Why Bernie Sanders' Statement On Donald Trump's Election Walks A Dangerous Line

Bernie Sanders speaks during a campaign rally for US Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton in Raleigh, North Carolina, on November 3, 2016. / AFP / Jewel SAMAD (Photo credit should read JEWEL SAMAD/AFP/Getty Images)
Source: JEWEL SAMAD/AFP/Getty Images

Bernie Sanders, who was once considered by many to be the upset darling of the Democratic party, has finally made a statement about president-elect Donald Trump. If you were expecting Sanders to repudiate Trump for his hateful rhetoric against minorities across the board, he did. But I believe that in his statement, Sanders also gave too much credence to Trump and his anti-establishment rhetoric, which the senator believes moved the American people to vote him into office.

Sanders released this statement on Wednesday, after Hillary Clinton conceded the election to Trump:

Donald Trump tapped into the anger of a declining middle class that is sick and tired of establishment economics, establishment politics and the establishment media. People are tired of working longer hours for lower wages, of seeing decent paying jobs go to China and other low-wage countries, of billionaires not paying any federal income taxes and of not being able to afford a college education for their kids — all while the very rich become much richer.

To the degree that Mr. Trump is serious about pursuing policies that improve the lives of working families in this country, I and other progressives are prepared to work with him. To the degree that he pursues racist, sexist, xenophobic and anti-environment policies, we will vigorously oppose him.

The latter half of the letter, Sanders is clear that he would oppose any "racist, sexist, xenophobic and anti-environmental policies." Based on the kind of campaign that Sanders ran, that's relatively unsurprising. He based his policies on inclusion and hope, and it's natural that he would expect to see that from the person who was elected to lead the country.

It's the first part of the letter, however, that really disturbs me. Sanders seems to give a kind of bizarre thumbs up to Trump's ability to rally the exact kind of anti-establishment voters that the former Democratic candidate was going for himself (not to mention, though, that Sanders has been serving in Congress for decades now). In a weird way, Sanders — aside from the slight dig about billionaires not paying federal income tax — seemed to have found a renegade brotherhood in the president-elect.

That part of the speech could have, honestly, been pulled from one of Trump's campaign trail speeches, and that striking similarity is irresponsible. It could very well be Sanders throwing some major Democratic party shade. In a passive aggressive way, he could have been pointing out that the electorate wanted the anti-establishment change candidate, which Sanders certainly was for the Democratic party.

But whether or not it was a direct comparison or just a statement of fact, Sanders needs to make it very clear that Trump's plans aren't fully hatched. Trump, similarly to Sanders, was hailed as a candidate who wouldn't conform to typical Washington norms. The problem is, Trump never had a plan for how these radical plans would manifest.

Sanders, a veteran of Congress, has to understand that there are a certain number of rules that come with, yes, breaking them. Sanders, unlike Trump, knows these systems. Trump, on the other hand, has never been a part of them, and has demonstrated little in the way of substantive policy plans. With that in mind, it seems disingenuous for Sanders to even appear to be promoting Trump's anti-establishment plans in a way that would mirror his own.

In that way, Sanders and Trump have very little in common, even though they both represent an anti-establishment attitude that is apparently coursing through the United States. But for the sake of nuance, Sanders needs to qualify the differences before capitalizing on them.

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