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Why Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders Are Rock Stars Among the Working Class


Lost in the tumult of covering the 2016 presidential campaign trail is a striking reality that’s largely gone unacknowledged: the grassroots level brewing revolt of working- and middle-class Americans who feel left behind by the system.

Sanders and Trump are highlighting the failure of status-quo politics to address concerns that hit home with non-wealthy Americans. Photo credit: Fivethirtyeight.com

This discontent and its insecurities are fueling the surges of Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump, who each offer different responses to it, and whose candidacies haven’t faded despite predictions from party insiders and many pundits. It’s also underscored by the fact that the GOP’s two leading candidates—Trump and Ben Carson—have never held elective office, unlike the senators and governors trailing them.

Sanders and Trump, in very different ways, are highlighting the failure of status-quo politics to address concerns that hit home with non-wealthy Americans. But while Sanders is running a campaign based on a positive vision of government doing more for these Americans, Trump is striking a chord with people who feel other slices of society need to be put down so they can rise up.

Despite the stark differences in these visions, both suggest that political business as usual cannot hold. That sentiment also accounts for the lackluster appeal of candidates who are pandering to wealthy elites, such as Jeb Bush.

But if we want to understand what’s driving much of the energy on the ground in the 2016 race so far—as opposed to the wealth-driven super PACs—it is the realization by many working- and middle-class people that the U.S. government does not have their back.

Sanders’ Optimistic Appeal

Sanders, as many people who have watched his rise know, speaks to a range of Americans who feel left behind or abandoned in an age of deepening economic inequality and predatory corporate greed. His agenda is built on reviving government’s ability to help people with basics and live with more dignity, whether it’s ending college debt, accessing health care, fortifying retirements or other necessities. The wealthy can afford to pay higher taxes for a fairer, more balanced, more secure society, Sanders says, while acknowledging that this won’t come to pass unless an unprecedented number of Americans vote and oust the right wingers in Congress who just want to serve the rich and ignore everyone else.

Sanders’ message is not just echoing in the country’s lefty epicenters and midwestern university towns. As the Washington Spectator’s Rick Perlstein has written, recently covering Sanders in Texas and Indiana, his message is also appealing to red staters who are used to voting for conservatives—if they vote at all. He begins his latest report by talking about a construction sales executive he sat next to on the plane to Texas to cover a Sanders rally who praised Sanders’ “middle of the road” messages, adding, “I like what I’ve heard.”

In some respects, that is the same response depicted by the Dallas Morning News when it interviewed attendees of Sanders’ first big Texas rally this summer, such as a 36-year-old man who has never before voted for president. “The biggest reason why I support Bernie is that he knows the economy is rigged in favor of the 1 percent," he said. "No one else is really saying that, and it’s a huge problem.”

Moving on with the Sanders campaign to Indiana’s rust belt, Perlstein noticed that many supporters—white and black—also were motivated for the first time in many years to get involved. At a house party on a night when the campaign was hoping for 30,000 participants nationwide and 100,000 came out, Perlstein reported how many people introduced themselves by saying they played by the rules but couldn’t get a decent job and were drowning in education-related debt. That prompted standing ovations and the recognition that they weren’t alone. The next day in another northwestern Indiana town, he met an African-American retiree who just opened a storefront campaign office for Sanders and praised him for following up with Black Lives Matter activists—after floundering at the NetRoots Nation conference. “I’m okay with that,” she said. “He’s learning.”

It's rare that presidential campaigns spark such grassroots excitement, and when they do, they're often dismissed by the cynics in the media. “Something is happening here,” Perlstein wrote, "something that reminds us that our existing models for predicting winners and losers in politics need always be subject to revision.”

That something is people whose voices and concerns have been downplayed by the governing class finding candidates who are speaking for them—but not all of these candidates' rhetorics and remedies are as positive as Sanders’.

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Trump’s Dark Triumph

On the GOP side of the aisle, the biggest mystery is not why the establishment’s presumed frontrunner, Jeb Bush, is failing to excite. Nor it is why other high-ranking elected officials, like governors and senators, have failed to rise to the top, despite presenting themselves as reincarnations of Ronald Reagan, defenders of the right to get rich and keep it all or ideological purists. The biggest mystery is why Trump has maintained his lead for months with positions no establishment candidate would take in public.

The best explanation is there’s a major slice of America’s working- and middle-class who look at the political system and don’t just feel left out, but are angry that others—people both poorer and richer than they are—seem to be beneficiaries of a government that’s forgotten them. Hence, Trump’s anti-immigrant bigotry, his smears of the politically correct, his male-defending misogyny and vision of being a strongman president—ie, taking down competitors at home and abroad—appeals to those who feel overlooked and aggrieved.

That’s the conclusion of an insightful article by John B. Judis, a senior writer for the National Journal, who makes a convincing case that Trump supporters are not very different than the alienated middle Americans who backed George Wallace for president in 1968, and backed Ross Perot and Pat Buchanan in 1992 (and 1996 and 2000). In 1992, Perot got 19 percent of the November vote, effectively electing Bill Clinton.

Judis’ analysis is thorough, compelling and altogether troubling. It shows that there is a very dark streak running through the electorate, as indeed has been the case through much of American history. He starts by citing an overlooked 1976 book by Donald Warren, a sociologist from Michigan’s Oakland University, The Radical Center: Middle Americans and the Politics of Alienation, which identifies this slice of the electorate that, according to Warren, contains one-quarter of the nation’s voters.

These working- and middle-class people, Warren said, see “government favoring the rich and the poor simultaneously,” are suspicious of big business, are not college educated but favor government programs that give them stability—such as Medicare, Social Security and possibly national health insurance—and hold “very conservative positions on poverty and race.”

“If these voters are beginning to sound familiar, they should: Warren’s MARs [Middle American Radicals] of the 1970s are the Donald Trump supporters of today," Judis writes. "Since at least the late 1960s, these voters have periodically coalesced to become a force in presidential politics, just as they did this past summer... Over the years, some of their issues have changed—illegal immigration has replaced explicitly racist appeals—and many of them now have junior college degrees and are as likely to hold white-collar jobs. But the basic MARS worldview that Warren has outlined has remained surprisingly intact.”

What makes Judis’ explanation noteworthy is that it goes beyond the mainstream media line, summarized in this piece on the New York Times’ “Upshot” page, that Trump’s appeal is only based on his strong personality or because he’s a political outsider.

“What has truly sustained Trump thus far is he does, in fact, articulate a coherent set of ideological positions, even if those positions are not exactly conservative or liberal,” Judis writes. “The key to figuring out the Trump phenomenon—why it arose now and where it might be headed next—lies in understanding this worldview.”

Americans are correct to compare Trump’s demagoguery on behalf of “a silent majority” to the worst of the George Wallace-Pat Buchanan tradition of grievance politics, from attacking immigrants for taking away jobs, to smearing Obamacare because the insurance industry keeps getting rich, to encouraging government to excise the purported cancer in our midst.

“The essential worldview of these Middle American Radicals was captured in a 1993 post-election survey by [Democratic pollster] Stanley Greenberg, which found that Perot supporters were more likely than Clinton’s or Bush’s to believe that ‘it’s the middle class, not the poor who really get a raw deal today’ and that ‘people who work for a living and don’t make a lot of noise never seem to get a break,’” Judis wrote, saying there “has been no similar polling of Trump’s supporters.”

Where the 2016 Race Goes From Here

Judis' last observation is that beating the nationalist drum,which Trump is also doing, is the final hallmark of this dark campaign legacy. His most recent attack on Jeb Bush—blasting his brother George W. Bush for the 9/11 attacks in New York City—are a perfect example of that thread. Just how Trump's bullying nationalism will play out in a race where Sanders has said Americans ought to look to Scandinavia for the level of governmental supports that could be possible in America is anyone’s guess. But that particular thread of nationalism can get very ugly, and surely there’s more of it to come.

If Judis is correct that Trump has revived some of the nastiest reflexes in the American electorate, from the same slice of overlooked America that Sanders is engaging with his more hopeful appeals, then it is time to take a hard look at what status quo-defending candidates, their political parties and mainstream media pundits are saying.

It sure looks like the Americans who are paying attention to the political system and are getting involved with 2016’s candidates are deeply concerned, frustrated and, on the political right, angry and vengeful. That’s a dicey mix. At least Sanders is offering specifics about what he would do and how he'd get results, not just taunts, boasts and attitude. But Trump’s backers may not care much for specifics, as long as someone else is fingered, blamed and attacked on their behalf.


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Guillain-Barre syndrome occurs when the body's own immune system attacks and injures the nerves outside of the spinal cord or brain – the peripheral nervous system. Niq Steele / Getty Images

By Sherry H-Y. Chou, Aarti Sarwal and Neha S. Dangayach

The patient in the case report (let's call him Tom) was 54 and in good health. For two days in May, he felt unwell and was too weak to get out of bed. When his family finally brought him to the hospital, doctors found that he had a fever and signs of a severe infection, or sepsis. He tested positive for SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19 infection. In addition to symptoms of COVID-19, he was also too weak to move his legs.

When a neurologist examined him, Tom was diagnosed with Guillain-Barre Syndrome, an autoimmune disease that causes abnormal sensation and weakness due to delays in sending signals through the nerves. Usually reversible, in severe cases it can cause prolonged paralysis involving breathing muscles, require ventilator support and sometimes leave permanent neurological deficits. Early recognition by expert neurologists is key to proper treatment.

We are neurologists specializing in intensive care and leading studies related to neurological complications from COVID-19. Given the occurrence of Guillain-Barre Syndrome in prior pandemics with other corona viruses like SARS and MERS, we are investigating a possible link between Guillain-Barre Syndrome and COVID-19 and tracking published reports to see if there is any link between Guillain-Barre Syndrome and COVID-19.

Some patients may not seek timely medical care for neurological symptoms like prolonged headache, vision loss and new muscle weakness due to fear of getting exposed to virus in the emergency setting. People need to know that medical facilities have taken full precautions to protect patients. Seeking timely medical evaluation for neurological symptoms can help treat many of these diseases.

What Is Guillain-Barre Syndrome?

Guillain-Barre syndrome occurs when the body's own immune system attacks and injures the nerves outside of the spinal cord or brain – the peripheral nervous system. Most commonly, the injury involves the protective sheath, or myelin, that wraps nerves and is essential to nerve function.

Without the myelin sheath, signals that go through a nerve are slowed or lost, which causes the nerve to malfunction.

To diagnose Guillain-Barre Syndrome, neurologists perform a detailed neurological exam. Due to the nerve injury, patients often may have loss of reflexes on examination. Doctors often need to perform a lumbar puncture, otherwise known as spinal tap, to sample spinal fluid and look for signs of inflammation and abnormal antibodies.

Studies have shown that giving patients an infusion of antibodies derived from donated blood or plasma exchange – a process that cleans patients' blood of harmful antibodies - can speed up recovery. A very small subset of patients may need these therapies long-term.

The majority of Guillain-Barre Syndrome patients improve within a few weeks and eventually can make a full recovery. However, some patients with Guillain-Barre Syndrome have lingering symptoms including weakness and abnormal sensations in arms and/or legs; rarely patients may be bedridden or disabled long-term.

Guillain-Barre Syndrome and Pandemics

As the COVID-19 pandemic sweeps across the globe, many neurologic specialists have been on the lookout for potentially serious nervous system complications such as Guillain-Barre Syndrome.

Though Guillain-Barre Syndrome is rare, it is well known to emerge following bacterial infections, such as Campylobacter jejuni, a common cause of food poisoning, and a multitude of viral infections including the flu virus, Zika virus and other coronaviruses.

Studies showed an increase in Guillain-Barre Syndrome cases following the 2009 H1N1 flu pandemic, suggesting a possible connection. The presumed cause for this link is that the body's own immune response to fight the infection turns on itself and attacks the peripheral nerves. This is called an "autoimmune" condition. When a pandemic affects as many people as our current COVID-19 crisis, even a rare complication can become a significant public health problem. That is especially true for one that causes neurological dysfunction where the recovery takes a long time and may be incomplete.

The first reports of Guillain-Barre Syndrome in COVID-19 pandemic originated from Italy, Spain and China, where the pandemic surged before the U.S. crisis.

Though there is clear clinical suspicion that COVID-19 can lead to Guillain-Barre Syndrome, many important questions remain. What are the chances that someone gets Guillain-Barre Syndrome during or following a COVID-19 infection? Does Guillain-Barre Syndrome happen more often in those who have been infected with COVID-19 compared to other types of infections, such as the flu?

The only way to get answers is through a prospective study where doctors perform systematic surveillance and collect data on a large group of patients. There are ongoing large research consortia hard at work to figure out answers to these questions.

Understanding the Association Between COVID-19 and Guillain-Barre Syndrome

While large research studies are underway, overall it appears that Guillain-Barre Syndrome is a rare but serious phenomenon possibly linked to COVID-19. Given that more than 10.7 million cases have been reported for COVID-19, there have been 10 reported cases of COVID-19 patients with Guillain-Barre Syndrome so far – only two reported cases in the U.S., five in Italy, two cases in Iran and one from Wuhan, China.

It is certainly possible that there are other cases that have not been reported. The Global Consortium Study of Neurological Dysfunctions in COVID-19 is actively underway to find out how often neurological problems like Guillain-Barre Syndrome is seen in hospitalized COVID-19 patients. Also, just because Guillain-Barre Syndrome occurs in a patient diagnosed with COVID-19, that does not imply that it was caused by the virus; this still may be a coincident occurrence. More research is needed to understand how the two events are related.

Due to the pandemic and infection-containment considerations, diagnostic tests, such as a nerve conduction study that used to be routine for patients with suspected Guillain-Barre Syndrome, are more difficult to do. In both U.S. cases, the initial diagnosis and treatment were all based on clinical examination by a neurological experts rather than any tests. Both patients survived but with significant residual weakness at the time these case reports came out, but that is not uncommon for Guillain-Barre Syndrome patients. The road to recovery may sometimes be long, but many patients can make a full recovery with time.

Though the reported cases of Guillain-Barre Syndrome so far all have severe symptoms, this is not uncommon in a pandemic situation where the less sick patients may stay home and not present for medical care for fear of being exposed to the virus. This, plus the limited COVID-19 testing capability across the U.S., may skew our current detection of Guillain-Barre Syndrome cases toward the sicker patients who have to go to a hospital. In general, the majority of Guillain-Barre Syndrome patients do recover, given enough time. We do not yet know whether this is true for COVID-19-related cases at this stage of the pandemic. We and colleagues around the world are working around the clock to find answers to these critical questions.

Sherry H-Y. Chou is an Associate Professor of Critical Care Medicine, Neurology, and Neurosurgery, University of Pittsburgh.

Aarti Sarwal is an Associate Professor, Neurology, Wake Forest University.

Neha S. Dangayach is an Assistant Professor of Neurology and Neurosurgery, Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai.

Disclosure statement: Sherry H-Y. Chou receives funding from The University of Pittsburgh Clinical Translational Science Institute (CTSI), the National Institute of Health, and the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine Dean's Faculty Advancement Award. Sherry H-Y. Chou is a member of Board of Directors for the Neurocritical Care Society. Neha S. Dangayach receives funding from the Bee Foundation, the Friedman Brain Institute, the Neurocritical Care Society, InCHIP-UConn Center for mHealth and Social Media Seed Grant. She is faculty for emcrit.org and for AiSinai. Aarti Sarwal does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.

Reposted with permission from The Conversation.

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Unity Task Forces formed by presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden and Sen. Bernie Sanders unveiled sweeping party platform recommendations Wednesday that—while falling short of progressive ambitions in a number of areas, from climate to healthcare—were applauded as important steps toward a bold and just policy agenda that matches the severity of the moment.

"We've moved the needle a lot, especially on environmental justice and upping Biden's ambition," said Sunrise Movement co-founder and executive director Varshini Prakash, a member of the Biden-Sanders Climate Task Force. "But there's still more work to do to push Democrats to act at the scale of the climate crisis."

The climate panel—co-chaired by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) and former Secretary of State John Kerry—recommended that the Democratic Party commit to "eliminating carbon pollution from power plants by 2035," massively expanding investments in clean energy sources, and "achieving net-zero greenhouse gas emissions for all new buildings by 2030."

In a series of tweets Wednesday night, Ocasio-Cortez—the lead sponsor of the House Green New Deal resolution—noted that the Climate Task Force "shaved 15 years off Biden's previous target for 100% clean energy."

"Of course, like in any collaborative effort, there are areas of negotiation and compromise," said the New York Democrat. "But I do believe that the Climate Task Force effort meaningfully and substantively improved Biden's positions."


The 110 pages of policy recommendations from the six eight-person Unity Task Forces on education, the economy, criminal justice, immigration, climate change, and healthcare are aimed at shaping negotiations over the 2020 Democratic platform at the party's convention next month.

Sanders said that while the "end result isn't what I or my supporters would've written alone, the task forces have created a good policy blueprint that will move this country in a much-needed progressive direction and substantially improve the lives of working families throughout our country."

"I look forward to working with Vice President Biden to help him win this campaign," the Vermont senator added, "and to move this country forward toward economic, racial, social, and environmental justice."

Biden, for his part, applauded the task forces "for helping build a bold, transformative platform for our party and for our country."

"I am deeply grateful to Bernie Sanders for working with us to unite our party and deliver real, lasting change for generations to come," said the former vice president.

On the life-or-death matter of reforming America's dysfunctional private health insurance system—a subject on which Sanders and Biden clashed repeatedly throughout the Democratic primary process—the Unity Task Force affirmed healthcare as "a right" but did not embrace Medicare for All, the signature policy plank of the Vermont senator's presidential bid.

Instead, the panel recommended building on the Affordable Care Act by establishing a public option, investing in community health centers, and lowering prescription drug costs by allowing the federal government to negotiate prices. The task force also endorsed making all Covid-19 testing, treatments, and potential vaccines free and expanding Medicaid for the duration of the pandemic.

"It has always been a crisis that tens of millions of Americans have no or inadequate health insurance—but in a pandemic, it's potentially catastrophic for public health," the task force wrote.

Dr. Abdul El-Sayed, a former Michigan gubernatorial candidate and Sanders-appointed member of the Healthcare Task Force, said that despite major disagreements, the panel "came to recommendations that will yield one of the most progressive Democratic campaign platforms in history—though we have further yet to go."


Observers and advocacy groups also applauded the Unity Task Forces for recommending the creation of a postal banking system, endorsing a ban on for-profit charter schools, ending the use of private prisons, and imposing a 100-day moratorium on deportations "while conducting a full-scale study on current practices to develop recommendations for transforming enforcement policies and practices at ICE and CBP."

Marisa Franco, director of immigrant rights group Mijente, said in a statement that "going into these task force negotiations, we knew we were going to have to push Biden past his comfort zone, both to reconcile with past offenses and to carve a new path forward."

"That is exactly what we did, unapologetically," said Franco, a member of the Immigration Task Force. "For years, Mijente, along with the broader immigrant rights movement, has fought to reshape the narrative around immigration towards racial justice and to focus these very demands. We expect Biden and the Democratic Party to implement them in their entirety."

"There is no going back," Franco added. "Not an inch, not a step. We must only move forward from here."

Reposted with permission from Common Dreams.