The force in modern American politics that has the greatest chance of doing irreparable harm is not an ideology per se, but rather a strategy, utilized by figues on both sides of the political spectrum.
From Bernie Sanders on the left to Donald Trump on the right, it is in full force. At first, any comparison between the two seems odd, as one is a self described “democratic socialist” and the other is a European-style right-winger.
But where the political philosophies of the two intersect are telling and indicative of both of their philosophies should be disregarded.
Both resort quasi-nationalist and isolationist rhetoric with regards to the military. Recently, Bernie Sanders famously boasted of how he did his “best to stop American foreign policy” earlier in his political career. He has been very vocal about his belief that the service of our troops is largely a waste of taxpayer dollars, effectively stating that the one budget cut he would be a fan of would be for our collective defense.
Trump’s rhetoric has largely reflected that sentiment, though his gut-level instincts of isolationism have been stymied by the higher-ups in his administration.
Both are nationalists on the topic of trade, as well. Both have actively called for, and in the case of President Trump, enacted, tariffs in order to try and save jobs in some industries, in spite of the damage all tariffs invariably inflict upon consumers.
Tariffs impose greater costs on domestic producers, and that cost is always passed on to consumers, meaning their net effect amounts to an additional tax. Their shared vision of international trade being a zero-sum, winner-take-all game, reached its natural conclusion in their opposition to the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a deal with China that would have been mutually beneficial and resulted in near free trade.
Lastly, there is both of their tendency to rail against who they see as a kabal of nefarious self-enriching elite, who, in their eyes, don’t care about the common man. Bernie’s dogwhistle for this group is the “One-Percent” and Trump called them “the swamp.”
One word for this bipartisan trifecta of phenomena is populism, that is to say it is a strategy aimed at gaining the support of ordinary people. That is not exactly an accurate term, as free trade and military hawkishness were at one point very popular among most people.
A better term in anti-intellectualism. Both men appear to be bucking the conventional wisdom of the establishment in spite of its success, and for the sole sake of being contrarian and looking like an outsider.
None of their ideas are new or particularly American. In fact, they are overtly european, with Trump sounding less like a Reaganite conservative and more like a European right-wing nationalist, and Bernie openly saying America should be like Scandinavian countries.
It has been our military influence and global trade prowess that have led to America being the most powerful country in world history, bar none. Does that mean every we have always made the right trade decision, or that every military action has been justified? Of course not, but it would be foolish for America to forget what made us great in the first place.
In short, America must be wary of con men who say that they will solve all of America’s problems with a wave of european-style policies. We fought a founding war to separate ourselves from the European way of governance. We should never look for inspiration in collectivism on the European right or left, but continue to be indivisibly individualistic for the sake of being American.