Trump v. Bernie: First as farce, then as tragedy

On May 25, on Jimmy Kimmel Live, presumptive Republican nominee for president Donald Trump was asked if he would consider a debate with Democratic candidate Bernie Sanders. Trump agreed saying, “If he paid a sum toward charity I would love to do that.

Shortly after, the Sanders campaign twitter tweeted out “Game on. I look forward to debating Donald Trump in California before the June 7 primary.”  

Having decried the lack of mainstream media coverage around Sanders and the initial shortage of debates on the Democratic side, I would be among the first to insist for more primetime platforms for Senator Sanders but this is too much, too late.

I’m a Bernie partisan because I like that he is an independent whose values weren’t subject to the whims of a party machine and that he doesn’t back down from a fight. I voted for him in the Illinois primary, stuck with him through the Democratic campaign against Hillary Clinton, and donated to his campaign (and will continue to do so as he expands his down-ticket fundraising).

With Donald Trump finally wrapping up the nomination on the Republican side there is nothing I’d love to see more than Bernie Sanders exposing Trump’s faux-anti-establishment rhetoric and revealing him for the shameless, hypocritical turd he is.

As sweet as that would be, the circumstances surrounding the debate stand to endanger the anti-Trump forces.

Hillary Clinton is 78 delegates from crossing the finish line for the Democratic presidential nomination and that makes a debate between Bernie and Trump for charity a lose/lose for everyone but the charity. Especially since Trump has vanquished his 16 Republican foes and has surpassed the necessary pledged delegate count for his party’s nomination.

Plus, it’s already been done.

Comedians and improvisers Anthony Atamanuik and James Adomian have been taking their Trump Vs. Bernie comedy debate tour across the country since last fall. The show itself is genius as the characters of Trump and Bernie are heightened to their platonic ideals.

Adomian’s Bernie is the fundamental hippie grandpa. His ideal romantic outing with his wife (“I think her name is Jane”) involves going “out to Lake Champlain, turning on a Dead album, lying in a sloop and reading each other statistics from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.” Not only does he think that gay marriage should be legal, he thinks experimenting outside of ones sexuality should be “encouraged and subsidized.” His hand gestures perfectly mirror Sanders’ tendency conduct an invisible orchestra.

If Adomian’s Bernie were running for office, he’d still have my vote.

Atamanuik’s Trump on the other hand probably wouldn’t have made it onto the ballot (but who knows the depths Republicans are willing to sink to anymore).

Trump is so vile that the crowd I saw it with was just as likely to groan as it was to belly laugh and yet, contrary to what you may, think it’s Atamanuik’s Trump, through masterful satire, who speaks most pointedly against his subject’s incipient fascism.

When asked during their Fusion Channel special if “black lives matter or if all lives matter, Trump responds “My life matters more than any of them, I think everybody should believe that. But I have to tell you this, and this is very important,” showing his mastery of Trump’s word salad style, “slavery was a terrible deal, let me tell you that, and then we moved on and said ‘we can’t have plantations anymore, so let’s turn them into prisons.”

With these two perfect distillations playing small-to-mid-size clubs and theaters across the country and having already put out two televised specials for Fusion and Comedy Central’s @ Midnight, who needs the real thing anymore?

Not only do we not need the real thing, the real thing could be dangerously empowering to Trump.

Trump will be able to make the argument that what the undecided voters need is a “winner,” and, in the Republican race, Trump is the winner.

Trump will be able to make a direct appeal to Sanders’ independent voters by highlighting what many, including Trump himself, regard as the DNC’s bias against him. What’s scarier than a sympathetic Donald Trump?

What do you do if you’re Sanders then? If they find common ground on being anti-DNC it could be argued that Sanders has “gone rogue” and he could stand to undermine his gentle pre-convention détente. If Sanders back-pedals, his arguments for reform are hurt.

Furthermore, Trump, having proven himself unable to take firm positions on anything, could conceivably agree with Sanders on a number of issues like trade and make a play to white, working class voters in Pennsylvania, Ohio, or Michigan. Pennsylvania and Ohio in particular are of outsized importance this general election.

It’s not that I don’t have faith that Sanders could shellac Trump in a proper debate, anytime, anywhere. It’s just that Trump has nothing to lose and his past performance has shown that he doesn’t do his debating in the realm of policy where Sanders has the upper hand. These factors together make this political intramural debate a bad idea.

Sanders supporters should advocate against this and advance more productive uses for his time. For example, a debate for charity with the Libertarian and Green Party candidates Gary Johnson and Jill Stein would do more to enhance democracy than would this perilous decision.

The only possible upside to a Trump Vs. Bernie, real life debate is if they end it the way that James Adomian and Anthony Atamanuik end their fake one: with a delightful song and dance number.


Patrick J. Foote
Patrick J. Foote

Patrick Foote writes occasionally for People's World. At the University of Central Florida, he worked with the Student Labor Action Project organizing around the intersection of student and worker issues. He would go on to work in the labor movement in such organizations as Central Florida Jobs with Justice, AFSCME Council 79, and OUR Walmart.