The National Review’s claim that Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders are “two peas in a pod” is false, but Trump and Sanders are working the same pond. (More)

“You don’t do that by making people in this country even poorer”

In a Vox interview last month, Bernie Sanders explained why he opposes an “open borders” immigration policy:

It would make everybody in America poorer – you’re doing away with the concept of a nation state, and I don’t think there’s any country in the world that believes in that. If you believe in a nation state or in a country called the United States or UK or Denmark or any other country, you have an obligation in my view to do everything we can to help poor people. What right-wing people in this country would love is an open-border policy. Bring in all kinds of people, work for $2 or $3 an hour, that would be great for them. I don’t believe in that. I think we have to raise wages in this country, I think we have to do everything we can to create millions of jobs.
I think from a moral responsibility we’ve got to work with the rest of the industrialized world to address the problems of international poverty, but you don’t do that by making people in this country even poorer.

Many conservatives argue that immigration depresses wages for American workers and an anti-immigration think tank says that’s why fewer U.S. teenagers work summer jobs. That makes intuitive sense, but economic research says immigrant workers actually boost Americans’ standards of living, and suggest an “open borders” policy could double global GDP. And as Vox’s Dylan Matthews argues that Sanders’ stance on immigration is out of step with core progressive values:

The second problem isn’t a matter of facts, but of values. As a U.S. senator, Sanders believes he is obligated to put the interests of the United States – and of Vermont in particular – ahead of the interests of any other country. That means, for him, heavily discounting the interests of people in other countries.

To be clear, Sanders supports immigration reform and executive actions to protect undocumented workers and their families. But his history on immigration is complex and largely driven by his concern that immigrants displace American workers.

A “very, very cruel” plan

Donald Trump’s position on immigration is much less complex. He would strangle the Mexican economy until they agree to pay for a wall across our southern border, end birthright citizenship, restrict high-skilled workers, and make life so miserable that undocumented workers have no choice but to leave. As Vox’s Ezra Klein writes:

It all seems like fantasy. But when you read Trump’s immigration plan closely, you realize Trump actually has a theory of how to get this done – it’s just a very, very cruel one.

Trump’s plan is to inflict tremendous pain on vulnerable people who have, in most cases, done nothing wrong. In some instances, he wants to inflict that pain in order to make another, more powerful actor do something he wants. In some cases, he seems to want to inflict that pain for no particular reason at all. But his plan, read in its totality, is breathtaking in its callousness.

If you understand immigration policy as a kind of negotiation between the United States government, legal immigrants, and unauthorized immigrants – which is clearly how Trump understands it – his plan is to win the negotiation by being willing to inflict more suffering than the other actors can bear; he is willing to care least about the human cost of the negotiation.

“Sanders and Trump: Two Populist Peas in a Pod?”

That’s the headline of Jonah Goldberg’s column yesterday at the National Review:

A new chapter in American politics has begun.

Millions of Americans on the right and left have lost faith in their political parties, their government, and even the economic system. Only one in four Americans are satisfied with the way things are going.

Policy experts will offer various arguments why at least some of these people are wrong to feel this way, but the discontented will not tolerate arguments that amount to “don’t believe your lying eyes – or wallets.” In politics, feelings are more important than hard numbers.

Goldberg arguably overstates the similarities. Sanders opposes open borders, but he wants to protect undocumented workers already here and proposes other policies to help workers overseas. By contrast, Trump promises to inflict pain on both undocumented workers and workers overseas, arguing that’s the only way (white) American workers can succeed again. Sanders and Trump are not “two peas in a pod.”

“He’s speaking out for a lot people”

But their supporters swim in the same pond, as Vox’s Lee Drutman explains:

The data on this is pretty clear. Put simply: While most elite-funded and elite-supported Republicans want to increase immigration and decrease Social Security, a significant number of voters (across both parties) want precisely the opposite – to increase Social Security and decrease immigration. So when Trump speaks out both against immigration and against fellow Republicans who want to cut Social Security, he’s speaking out for a lot people.

By my count of National Election Studies (NES) data, 24 percent of the US population holds this position (increase Social Security, decrease immigration). If we add in the folks who want to maintain (not cut) Social Security and decrease immigration, we are now at 40 percent of the total electorate, which I’ll call “populist.” No wonder folks are flocking to Trump – and to Bernie Sanders, who holds similar positions, though with more emphasis on the expanding Social Security part and less aggression on immigration.

That 40% populist pond is not homogeneous, as Drutman’s data show. Sanders and Trump are using different appeals, and many of their supporters have little in common. Yet they are speaking to a common frustration, and there is at least some overlap among their supporters:

It is not that Trump supporters necessarily trust Trump to be their champion or that he can be relied upon to deliver better than other politicians. It is the confidence that he can’t do worse (and just might do better). In the meantime, his supporters relish the contempt he shows toward the mainstream media and politicians (a contempt which is shared not just by Tea Party conservatives, but many educated liberals and independents). I am a Bernie Sanders supporter. But if I had to vote for any Republican, it would certainly be Trump. In a face off between Hillary Clinton and Trump, I again would vote Trump. While he might not deliver on his promises, he would certainly be a bull in the China shop of contemporary American politics, which has long needed destroying and rebuilding.

“There’s nothing holy about working in a factory as opposed to making a bed or cleaning a toilet”

The huge difference is what they would change. Trump’s promise of returning factory jobs to the U.S. is based on the myth that those jobs went to China, rather than to robots. Indeed Trump would move auto plants around the U.S. to break unions and lower wages. By contrast, Sanders recognizes that factory jobs are not the Holy Grail:

If you look at what the culinary workers have done in Las Vegas, you have people who are cleaning toilets, who are making beds, who are making $35,000 or $40,000 a year and have good health-care benefits. So the answer is there’s nothing magical [about working in a factory]. I mean, what we have historically seen in this country, until recently, by the way, is that if you worked at a union factory in Detroit – and this is changing, sadly, as part of the race to the bottom – generally speaking, you can make a middle-class wage, $20 to $25 an hour, you have good benefits, you have a retirement program. And that’s being attacked every single day.

There’s nothing holy about working in a factory as opposed to making a bed or cleaning a toilet. In the case of workers in the hotel industry, we have seen with good unions they can in fact earn a living wage and good benefits.

Not surprisingly, Trump opposes hotel worker unions. They may be working the same pond, but Sanders and Trump have very different plans for the fish.


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