Trump, Sanders and the Politics of Openness

FRESNO, Calif. –The ascents of Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders this year highlight a major shift in the political style of our would-be elected leaders. We are seeing what happens when a candidate actually says what’s on their mind.

Thanks to their unscripted approach to electioneering, new conversations are happening around issues like trade, immigration and the growing wealth gap. But such openness does not always work to bring people closer together.

For every comment from Sanders about the unfair distribution of wealth in this country comes one from the presumptive Republican nominee about the need to discriminate against Mexicans, Muslims and women.

While world-renowned physicists are having trouble figuring out how things got this way…

Others seem to have it figured out just fine.

Curious to hear how exactly we are going to “Make America Great Again,” I attended a rally earlier this month for Donald Trump in Fresno with the hope of maybe seeing the candidate from a different point of view. As it turns out, the view wasn’t much better.

At the rally I witnessed the passionate fervor of people who live in the same city that I do, but who seem to be worlds away from my reality. I saw the incoherent ramblings of someone — Trump — who looked as if he had done very little in the way of preparation. Trump’s comments ranged from unrelated quips that made no sense to factually incorrect statements. He is a person who can come to Fresno, California and, with a straight face, tell the crowd that “there is no drought” — and that is dangerous.

After the rally I encountered the protests that waited outside and saw firsthand the frustration that many people feel towards him. Many lined up face to face with police in full riot gear to voice their displeasure. Others took to social media.

Trump’s rowdy reception in Fresno was nothing new given that similar protests have sprung up across California and other parts of the country. His time in Fresno was as much about the protests that occurred as it was about his rally, but that’s to be expected, right? It’s almost by design.

Two days after my experience at the Trump rally, Fresno had a visit from the Vermont senator. My experience at the Sanders rally was vastly different than what I saw two days earlier, starting with the fact that there were no police in riot gear at the Sanders event.

I did manage to spot a couple of police officers as I made my way into the Fresno Fairgrounds, where the event had been moved after attendance predictions exceeded earlier estimates. But, despite the size of the crowd, a police presence wasn’t required.

Another difference is that it seemed like Sanders really took the time to interact with those who attended.

He also took the time to appreciate some of what our city has to offer — and people definitely noticed.

Trump, by comparison, appeared too busy to get to know our city.

My time at these rallies gave me a look at two candidates who speak from the gut but with very different messages. Both have managed to move people who otherwise feel disengaged from the political process. But whereas Trump urges division, Sanders message is one that brings people together. That difference was apparent at the rallies.

Sanders is now likely out of the race, with Hillary Clinton positioned as the presumptive Democratic nominee. The question remains as to whether Sanders success will push her to embrace his progressive platform, or whether Trump will be able to woo Sanders supporters to his side.

As for Fresno, and much of the country, the candid nature of this election has highlighted the deep divisions that separate communities, residents and neighbors; divisions that were here long before 2016 and will likely remain long after. What we need now is someone who can help us see past these divisions. And maybe stop for a taco or two while they are at it.

Miguel Bibanco (he/him/his) on Twitter
Miguel Bibanco (he/him/his)
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