Bernie Sanders

In Trump, Sanders, and Pope Francis, a Warning About the Politics of Crowds

All three of these political stars of the moment are drawing big crowds by the dangerous old method of blaming a minority.

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The voice I find myself missing this political season is that of Fouad Ajami, who died last year. Not so much for Ajami's insights into the area that was his academic speciality, the Middle East, though one certainly wishes for his thoughts on the Islamic State, the humanitarian disaster that is Syria, and the nuclear sanctions relief deal with Iran. Rather, for the wisdom Ajami displayed back in 2008 in his Wall Street Journal article on the "Politics of Crowds." That newspaper article is nearly seven years old at this point, but the events of this month sent me scrambling to re-read it.

"Hitherto, crowds have not been a prominent feature of American politics. We associate them with the temper of Third World societies," Ajami wrote. "We think of places like Argentina and Egypt and Iran, of multitudes brought together by their zeal for a Peron or a Nasser or a Khomeini. In these kinds of societies, the crowd comes forth to affirm its faith in a redeemer: a man who would set the world right." 

He wrote, "the tragedy of Arab political culture has been the unending expectation of the crowd—the street, we call it—in the redeemer who will put an end to the decline, who will restore faded splendor and greatness."  Ajami did not mention, in that particular article, Germany of the 1930s. But to readers with even a casual knowledge of 20th century European history, that, too, is a cautionary example of crowds massing to support a redeemer promising to restore greatness.

To be sure, there are counterexamples, when crowds were constructive, or when a politician really did restore greatness. There one thinks of the Boston Tea Party, or the March on Washington for civil rights, or the presidency of Ronald Reagan. What makes a crowd dangerous is a focus on a scapegoat, a vulnerable minority that can be blamed for all the problems. 

Which brings us to 2015, and to the redeemer-politicians drawing large crowds. There are three of them: Donald Trump, Bernie Sanders, and Pope Francis. None of their fans will be happy about my comparing them to Hitler, Nasser, or Khomeini, so let me be clear—I don't doubt their genuine good intentions. Donald Trump seems genuinely to love America and want to restore it to greatness. Bernie Sanders seems genuinely to want to improve the lives of Americans struggling with medical bills, student debt, or low wages. Pope Francis seems genuinely to care about and want to help the poor. The pontiff also to wants to protect the earth's environment.

But intentions aside, all three of these political stars of the moment are drawing big crowds by the dangerous old method of blaming a minority. And the hopes invested in all three are bound to be disappointed.

Trump blames Mexican immigrants who can't even vote. Sanders blames what he calls "the billionaire class," a class whose purported vast influence doesn't seem to have done anything to prevent Sanders' own formidable political rise. The pope blames the bankers, denouncing "usury" and what he called "oppressive lending systems which, far from promoting progress, subject people to mechanisms which generate greater poverty, exclusion and dependence."

Trump's policy proposals—abrogating free trade agreements, raising marginal tax rates on the most economically productive Americans—are unlikely to lead to a restoration of American greatness and in fact are likely only to accelerate a national decline. Sanders' policy proposals—increased taxing, spending, and regulating—are also unlikely to lead to a restoration of American greatness. They are more likely to send America down the path of a Europe-style socialist decline, with high unemployment, slow growth, and less technological innovation. And the pope's policy proposals, on reforming capitalism and countering global warming, are themselves unlikely to help either the poor or the environment.

Michael Grunwald, who is not exactly a right-wing ideologue, made the environment point in a Politico piece headlined, "Why the Pope is wrong about climate."

The pope isn't a big fan of the profit motive, but it's the best hope for bringing clean-tech products to the masses. It's what inspired firms like Solar City and SunRun to offer no-money-down leases for rooftop solar panels. It's what's inspiring Wall Street to securitize those leases for investors, which will pour more money into the solar industry and further drive down costs. Elon Musk hopes to change the world, but Tesla wouldn't have a prayer of reinventing transportation (and now grid storage as well) without investors who hope to make a buck. 

(..) Pope Francis writes about the dangers of excessive growth, which 'leads to the planet being squeezed dry beyond every limit,' but economic growth usually produces better environmental protection, which often seems to be a luxury poor countries can't afford."

Where's the politician who can draw a crowd for an optimistic vision of American capitalism, growth, and technological progress? The supporters of such a vision may not have time to go to papal parades or political rallies because they are too busy working, creating, or taking care of families. Let's hope they aren't too busy to vote.

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37 responses to “In Trump, Sanders, and Pope Francis, a Warning About the Politics of Crowds

  1. Donald Trump, Bernie Sanders, and Pope Francis. None of their fans will be happy about my comparing them to Hitler, Nasser, or Khomeini

    None of their fans will be happy about your comparing them to each other.

  2. Thanks for the laugh of the day, Ira. Yes, illegal immigrants, billionaires, and banks. Only you could see the commanity in all three.

    1. The only reason you can’t is because you’re a fucking imbecile.

      1. No, it’s because he’s one of the brownshirts to whom Stoll is referring.

      2. No, it’s because he’s one of the brownshirts to whom Stoll is referring.

  3. Trump Ross Perot will disappear after the LP is properly drowned out as an alterative. But if Bernie or the Pope iv Rome were sincere wealthy altruists, they would donate their own money, or maybe gold communist crucifixes. Let the Pope be P and Bernie B, C are the citizenry and D the miserable wretched objects of their concern and pity. P and B put their heads together to decide what C will be forced at gunpoint to do for D. C, or Joe Citizen, is the Forgotten Man.

  4. If Ira Stoll thinks blaming the illegal mexicans for their obscene murder rates and criminal actions is a matter of “blaming minorities” he is deaf, dumb and blind. Blaming the Mexican illegals is
    popular because the public can se how they are shafting this country – most on welfare, increasing the crime rate by 30% in those sattes where they are concentrated etc. There are PLENTY of VERY GOOD reasons for criticizing the illegals. Get your head out of your ass, Ira.

    1. Which obscene murder rates would those be? Let’s see a source for that.

      1. Not to mention the fact that if ‘obscene murder rates’ of a group is a justification for deportation there’s a lot of Americans that should have to get kicked out before the Mexicans. There’s certainly no element of ‘blaming minorities’ from scum like Arthur who pretend that the filthy wetbacks are degenerate monsters compared to Americans who engage in the same behaviour.

  5. “The pope blames the bankers,” etc.

    Just because you don’t like someone doesn’t mean you can just invent a cartoon version of his views and whip up a two-minute hate.

    If you want to rebut someone’s ideas you first have to fairly state what those ideas are. *Then* you can whip up the crowds into a frenzy.

    The Pope wasn’t criticizing generic “bankers,” but international lending institutions for their policies toward poor countries. This is when an international lending institution lends money to a poor country’s government in exchange for that government’s promise to pay the loan back…out of the wallets of their citizens.

    Here is relevant passage of the Pope’s UN speech:

    1. “…the experience of the past seventy years has made it clear that reform and adaptation to the times is always necessary in the pursuit of the ultimate goal of granting all countries, without exception, a share in, and a genuine and equitable influence on, decision-making processes. The need for greater equity is especially true in the case of those bodies with effective executive capability, such as the Security Council, the Financial Agencies and the groups or mechanisms specifically created to deal with economic crises. This will help limit every kind of abuse or usury, especially where developing countries are concerned. The International Financial Agencies are should care for the sustainable development of countries and should ensure that they are not subjected to oppressive lending systems which, far from promoting progress, subject people to mechanisms which generate greater poverty, exclusion and dependence.”

      If criticizing international financial institutions which lend money to poor countries is demagoguery, the the Cato Institute was demagoguing in 1987 when it published an article on “The World Bank vs. The World Poor,” and in various analyses it’s published since then.

      1. To provide context, the Pope has said“Visit our HTML tutorial that countries should be able to declare bankruptcy like businesses.

        (contains autoplay video)

        1. Link broke, see this one:

          http://ow.ly/SLYR5

    2. Yeah, but if Ira used facts, then he wouldn’t have the point he really wants to make, which is “look, the left has just as many trying to stoke up hatred as the GOP has in Trump. It’s like when they say the Pope hates modernity and technology, when the Pope in his encyclical clearly said technology has been a boon and wi continue to be.

      But to recognize all that would be to deny the meme by which so many here choose to live by.

      1. How many voices are there in your head? This is a serious question.

    3. This is when an international lending institution lends money to a poor country’s government in exchange for that government’s promise to pay the loan back…out of the wallets of their citizens.

      The nerve of those institutions! Expecting to be paid back when they lend money! Clearly the pope isn’t scapegoating.

  6. “Hey! We used to say ‘Damn those Jews that own and run everything!’. But, that became unseemly, so we dropped the ‘Jew’ part. Now it’s just ‘Damn those 1% that own and run everything!’ We’re enlightened intellectuals now, eh?”

    1. Spot on. The shallow ones always thought the hate was about ethnicity or religion, when really it’s just about envy.

    2. If you want a great example of this, Naomi Klein’s the Shock Doctrine. You can replace every use of the term neoconservative, neoliberal, libertarian, etc. in that book with ‘Jews’/’Zionists’ and it reads exactly like 19th century anti-Semitic propaganda. Same exact conspiracy theories about a cabal controlling the governments of the world through money.

      1. They killed a bunch of Jews and it didn’t work, so it must have been some other out-group causing the bad things. Eventually they’ll get the right people.

  7. Donald Trump seems genuinely to love America Donald Trump and want to restore it to greatness.

    Fixed the single stupidest sentence in the article- and it was a target-rich environment.

  8. Good article. I didn’t know Ajami had ever written about that kind of politician. Kind of scary. Been reviewing some Road to Serfdom stuff lately. That magic middle needs to prevail or we may follow some guy/gal off a cliff. Plus limited government limits the damage a government can when a nutso somehow gets the top job. We have to keep it limited and as local as possible.

  9. There is little more absurd than the bleeding hearts of the right for the poor persecuted billionaires. Why it’s absurd shouldn’t need to be explained, really, but you people are ridiculous.

    This is pretty simple: the wealthiest 1% is, by definition, always going to be a minority. I am generous enough to believe that you actually know this and are simply evil, cynical assholes who lie about things.

    It’s usually okay to go after the plutocrats, especially when they are as plutocratic as they obviously are today. I’ll let you know if we get a little too guillotine-y.

    1. It’s usually okay to go after the plutocrats, especially when they are as plutocratic as they obviously are today. I’ll let you know if we get a little too guillotine-y.

      I’ll bet you find it confusing when people call leftists totalitarians.

    2. Fun fact…those 1%ers pay the highest $/capita and the highest effective tax rates something like 38% of federal tax revenue is brought to you by tem. the bottom 40% pay no federal income tax and some even make money off the tax code…of course they pay payroll, state, local, medicare, etc

      Curious how is it a nice number like 1% which happens to be the boogeyman all the time? What about the 1.05%, 1.8%. Why do you insist on going after the 1% with such ferocity?

      How much money do you make so we can assess if you are paying your fair share?

      Wealth isn’t the same as income by the way. And envy on your part isn’t very flattering.

      1. Why do you insist on going after the 1% with such ferocity?

        Because they’re only 1% of the population, and even that figure is a moving target as the redistributors adjust who they feel is too wealthy. Seriously, they pick “the richest 1%” and paint this picture of people who are Bond villains controlling American politics and pointedly ignore Congresscritters who are responsible for the cronyism they claim to hate. Because it’s not about fighting cronyism or injustice, it’s about envy.

    3. Tony:
      ” I’ll let you know if we get a little too guillotine-y.”

      I’m not too worried about it.

      One of the saving graces of your modern democrat socialist, as compared to a Nazi, hardcore communist, French revolutionary, etc., is that the modern, American democrat socialist is almost universally a huge, bitching pussy.

      Annoying, but nothing to be afraid of.

    4. Ah, there he is. I was a little worried, because Tony had actually posted a couple of things that didn’t read like socialist populism concealing bitterness and hatred. It’s good to see he’s made a full recovery.

    5. It’s usually okay to go after the plutocrats, especially when they are as plutocratic as they obviously are today.

      No, Tony, no it isn’t. And the fact that you would say that it is shows what a piece of shit you really are. Decent human beings don’t “go after” anybody unless they go after them for specifically doing something wrong. But, that isn’t what you’re talking about. You’re specifically talking about attacking them for who they are.

      1. Fine, I’d be OK with going after the policies and politicians who enabled plutocracy. I don’t actually blame people for taking everything they can get their grubby hands on. The real problem is the idea that as long as it’s legal and not welfare, you guys call it virtuous producing that should never be taxed, no matter how few hands all the wealth is funneled into.

        1. Tony:

          the idea that as long as it’s legal and not welfare

          LOL!

          Says the guy who claims “democracy plus legal equals awesome, QED” for all of his own policy preferences.

          Yeah, I get it: democracy and legality are all you need for your own preferences, but the legal things you disagree with… democracy must be broken or something, because, suddenly, it’s so much more complex than legalism.

          Yawn. Boring. Do you have any better arguments?
          Or, after all these years, is this all you have?

    6. Dear Tony,

      We really appreciate how hard you advocate for us, the minorities and the poor. We truly appreciate how hard you work and are extremely excited to see what else you can come up with! We are happy to announce we have a position for you opening up at Victims-R-Us; you are obviously plenty qualified, just a formality!

      Do get back to us as soon as you would like. We would love to hear more about this “evil plutocracy!” That idea sounds wonderful!

      Best,
      Your Damsels

  10. Google pay 97$ per hour my last pay check was $8500 working 1o hours a week online. My younger brother friend has been averaging 12k for months now and he works about 22 hours a week. I cant believe how easy it was once I tried it out.
    This is wha- I do…… ?????? http://www.online-jobs9.com

  11. The founders of the United States of America (as well as the first members of We the People) fully understood Pope Francis I’s description of the hardships caused by unfettered capitalism and markets without real limits. America’s founders rejected the notion that the few who possessed extraordinary wealth should rule. Rather, our founders and early members of We the People entered into an agreement among all Americans that all of our lives, fortunes and sacred honor should serve each member (and all members) of We the People. In other words, all Americans have already agreed with Pope Francis: “Money must serve, not rule!” The Agreement among We the People already mandates that wealth must serve to fulfill the human rights of all Americans and that the few who have extraordinary wealth shall not rule the many. The Declaration of Independence evidences all Americans’ agreement to Human Rights Capitalism. See https://goo.gl/AgAc2a

    From the lectern used by Lincoln when he delivered his Gettysburg Address, Pope Francis’ final message is for America to lead as it once did by honoring its original Agreement. In other words, he has challenged America to once again serve as a world leader based upon our Declaration of Independence. See https://goo.gl/AgAc2a

  12. Few can write a good message in an off-putting tone like Ira Stoll.

  13. Ira Stoll, an idiot who thinks all minorities are always immune from criticism. Let’s hear this
    scum listen to all of the friends of victims murdered by that wonderful minority group, the illegal Mexican aliens.

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