Are We Misinterpreting the Populist Political Movement?

The popularity of Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders this primary season has baffled many political players. They speculate that the electorate is sending a message, or that the country has gotten so polarized that only the candidates with extreme views are inspiring such emotional support. I think it’s something else. I think it’s desperation – the kind of desperation that makes one take a network marketing job because there are just no other options out there.

The economy has been improving steadily, but for a lot of people, too slowly and with too few of the “good jobs” that were lost during the recession. The impression that the economy is doing poorly comes from conservative and liberal pundits telling us that everything is terrible and it’s the other side’s fault.

A lot of Americans were hit hard during the Great Recession. Many lost their jobs or houses. Some panicked and sold their investment portfolios after the market had dropped substantially. Everyone remembers the stress and anxiety and most know another downturn could come at any time. Americans just don’t feel as secure as they did ten years ago, and for good reason – they’re not.

So what do you do at times like this?

Some take steps to protect their assets by paying down debt and controlling their spending. Some evaluate predictions for employment sector growth and begin working toward degrees or certifications in fields which are expected to grow or are less susceptible to outsourcing or automation (e.g., automation (ironically), programming, plumbing).

Others swing for the fences (baseball term – it means the batter swings with reckless abandon rather than precision, and if successful, gets a home run). Often, one swings for the fences out of desperation.

The populist movement which manifests as fervent support for Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders is a result of people swinging for the fences. Out of desperation, they are placing their bets on these two outsiders because the current system is not working for them.

Donald Trump’s supporters want to turn back time to when the U.S. was the world leader in manufacturing and good jobs were easy to find. Bernie Sanders’ supporters want to turn back time to when we collectively took better care of our fellow citizens.

But why do their supporters believe that Trump and Sanders can do what they say? Because they’re desperate and they’re swinging for home runs.

The connection to network marketing companies occurred to me while researching for the “Donald Trump’s American Dream” post. Trump’s promises of financial success in his promotional video for The Trump Network sound exactly like his political promises. The video is available at and I’ve included a partial transcript below:

“At no time in recent history has our economy been in the state that it is today. It’s a mess. The economic meltdown, greed, and ineptitude in the financial industry have sabotaged the dreams of millions of people. Americans need a new plan. They need a new dream.

“The Trump Network wants to give millions of people renewed hope and with an exciting plan to opt out of the recession. Let’s get out of this recession right now. With cutting edge health and wellness formulas and a system where you can develop your own financial independence, The Trump Network offers people the opportunity to achieve their American Dream.”

I do not have a high opinion of multi-level marketing businesses. They are designed to enrich those who get in first and are built on a pyramid scheme-type model. I’m not saying they are pyramid schemes, but in order to succeed, they need an ever increasing number of marketers to join up. The person at the top makes money from everyone who joined after him or her, while the multitudes at the bottom have a difficult time getting others to join once the market becomes saturated.

Great salespeople and those with a lot of friends whom they might be able to convince to buy in may do very well in this kind of business. For most who join a mature multi-level marketing company, however, it may be desperation that drives their decision – they just didn’t have any better options. Still, they recognize that they will have to work hard in order to succeed.

Donald Trump is a great salesman. CBS News produced the story about The Trump Network because it was a failed business venture that incorporated the Trump name, and because Donald Trump constantly reminds the public that he is a great businessman. Trump is right. While CBS News considers The Trump Network to be a business failure, I doubt it was a failure from Trump’s perspective. I assume Trump made millions of dollars – perhaps tens of millions – in the 2-1/2 years of the company’s life. I would consider that a business success.

Now Donald Trump is selling himself as a fantastic businessman and tells us that he wants to do for the country what he has done in his business life. That concerns me. While his companies employ plenty of people, his business ventures are designed to funnel money from the lower and middle classes up to himself. Most marketers in The Trump Network did not reap the financial rewards that Donald Trump promised in the promotional video. Many lost money from the venture.

One difference between Trump’s political supporters and the marketers in The Trump Network has to do with hard work. The marketers knew they would have to work hard to succeed, but the political supporters seem to thing that Trump will just take care of the country’s problems on his own. Why? He tells them so, and because he’s a great salesman, they believe it.

For Bernie Sanders’ supporters, there’s more of a cause-and-effect relationship. His policies will provide a better social safety net for less fortunate Americans, and he’ll do it by collecting more taxes from the wealthy. While that makes sense, Hilary Clinton’s claim that it would be hard to accomplish with the republicans in control of Congress is reasonable. Still, Sanders’ supporters can dream, can’t they? Like Trump’s supporters, they are desperate for a change.

About tonyj126

I'm a 50+ married man who always seems to have a large backlog of work to do, but also a lot of flexibility in my schedule. Much of the work I do is volunteer or taking care of extended family members. I suffer from, as my priest calls it, "the sin of self-sufficiency," which means I can figure out how to do most things myself, and consequently, reduce the need for community to solve problems. As a logical extention (at least to me), I find myself called to comtemplate the country's and the world's woes and offer my observations. I hope someone out there will find them useful.
This entry was posted in Economics, U.S. Politics, Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

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