What makes Donald Trump so popular?
It is tempting to blame the voters for the tremendous uproar Donald Trump has been creating. He is a super sized celebrity. The newspapers and the radio cannot deal with him enough. Every day brings a new episode of Donald being naughty and getting away with it. The voters, it seems, do not know the difference between a celebrity and the leader of the government. Trump, it is clear, is not qualified to be president however entertaining he may be. But voters nevertheless like him best in a large field of candidates.
In order to understand Trump’s popularity, however, you have to look at the other side of the political spectrum, at Bernie Sanders in the US and now Jeremy Corbyn in Britain.
Two days ago Jeremy Corbyn was selected the leader of the Labor Party. The conservatives, the Tories, are at the moment the majority party in parliament and the prime minister is a conservative. The Labor Party, the opposition, 10 years or so ago elected Tony Blair, who fell all over himself in his eagerness to join George Bush in the ill-considered war in Iraq. But now Labor has chosen a very different leader. Corbyn calls himself a socialist; he is a champion of the working people. One of his proposals is for having not only a minimum wage but also a maximum wage; he would put a cap on the obscene incomes of the very rich. Corbyn is committed to oppose the austerity measures that have mainly affected the poor. He has been, and continues to be, a firm opponent of war as a major foreign policy initiative. He opposed the Iraq war. He will not support British participation in the war in Syria.
Corbyn is unconventional. He travels by bike. He does not own a car but shamefacedly admits to owning two bikes.
Corbyn is critical of the lack of serious debate in the Britsh Parliament. Too much time, he thinks, is spent trying to look good, to appeal to specific constituencies. The business of governing is neglected. Debates lack substance.
In the US, Bernie Sanders is our Jeremy Corbyn. He is primarily interested in saying what he believes needs to be said. He too declares himself a socialist; he is on the side of the poor. He speaks out continually against inequality and injustice. He does not hesitate to advocate higher taxes on the very rich.
There is an interesting contrast between Sanders ( and Corbyn ) and politicians in the mould of Hilary Clinton. Her first thought is not about what are good policies but about whether she is going to offend anyone by what she says. The effect on potential voters and, more importantly, important donors seems her main concern, not what is best for the country she wants to lead. Her first interest is in being liked by the electorate and the millionaires who finance elections. What she proposers as government policies must first pass the popularity test. Would you buy a used car or a used government from this woman?
There can be no doubt that voters at the moment are really disillusioned with the political style of the Hilary Clintons of this world. They do not want to be manipulated by politicians whose main concern is to say what voters want to hear. They are looking for politicians who are talking about the condition of the country and of the world and about remedies they propose.
Conservatives are in the same frame of mind. But they will not flock to Bernie Sanders. They have Donald Trump who does not hesitate to speak his mind, who refuses to weigh every word fearful that he might offend someone.
To be sure, Trump speaks out offensively on matters that have no bearing on the well-being of the nation. His speech disturbs not because he is principled and cares for his country, and for the world but because he is ill-tempered and compensates for massive insecurities by talking only about himself.
But Trump too wants be elected for who he is and for what he thinks, not for his carefully vetted speeches that aim at pleasing voters and misleading them. Trump will not be elected because, in the end, he is not serious and not qualified. But his supporters trust him to say what’s on his mind,not what he thinks his audience wants to hear.
Politicians have for a long time spoken in the deceptive tones of used car salesmen. What the voters are looking for in the candidates is a modicum of honesty. Sanders and Trump are frontrunners because they are not trying to sell the Brooklyn Bridge to anyone. That is hugely refreshing for many, even those who may not be fully persuaded by the candidates’ message.