One of the media's dumbest narratives in 2016 was that both Trump and Bernie Sanders where two sides of the same coin. Trump was right wing populism and Bernie was left wing populism. See? Both extreme! Sort of!
It was fucking insulting.
This idiotic narrative had two purposes. The first, earlier in the primary, was to make Bernie look too much like a fringe candidate to pay attention to. The press does not like Bernie's platform and it was only when he became a threat to Hillary did the media's loathing of the Clintons override their loathing of progressive politics.
The second, and more widespread later in the campaign, was to make Trump look less like a fringe candidate. As Bernie became more popular, the press couldn't stop comparing the two in order to soften Trump's white nationalist image. "They're both populists" sounds a lot better than "One is running on universal healthcare and the other is running on ethnic cleansing".
Fast forward two years later and Bernie is still a populist but somehow, so is...Donald Trump? How is that even possible asks Paul Krugman:
Start with tax policy, where Trump’s major legislative achievement is a tax cut that mainly benefits corporations — whose tax payments have fallen off a cliff — and has done nothing at all to raise wages. The tax plan does so little for ordinary Americans that Republicans have stopped campaigning on it. Yet the administration is floating the (probably illegal) idea of using executive action to cut taxes on the rich by an extra $100 billion.
It's popular with the billionaires and that's about it. Even Fox News hasn't been able to convince their mush-for-brains mob of morons that they weren't ripped off and they still think Hillary personally murdered Mr. Ben Ghazi.
There’s also health policy, where Trump, having failed to repeal Obamacare — which would have been a huge blow to working families — has engaged instead in a campaign of sabotage that has probably raised premiums by almost 20 percent relative to what they would have been otherwise. Inevitably, the burden of these higher premiums falls most heavily on families earning just a bit too much to be eligible for subsidies, that is, the upper part of the working class.
And then there’s labor policy, where the Trump administration has moved on multiple fronts to do away with regulations that had protected workers from exploitation, injury and more.
There's more but you get the idea. Trump has systematically attacked the lives of average Americans. Sometimes he's done this to benefit the ultra wealthy but often he's done it simply to do it, like a mean kid picking the wings off a fly because he can.
Bernie has a decades long track record of pushing populist policies so even though he's not the president, we have a decent idea of what he would have done in the Oval Office. Calling him a populist is appropriate.
On the other hand, Trump has now been in the White house for 18 months or so. We have more than enough evidence of what kind of president he is and "populist" he ain't. Yes, he spouts populist rhetoric but at some point, we have to separate the lies from the actions. Republicans often claim to be family values pro-life men of faith and then force their mistresses to have abortions. Do we still pretend they're upstanding citizens? Of course not. In this analogy, Trump has had dozens of mistress and numerous abortions.
Wait, is this an analogy or real life?
Either way, Trump has proven time and again that he despises the middle class and working class Americans that make up his base. They've convinced themselves he's made their economic lives better because he's pursuing white nationalist social policies. Without those Dixie tinted glasses, they would be rioting in the streets over what he's done.
Yet, we're still told to call him a "populist" because he goes to rallies and lies about how much he loves factory workers even as he puts them out of work.
This is just another way for the press to avoid talking about how extreme and damaging his policies are to America. Like all Republican policies, the media refuses to fully engage with the destruction they wreak on the non-rich. They'll discuss it in big picture terms but they can't help but soften it by calling Trump a populist when nothing he does is populism.
Krugman sums up it for his collegues in the press:
Which brings me back to media use of the term “populist.” When you describe Trump using that word, you are in effect complicit in his lie — especially when you do it in the context of supposedly objective reporting.
And you don’t have to do this. You can describe what Trump is doing without using words that give him credit where it isn’t due. He’s scamming his supporters; you don’t have to help him do it.
Unfortunately, they will. Kowtowing to Republicans in hardwired into their their collective mentality. They're struggling to break that programming but for every Jim Acosta, there are a dozen Quislings like Maggie Haberman and a dozen more professional "both siders" like David Brooks and Chris Cillizza. Until they're hounded from the public square by real journalists, we're going to have to keep hearing about how Donald Trump is just like Bernie Sanders the populist as he cuts taxes for billionaires again.