I cannot vote for either Donald Trump or Bernie Sanders for president.

I approach the Iowa caucuses tonight in the most profound state of political apprehensiveness of my lifetime.

Alan J. Steinberg served as Regional Administrator of Region 2 EPA during the administration of former President George W. Bush and as Executive Director of the New Jersey Meadowlands Commission.

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One response to “Donald John Trump and George Corley Wallace; Bernie Sanders and Henry Agard Wallace”

  1. BDS is not anti-Semitic. And building settlements in violation of Article 49 of the 1949 Geneva Convention is not “security.”

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