With GOP presidential candidate Donald Trump and Democratic candidate, Sen. Bernard Sanders handily winning their respective primaries in New Hampshire, it’s time to talk about the dangers of populism lacking in foundational principles.
Donald Trump and Sen. Bernard Sanders are radically different, but between them runs a bright red populist thread.
Business Dictionary offers an excellent definition of populism:
“[An] ideology or political movement that mobilizes the population (often, but not always, the lower classes) against an institution or government, usually in the defense of the underdog or the wronged. Whether of left, right, or middle political persuasion, it seeks to unite the uncorrupt and the unsophisticated (the ‘little man’) against the corrupt dominant elites (usually the orthodox politicians) and their camp followers (usually the rich and the intellectuals). It is guided by the belief that political and social goals are best achieved by the direct actions of the masses.”
Populism isn’t inherently bad. If a government is corrupt, it’s not incorrect for the people over whom that government presides to revolt in some way. The problem with populism lies in its underpinnings. Trump and Sanders are populists because it’s not a political ideology so much as a people’s revolt against the prevailing political system–whatever that may be.
Trump and Sanders have each tapped into the American peoples’ anger over the decades-old behavior of the establishment in Washington–they’ve just tapped into this anger in different ways.
Here’s the danger on the conservative side. Donald Trump isn’t a constitutional conservative.
He donated $50,000 to Rahm Emanuel’s mayoral campaign. That shows a lack of dedication to the election of good people.
He tried to use eminent domain to push an elderly woman off her land in order to build a parking lot for one of his casinos.
National Review‘s Robert Verbruggen writes:
“[Trump] tried to negotiate, at one point offering Coking $1 million for the land. But she wasn’t budging. So New Jersey’s Casino Reinvestment Development Authority filed a lawsuit, instructing Coking to leave within 90 days and offering compensation of only $251,000.”
Fortunately, Coking won when a judge tossed the case in 1998. Trump argued in a recent debate that it wasn’t a big deal because he didn’t end up getting the land. That’s like someone on trial for attempted murder arguing that he shouldn’t go to prison because he didn’t actually finish the job. The intent was there to undermine this woman’s property rights. Again, not a conservative thing to do.
He rebuked Kentucky’s Kim Davis for defying a law she viewed as incompatible with her faith. He’s unwilling to fight against religious persecution.
Planned Parenthood praised Donald Trump for saying he wouldn’t want to defund them–Trump failing to grasp the concept of fungibility, apparently.
Trump said he reversed his position on abortion because his friend was going to abort her son, but didn’t, and the kid tuned out to be a “superstar.” Trump went from being pro-abortion to being allegedly pro-life because a kid turned out to be cool.
When the Daily Caller‘s Jamie Weinstein asked Trump if he would have become pro-life had his friend’s kid turned out to be a “loser,” Trump replied:
“Probably not, but I’ve never thought of it. I would say no, but in this case it was an easy one because he’s such an outstanding person.”
As recently as 2012, Trump supported amnesty. Yes, you read that correctly.
Speaking with Fox News in June 2012, Trump said:
“For people that have been here for years that have been hard-workers, have good jobs, they’re supporting their family — it’s very, very tough to just say ‘By the way, 22 years, you have to leave. Get out’…I’m one of the world’s very conservative people, but I have to tell you on a human basis, how do you throw somebody out that’s lived in this country for twenty years?”
When the issue became a focal point with the Gang of Eight bill, and Trump decided to run for the Republican nomination, he suddenly became fervently anti-amnesty.
Trump isn’t a conservative, he’s a Trumpservative. He does whatever serves the greater goal of “winning.” It’s his own version of populism.
Sanders is something else entirely. He seems to believe the wealthier among us should be penalized for being wealthy. He wants to redistribute wealth on a massive scale, and do a great many things for “the people,” all paid for with taxpayer money.
This is the danger of populism without constitutional constraint. When one does whatever he believes the people want–and is thus very popular–it ultimately leads to chaos, and a failed state.
For an example of the opposite, during an interview with Guns.com, Ted Cruz was asked:
“Did you go against the want of the nation with your vote against Manchin-Toomey [gun control bill]? And also, how does public opinion shape your response to national problems?”
The reporter had noted public polling was in favor of the bill.
“I would note that when you asked about the role of public opinion polls–when it comes to constitutional rights, what matters is what the Bill of Rights says. It doesn’t matter what might be popular at the moment. We’ve seen regimes across the face of the earth come and take peoples’ guns, strip away their rights to defend themselves–and sometimes it’s been very popular. And yet, it is an inevitable prelude to tyranny…that ultimately is not subject to public opinion polls, it’s subject to the express protections in the Bill of Rights…”
Let’s say the United States is a ship, the leaders we elect are the navigators, and the people are the captain. We’re sailing on the open sea, we the captain are on deck, and the elected navigators are up above on the look-out. Directly in front of us is clear water, but to the left and right are coral reefs upon which we would surely wreck. We the captain demand that the ship go left. Despite having a map, and clearly seeing the danger ahead, the navigator capitulates, and the ship turns left into dangerous water.
That’s populism unchecked. With the foundational map (see: the Constitution), we can avoid danger, but the populist doesn’t care to be restrained by such a guiding document. He simply listens mindlessly to the people.
That’s Donald Trump, and Bernie Sanders. Don’t vote for populists.