The Misleading "Anti-Establishment" Label



There has been an unfortunate tendency to lump Trump and Sanders supporters together as "anti-establishment." While both candidates focus on the corruption in the political system and the plight of many in the middle class, they represent very different strains in contemporary American politics. Trump's "Make America Great" campaign is essentially a right-wing, nationalistic siren call for a return to the past, combining a nostalgic vision of America's past with an apocalyptic vision of the future. His appeal to an older, white male constituency - or what a friend of mine calls the "Goddamn It Party" - illustrates Trump's focus on the past, as well as the danger he represents for the future.

Sanders' supporters, on the other hand, are generally young, optimistic and forward-thinking. Unlike the Trump platform, which offers vague and often conflicting promises, the Sanders' campaign is focusing on income inequality and the corrupting influence of money in politics - both serious concerns that are important for all Americans and the future of our society. While neither Trump nor Sanders have presented a pathway to solutions, the differences in their narratives are stark. It's true that both are anti-establishment, but Sanders' vision is of a more just and equal society, while Trump seems to want to simply burn it all down.

Another obvious difference is in the personalities of the candidates. While Sanders has been accused of over-reaching in his campaign against Clinton, it is understandable that he would want to fight hard for a platform that he believes in. In his heart, the 74-year old socialist Sanders may have little interest in serving as president. The narcissistic Trump, on the other hand, is psychologically driven toward ever greater power and prominence.

What is most engaging about Sanders is his message, which has attracted millions of Millennial voters. Millennials are the largest generation in American history, and will soon dominate our politics and government. While some may be skeptical of their optimism and impatience for big changes, this is precisely the right approach to secure America's future in the twenty-first century. Their civic involvement, global perspective, embrace of diversity, support of immigration reform and dedication to environmental causes is exactly what America needs.

With most Americans longing for change, the coming generation provides real hope and understanding of what that change will look like. While Bernie Sanders may not be the right person for president, he is definitely the right messenger for change. Hillary Clinton certainly understands this, and will be looking to Sanders and his supporters, particularly those in the Millennial generation, to be both the advocates and agents of change if she is elected president. However, if Donald Trump makes it to the White House, he can expect active and aggressive opposition from those same Millennials.