Left and Right in the U.S. and the U.K.

Now is the autumn of our political discontent. Three politicians, Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump in the United States and Jeremy Corbyn in Britain, are following the footsteps of the great Marxist, Groucho, in proclaiming that “Whatever it is, I’m against it.”

Politics may not be for these three particular politicians “show business for ugly people,” but the three are now starring in political theater in their dramatic portrayals of challenges to prevailing social and economic conditions. In 1956 the play “Look Back in Anger” written by John Osborne introduced the image of “angry young men,” impatient individuals disillusioned with their society. Sanders, Trump, and Corbyn, middle-aged and elderly, are similarly expressing a rejection of what they conceive to be an outmoded, and perhaps corrupt, society.

Comparisons of the three are not invidious. Whether their expression are sincere or not, all three are personae expressing or pretend to express the public unhappiness and the distrust of mainstream politicians in both countries that is measured in innumerable public-opinion polls. The three have taken on, or had imposed on them, the mantle of heroes in a stage in the two countries full of uncharismatic and unpopular political actors.

Two of our three political figures, if not the third, are clearly true believers. The credentials of 74 year- old Brooklyn-born Bernie Sanders, the long term Socialist, if supposedly independent, junior senator from Vermont are well known. This incorrigible leftist has consistently and in his honest fashion opposed an aggressive U.S. foreign policy and called for economic change in the form of higher taxes and public ownership of certain spheres.

Many of the views of Sanders on both domestic and foreign policy are similar to the bearded and poorly dressed new leader of the British Labour Party who defeated the moderate “New Labour” faction of the party, exemplified by former prime minister Tony Blair.

To widespread surprise, Jeremy Corbyn, the 66-year-old Labour Party M.P. since 1983, though he did not ambitiously seek the leadership and was favored by less than 10 per cent of his parliamentary colleagues, was elected leader of the party winning almost 60 per cent of the vote.  Ironically, Corbyn, an opponent of the monarchy, is now Her Majesty’s Leader of the Opposition.

A neo-Marxist and a plain speaker, his anti-military and somewhat isolationist political views, including ending or reducing British foreign involvements including British military action in Syria, are clear. He wants to reduce defense spending, to scrap Britain’s nuclear deterrent, Trident, and to pull out of NATO.  He voted against Britain remaining in the European Union. He opposed the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP).

His foreign policy views are less than admirable. Corbyn was supportive of the IRA bombers who were wrongly convicted in 1974. He opposed the bombing of jihadist terrorists in Syria. He is a known admirer of Fidel Castro. And not surprisingly, foreign leftist groups, Syriza in Greece, and Podemos in Spain, are admirers of Corbyn.

But unlike Bernie Sanders, the British leader is both anti-American and anti-Israeli as well as friendly with terrorist groups, such as Hamas and Hizb'allah. Though allegedly not anti-Semitic, Corbyn has expressed strong feelings of support for the Palestinian cause, and supported boycotts of Israel. It is wise to be aware in his case that anti-Semitism floats on the edge of a remark.

In domestic policy Corbyn has rejected the idea of Britain as a country of austerity, called for higher taxes on the rich, no cuts in welfare, a more equal society, renationalizing the railroads, and more spending on schools, hospitals, and transport.

Since 1945 Britain has had five Labour Party prime ministers. Corbyn is not likely to be the sixth. Instead, he is likely to divide the party and allow the Conservatives to win the next election and remain in power.

Corbyn resembles Donald Trump not only in their blunt straightforward manner of speaking but also in that both have been married three times, though Trump has five and Corbyn no children. Both men express what may be regarded as populist views, though the authenticity and sincerity of those attributed to Trump are more doubtful, and Corbyn’s expression is a great deal more emollient and optimistic than that of Trump. Unlike Trump, Corbyn, in spite of strong political differences, has few personal enemies.

Both Corbyn and Trump have the mainstream of their own political parties against them, but claim to represent the “real” nature of their party. Indeed, it may be that the opposition party, Democrats in the United States, and Conservatives in Britain, welcome the two of them, believing that Trump and a Labour Party led by Corbyn are damaging their own parties and can be more easily beaten than other leaders might be. The widespread feeling is that both Corbyn and Trump are causing irreparable damage and will take their parties over a cliff.

Yet, Corbyn and Trump differ on a major issues. Corbyn’s election seemed to illustrate a general dissatisfaction with the British center-left political figures, especially the recent Labour Party leaders, Gordon Brown, Tony Blair, and Ed Miliband, leader from 2010 to 2015. The British center left was unable to field a strong candidate for the leadership after Miliband’s resignation.

By contrast, the Republicans have a strong group of center-right political figures as candidates for the presidency. It is highly improbable that the leftist Corbyn can ever become prime minister of the U.K. It is increasingly likely, however, that one of the center-right candidates can become President of the United States. Populism will not triumph in either country.