Corbyn And Trump: Same Story, Different Ending?
October 11, 2016
by Martin Odoni
In the USA, a major political figure appointed to the most prestigious position in his party by popular demand around the country, rather than by support of his colleagues within the Congressional Party, is facing abandonment by his fellows as they move to dislodge him from his place of authority.
In the UK, a major political figure appointed to the most prestigious position in his party by popular demand around the country, rather than by support of his colleagues within the Parliamentary Party, is facing abandonment by his fellows as they move to dislodge him from his place of authority.
The recent experiences of Donald Trump and Jeremy Corbyn are surprisingly similar, given that one can hardly find any similarities between them as people. Trump is a deafening, yobbish buffoon and reactionary sociopath, thin-of-skin, completely disrespectful of women and ethnic minorities, a serial liar on such an instinctive level that he appears unaware of whether he is telling the truth or not, a right-wing ignoramus who talks off the top of his head at all times. Corbyn is a cool-headed, softly-spoken figure, quite wily and fairly knowledgeable, a controlled if not impressive speaker, respectful and polite to all, consistently leftist in his politics, and slow-to-anger, even when bombarded with abuse and distorting accusations. (Yes, Suzanne Moore, I’m talking about you.)
But with last week’s calamities for Trump resulting in his effective disownership by the Republican National Congress, his experience is starting to mirror Corbyn’s summer of turmoil with the failed ‘Chicken Coup‘ in the Parliamentary Labour Party. The so-called ‘moderate’ wing of the PLP, after months of plotting, tried to dislodge Corbyn from the leadership in a coup that was mishandled and crippled by over-orchestration and lack of courage all the way through, and finally culminated in Corbyn retaining the leadership with an increased share of the party vote.
Both men are unpopular with most of their ‘professional politician’ (I think that is the ‘nice’ label) colleagues, and are consistent sources of controversy in the media. In Trump’s case, the controversy is plainly far more justified than in Corbyn’s, and yet paradoxically Trump also tends to get far more sympathy in the press than Corbyn, but still, the parallel is evident.
The experiences of the two men appear to be parting ways at the present juncture; for while Corbyn is beginning to look completely impervious to any attempts at political betrayal, Trump’s position is in freefall. The loss of RNC funding is surely a mortal blow to his already-haemorraging hopes of becoming President of the United States next month, while the controversy over his disgusting misogynistic remarks caught on video in 2005 appears to have stretched the lead of Democrat candidate Hillary Clinton from 4 points to 11. With the Presidential Election now just weeks away, Trump’s position looks irredeemable, whereas Corbyn, with perhaps as much as three-and-a-half years to prepare for a UK General Election, has a position of strength within the Labour Party he probably never imagined until a year ago.
It is remarkable that two such similar paths trodden by two such different people are set to have such radically different endings, but it is also remarkable how differently the similar odysseys are perceived. Corbyn’s unpopularity within the Parliamentary Labour Party is principally because he stands for a more leftist worldview than the submission-to-neoliberalism of most of his colleagues. The hostility to Trump in the Congressional Republican Party is mainly a reflection of personal dislike. Although both Trump’s rise to the Republican Presidential ticket, and Corbyn’s emergence from nowhere to become Labour leader, are widely recognised as remarkable triumphs for the underdog, the reaction has not been all that similar. There has been endless scaremongering against Corbyn for his politics, most of which has been laughed off by the general public for its implausibility, but little personal ill-feeling; the general view seems to be that Corbyn is a thoroughly decent and affable man on a personal level. With Trump, there has also been considerable worry about his politics, especially his attitudes to women, Muslims and Mexicans. But these worries are not made up, and they go hand-in-hand with equal worries about his personality, his incompetence as a businessman, his spitefulness, and his complete lack of control over his own mouth.
The upshot is that Hillary Clinton, one of the most disliked Democrat nominations in US Presidential history, is firm favourite to beat Donald Trump at the polls, for Trump is disliked even more widely. Whereas Corbyn’s position, as mentioned above, has never been as high as it is now.
Of course, Corbyn still has to face the precise obstacle that Trump is failing to hurdle; winning over the wider public is a different task from winning over the membership of a party. Trump triumphed at winning over the members with plenty to spare back in July, just as Corbyn did in September. Trump is failing to convince the wider electorate in the USA, and Corbyn will have a challenge to do better in the UK. The fact that he has drawn so many new members to the Labour Party in a little over a year is very promising, but half a million members does not necesssarily translate to millions of extra voters when it counts the most.
But what Corbyn has over Trump is not just his greater personal likeability, but also that his supporters are different. At the risk of invoking stereotype, Trump’s support is made up in significant part of the paranoid and inward-looking. People who fear difference, and enjoy the expression of crass ignorance because (they think) it is “Tellin’ it like it is.” Corbyn’s support is largely made up of people who have more vision and are more positive in their outlook. Paranoia is not their motivation, instead they desire an end to needless and destructive inequality. They are not necessarily always more intelligent than Trump supporters, but they have more imagination, and have something positive to aim for, rather than something to be scared of.
Corbyn also probably has time on his side. The Prime Minister, Theresa May, thanks to the Fixed-Term Parliaments Act of 2011, will have difficulty forcing an early General Election during her ‘honeymoon period’ while the opinion polls suggest that the Conservative Party is well ahead. She would need the approval of two-thirds of the House Of Commons to force a dissolution through, and with a Government majority of just 16, that approval will be difficult to build without co-operation from Labour. Even the treacherous ‘Chickens of the coup’ will think twice before letting themselves be seen actively working with a Tory Prime Minister against a Labour leader. The odds therefore are that Corbyn has time available to turn his party membership into a coherent movement that can carry the message to the wider public, re-engaging with the millions in the electorate who did not vote in 2015. Corbyn has said as much recently, including at the The World Transformed Exhibition in Liverpool last month. He has a long-term strategy, he is not just following whims taken off the top of his own head. Unlike a certain New Yorker.
So for all the similarities between their journeys, Corbyn and Trump are completely different where it counts, and that is why Corbyn has a real chance, whereas Trump’s chances have all-but-crumbled.