Mathieu Slama is a teacher at the Graduate School in Information and Communication Sciences.
There is a word that comes up more than the others in the mouth of Bernie Sanders: "billionaires". On its official Twitter account, the term has returned more than twenty times since the beginning of February. It reads, jumbled up: "Perhaps this is a radical idea, but I believe that the government should help working families, not billionaires" (February 10); "The billionaire class is wrong to underestimate us" (February 6); " Our campaign finance system is increasingly controlled by billionaires and private interests " (February 8); " I believe in democracy, not in a system owned by a few billionaires " (February 9); " Our only chance of winning is to stand against the billionaire class " (February 8). And so on. No need to be a specialist in political communication to understand that there is, to use an Anglo-Saxon term, a " pattern ", that is to say a recurring element that is part of a discourse strategy well thought out and perfectly thought out.Populism is based on a radicalization of political discourse and its conflict dimension.
As we know, populism is a difficult phenomenon to grasp as the term now takes on a controversial or even negative dimension. We can, however, without going too far, affirm the following thing: the common point of all populist movements, multiple and multifaceted, lies in a certain radicalization of political discourse and its conflict dimension. A populist is someone who confronts political issues more. Any strategy of political discourse is played around a "them against us". The whole question is who are these "them" and who are these "we". The emergence of populism in recent years has accentuated this conflicting dimension of political discourse, including in the style which is becoming more brutal and direct. Trump has played this score wonderfully since his victorious campaign of 2016, in style and in speech, with a clear message: "We" are the patriotic American workers, "them" are the "establishment". Salvini in Italy, Le Pen and Mélenchon in France, Boris Johnson in Great Britain (even if the latter does not take all populist codes and is rather in-between): each, in his own way, plays on this dialectic specifically populist.The Battle of Sanders is a class battle.
If we follow this analytical grid, Bernie Sanders very clearly appears as a populist figure. One sentence comes up regularly in his speech: " Which camp do you belong to? "( " Which side are you on? " ). The Battle of Sanders is a class battle, and that he fully assumes. "Are you in the labor camp of this country? against the greed and corruption of the billionaire class? ” , he asks in one of his speeches.
His program, deemed "radical" by his adversaries who present themselves as "moderate" (but who are in reality perfect heirs to the neoliberal Obama / Clinton line), perfectly reflects this strategy of discourse. Financial transaction tax, helping workers to own their businesses, raising the minimum wage, taxing wealthy people, Medicare for everyone, eliminating student debt, etc .: the Sanders program is to take from the wealthy and give to those which are not.Bernie Sanders draws on a growing reflection on the effects of neoliberalism and the increase in inequalities.
He leans, in his campaign, on the young guard of the left wing of the Democratic camp, including the very media Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, engaged on themes that resonate strongly in American youth from the middle and popular classes (free tuition fees, cancellation of student debt, etc.).
It is also based on growing reflection, in the United States and in the Western world, on the effects of neoliberalism and the increase in inequalities. The American jurist Daniel Markovitz recently published The Meritocracy Trap , a highly commented book which deconstructs the American meritocratic myth. He attacks this ultra-competitive ideology that underpins and maintains inequalities. Serbo-American economist Branko Milanovic, a professor in New York, demonstrates in his latest book ( Capitalism, Alone: The Future of the System That Rules the World ) that capitalist globalization, if it has benefited the developing countries development, has greatly impoverished the middle and working classes in the Western world while enriching the richest 1%. The young and brilliant French economist Gabriel Zucman, disciple of Thomas Piketty and assistant professor at the University of Berkeley in California, wrote with his colleague Emmanuel Saez a book, The Triumph of Injustice: How the Rich Dodge Taxes and How to Make Them Pay , proposing to introduce a wealth tax in the United States. The same Zucman and Saez were also consulted by the campaign teams of Bernie Sanders and his democratic opponent Elisabeth Warren who both introduced a wealth tax in their programs. In his own, Sanders proposes a tax on large, particularly ambitious fortunes that would reach 8% for assets over $ 10 billion.Donald Trump is worried about a populist movement that can speak to his own voters.
Sanders is therefore part of a larger movement to question neoliberalism and its effects. In a September 2019 interview with the New York Times , Sanders caused a sensation by stating: "I don't believe that billionaires should exist in the United States," lambasting the fact that the three wealthiest people in the United States have more wealth than half of the American people, and denouncing an America transformed into a corrupt oligarchy.
The America portrayed by Sanders is an America entirely in the hands of a handful of billionaires who decide who is elected and what laws are passed. It is this radical discourse, and the tension it introduces between the superclass of the billionaires and the rest of the Americans, that makes Sanders a populist candidate. But it is also what makes it original and what can introduce a danger for Trump who had this word a few months ago, to qualify the danger that represents for him this American re-emergence of socialism: "People like free things ”( “ People like free stuff ” ). Behind the joke, a real concern about a movement that can address its own voters.