Massachusetts Daily Collegian

Sanders and Trump: Heirs to the New Deal Coalition

By Frank Schulze

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Tribune News Service

Tribune News Service

President Franklin Delano Roosevelt and his New Deal coalition are dead, but the heirs to its traditional demographic are making big splashes in 2015.

The New Deal coalition was the voting bloc responsible for the Democratic presidential victories from 1930s until the mid-1960s and was one of the most powerful political coalitions in history.

The secret weapon of the New Deal coalition was inclusivity. It was a proletariat movement that favored a laboring majority over a special interest minority and included groups like disparaged ethnic groups, poor white Southerners, academics, welfare recipients and urban blue-collar workers. Prior to the Roosevelt presidency, bankers, class antagonists and war profiteers were benefiting from gross levels of income inequality and had “begun to consider the government of the United States as a mere appendage of their own affairs,” as Roosevelt said in a 1936 address.

Roosevelt famously denounced these actors as “organized money” in the address and was able to rouse his devoted audience by reassuring them: “I welcome their hatred.”

America in 2015 is disturbingly similar to America in 1928. Income inequality has reached comparable levels, banks and their respective lobbies are more powerful than ever, and the political climate is charged with a disaffecting sentiment that the wealthy are taking advantage of the masses through exorbitant campaign contributions.

But where is the New Deal coalition? It has been split in half by the divisive social issues that define the modern political spectrum. Roosevelt is gone and Republicans and Democrats each have an heir to a segment of the egalitarian coalition that spurns “organized money.”

The left has produced Bernie Sanders, whose campaign espouses many progressive causes, but arguably the most underscored of these is the need for comprehensive campaign finance reform that reverses the effects of the 2010 Supreme Court case, Citizens United v. FEC. Sanders believes that as a nation, “we are moving toward an oligarchic form of society, where the billionaires will control the economy and the political life of this country.”

Sanders hates being compared to Republican frontrunner Donald Trump, whom he feels is “appealing to the baser instincts among us,” but there are valid points of comparison. Both agree that an election is rigged when the candidates are beholden to bankers, but Trump’s appeal seems to come not from legislating billionaires out of the political process, but by being a billionaire.

During the Sept. 16 GOP debate, Trump was met with applause when he claimed to have turned down massive donations to his 2016 campaign because he did not need them.  He does not believe the current system is fair, but his supporters believe his ability to self-fund makes him beholden to his interests and not those of donors.

The reason for this split is the tumultuous social issues that have defined the century since the founding of the New Deal Coalition, particularly race. The South voted primarily Democratic since the inception of the Democratic Party, but switched affiliation in the 1970s due to a political movement called the “Southern Strategy.”

It works like this: court the disaffected white voter who feels alienated by the Democratic Party and its embrace of the Civil Rights Movement. Roosevelt was always slow to endorse this cause, but later Democratic presidents, culminating with Lyndon Johnson’s signing of the Voting Rights Act, integrated it into the party platform. The racial bias, covert or overt, that has permeated America’s psyche since its birth allowed the Republican Party to capture the white, rural workers once loyal to Roosevelt’s Democratic Party. Ken Mehlman, former chair of the Republic National Convention, made a public apology to the black community in 2005 for the party’s deliberate exploitation of racial tensions.

It is not surprising, then, that the populist segment of Roosevelt’s coalition lost to this strategy has flocked to the xenophobic rhetoric of the anti-establishment candidate, Donald Trump.

The progressive college students who form Sanders’ base and the white rural workers who form Trump’s have things in common that both sides take for granted. Most of them do not have a Swiss bank account, most of them are lucky to own one house, most of them cannot afford to spend a fortune to influence an election, and as a result, most of them are angry. The solution to taking big money out of American politics lies in these similarities, not the stark differences.

Frank Schulze is a Collegian columnist and can be reached at [email protected]

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