Bernie and the Donald: A Comparison of Left- and Right-Wing Populist Discourse

  • Marcia MacaulayEmail author


Macaulay examines two populist leaders who became prominent during the 2016 Democratic and Republican Presidential campaigns: Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders. Using Laclau (2005a), Searlian Speech Act Theory (1969) and Greimasian Narrative Theory (1966), Macaulay analyses the principal similarities and differences between these two populist figures, one right-wing and the other left-wing. Macaulay takes her definition of populism from Laclau who understands populism as a “logic” wherein unmet needs translate into an aggregation of popular demands which in turn construct both ‘the people’ and a given ‘elite’ or ‘opposition.’ What significantly distinguishes Donald Trump from Bernie Sanders is Trump’s representation of himself as an “unmet need.” In his positioning of himself as a “jobs President,” Trump integrates himself as an unmet need with those of the American people in a quest to “Make America Great Again.” Bernie Sanders in contrast represents himself as a ‘co-subject’ with the American people in a revolution to address demands for social and economic equity. As populists, both Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders share many of the same popular demands but one places himself at the centre of his quest as an unmet need, while the other plays a collateral role to that of ‘the people’ whom he seeks to inspire and mobilise.


Populism Canovan Taguieff Laclau American populism Speech act Narrative Donald Trump Bernie Sanders 


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Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Glendon CollegeYork UniversityTorontoCanada

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