The unexpected rise of populist candidates Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders represents the increasing cultural and economic polarization of American society. Across the political spectrum, Americans feel that the very structure of their government and society are under attack.

The Carnegie Moscow Center hosted Michael Tomasky, one of the top U.S. experts on the rise of Donald Trump and a long-time reporter on Hillary Clinton’s approach to electoral politics, to discuss the presidential elections in the United States. Carnegie Moscow Center’s Andrei Kolesnikov moderated.

Discussion highlights

  • The rise of populism: Populist movements have risen on both sides of the political spectrum, with Trump harnessing much of the same anti-establishment anger of the Tea Party, and Bernie Sanders championing the increasing economic and social discontent of America’s young people. Tomasky noted that Donald Trump’s rise is fueled largely by the deep anger and fear of working-class Americans, who feel increasingly marginalized by economic stagnation and, socially, by the changing ethnic make-up of the population. Sanders, on the other hand, captured the support of the mainly-liberal youth, who call for more radical social justice and oppose the financial and banking system which made possible widespread debilitating student loans. 
  • Trump: Although Clinton is distrusted by many Americans, when compared to Trump she seems to many as the only intelligent choice. Tomasky argued that the Republican candidate’s open racism, apparent disregard for judicial due process, and unpredictability make Trump a unique threat to America’s very system of government. 
  • Clinton: Hilary Clinton is the most moderate of the three major candidates. As a result, despite the email-server scandal, she is also the most appealing presidential candidate. Tomasky noted that Clinton is politically the most powerful and well-known woman in the country, and her history of moderate liberalism shows that she will be able to support the Democratic agenda and still work well with more conservative lawmakers.

Michael John Tomasky 

Michael John Tomasky is chief political observer of the influential New York Review of Books, a special correspondent for the Daily Beast, and the editor-in-chief of Democracy: a Journal of Ideas.

Andrei Kolesnikov

Andrei Kolesnikov is a senior associate and the chair of the Russian Domestic Politics and Political Institutions Program