Jeremy Corbyn and Donald Trump
Two unlikely politicians have recently risen to prominence on both sides of the Atlantic. Although one is on the extreme left and the other on the far right, both show uncanny similarities in the way they have risen to prominence and in their popular appeal. Jeremy Corbyn was elected as Leader of the U.K. Labour Party against all odds, and Donald Trump has unbelievably become the Republican Party’s de facto candidate for President of the United States. The mind boggles at the prospect of two of the free-world’s major economic and political powers being led by such implausible characters, but it could come to pass.
Their appeal appears to lie in populism, a simplistic view of world affairs and a promise to ‘do things differently’ by divorcing themselves from the governing establishment that has dominated politics in both countries for decades. Of course, their differences in policy and style are enormous as one would expect of politicians at opposite ends of the political spectrum. Trump would abolish Obamacare and abhors any state intervention, while Corbyn is a full-blown socialist who would re-nationalize major industries; Trump wants to ban Muslims from entering the USA while Corbyn embraces Hamas and Hezbollah; Trump believes in a USA respected world-wide for its military might, but Corbyn would scrap Trident and has talked about withdrawing from NATO; Corbyn’s open-door policy on immigrants contrasts with Trump’s intention to keep them out by building a wall along the US-Mexico border; Trump is the archetypical proud American who wants to “make America great again”, but republican Corbyn seems almost embarrassed by any display of patriotism; Trump is brash, outrageous and rude compared with the outwardly reserved and polite Corbyn who nevertheless has a barely concealed streak of ruthlessness; with his dyed blonde hair brushed forward and his comfortable and jovial presence on TV, Trump seems more of a politically-incorrect comedian than a politician, while Corbyn’s neatly trimmed beard and often scruffy manner of dress suggests a college lecturer rather than the leader of a party. A surprising area of agreement, however, is that they both have favourable leanings towards Vladimir Putin and his policies.
How then, have two such extreme individuals gained prominence and positions of potential power despite the strong opposition of their respective parties’ mainstream politicians? The answer seems to lie in support from the grassroots membership of the parties they represent − not the gun-lobby, the National Rifle Association or members of the Tea Party wing of the Republican Party who are Trump’s natural allies, nor the Marxist trade union leaders, militant socialists or radical students who would support Corbyn under any circumstances, but rather the rank and file Republicans from ‘Middle America’ and ordinary members of the Labour Party many of whom joined in order to elect Corbyn. Thus many of Trump’s supporters are the smalltown blue-collar workers and rural folk, “the silent majority” as Richard Nixon called them, who haven’t travelled outside the USA, are worried about immigration and terrorism, are concerned that globalization and distant wars are damaging America’s economy and stature in the world, and who sense a decline in their way of life. They are uneasy about the future and are beginning to wonder if they live in ‘God’s country’ after all! On the other hand, Corbyn has garnered much support from relatively well-off middle-class members of the Labour Party − academics, media types, ‘luvvies’ in the arts world, educators and the like − who are burdened with a guilt-complex about Britain’s imperial past and who are disillusioned with the previous ‘New Labour’ governments led by Tony Blair and Gordon Brown, which in their view encouraged all the excesses of free-market capitalism that resulted in obscene salaries for bankers and financiers and a general widening of the wealth gap between rich and poor. Among them are the so-called ‘champagne socialists’ and ‘chattering classes’, characterized by those who express deep concern about social injustice, the under-privileged and poverty while enjoying and protecting their own comfortable lifestyles.
My personal hope is that neither Tweedledum nor Tweedledee will ever be elected to positions of power. It is a terrifying thought that a President Donald Trump would be just an arm’s length away from pressing the nuclear button, not against Russia but possibly as a reaction to cheeky provocations from North Korea or as an offensive attack on a territory controlled by Islamic State. Moreover, America’s withdrawal from free-trade agreements and its retreat under Trump into isolationism and protectionism would have a far-reaching, damaging effect on the global economy. The election of a well-meaning but inexperienced (and some would say naïve) Jeremy Corbyn as Prime Minister would, I believe, have equally damaging consequences for the British economy, returning it to the bad old days when dictatorial union leaders wielded a disproportionate amount of power that greatly contributed to the demise of the manufacturing industries (as Hugh Scanlon, one of the most militant union leaders at the time, later admitted). I fear also that a Corbyn government would surrender its responsibilities in helping to maintain the security and defence of the free world, and would try to seek an accommodation with fanatic terrorist groups that have no interest in compromise. There is a danger, in my opinion, that Great Britain would be reduced to an insignificant, weak and economically depressed country that would no longer be regarded seriously by its international partners.
With any luck we shall never know whether or not these depressing predictions make any sense because I am optimistic that Hillary will be elected President and there is always the possibility that the ineffective Corbyn will be replaced as leader of the Labour Party before the next general election. We’ll see what happens.