At first blush, a frugal and soft-spoken British socialist who bicycles to work has little in common with an ostentatious American billionaire with gold-plated seatbelt buckles on his private jet. And the differences between Donald Trump and Jeremy Corbyn don’t end at wealth and lifestyle.
Trump is an overgrown wide boy with an eye for the chance. Sensing that the biggest prize in world politics is within grasping distance, he has thrown off his image as a pragmatic liberal to claim the mantle of populist conservative hero. And it is a real feat of the man’s ability as an entertainer and sheer brazenness that he has been able to do this despite a history of crony capitalism very much at odds with the Republican grassroots.
Corbyn, on the other hand, has become Britain’s Leader of the Opposition through a long career of principled politics. It is true that the principles in question tend to be either backwards (in the case of economics), naïve (in matters of national security) or repellent (in relation to terrorist groups like the IRA, Hamas and Hezbollah). However, we are talking about a man who divorced his wife over his opposition to their son going to an academically selective grammar school. Whatever else Corbyn is, he is no hypocrite.
One is a phony, the other a puritan. Both, however, have something very important in common. Each owes their ascendancy to a constituency with growing dissatisfaction with electoral politics.
The same goes for Bernie Sanders. When people get disillusioned with the mainstream, they go for the extremes.
Another significant factor in the rise of Trump has to be the fact that this is his first election. Unlike some of his rivals, this means he is untainted by the disappointing compromises that inevitably come with governing. It is no coincidence that the other frontrunners for the Republican nomination are the brilliant neurosurgeon Ben Carson and glass-ceiling shattering CEO Carly Fiorina – neither of whom has ever held elected office.
When you have no record in government, you can’t have it judged against you.
In the same way that Trump’s unapologetic braggadocio appeals to those who consider their party spineless, Corbyn’s undiluted socialism has won over the middle class radicals who think Labour lost because it was somehow too centrist (actual working class voters have trended rightwards for some decades). Corbyn is popular with his supporters because he tells them (and himself) what they want to hear. As a veteran backbencher that has never held ministerial office, he is also unstained by the disappointments of government.
I think he has never ever held even a shadow junior role.
The prospect of the White House being garishly renovated in Trump’s vulgar style is enough to make one shudder. To be honest, however, I would probably take a hypocrite like Trump over a zealot like Corbyn most days of the week. Whatever his real views are, you get the feeling that Trump will cut a deal with anyone and will ditch his supporters the moment it suits him.
Corbyn, on the other hand, has actually said he could not be friends with someone who does not share his narrow worldview. That is an amazing statement. It is one that very few people – even those with strong political beliefs – would ever make.
That is the mark of the true zealot.