How Do We Avoid Future Authoritarians? asks Bernie Sanders

Bernie, my favorite guy in politics, answers his own question by saying, “a segment of working-class people in our country still believe Donald Trump defends their interests. We must win them over.”


That’s a pretty tall order in a single term, Bernie. Let’s just for a moment come to grips with Democrats and their relationship with the working class. I know they’re not really your party, because you’re a socialist, but you caucus with them and they’re the party Joe and Kamala represent.

Don’t win them over, win them back

That’s right, Bernie. In the good old days before Ronald Reagan and his lead-in to Newt Gingrich’s Contract With America, Democrats already represented the working class. Remember a guy by the name of Franklin Delano Roosevelt? As a side-note to the politics of those days, the southern states of America, now solidly Republican, were solidly Democrat. Before George Bush, the Republican Texan president, we had Lyndon Johnson, the Democrat Texan president.

C’mon, Bernie. You’re old enough to remember that, you were a Vermont Representative in the House when all that went down.

Rather than standing up, Democrats stood down

How many times in history have political parties lost their moral compass and paid the cost?

A bunch and not only in America. And it’s almost always been for short-term goals that seemed perfectly logical at the time. Only once can I remember Democrats willing to pay the price for  moral courage and that was when Lyndon Johnson signed the Civil Rights bill. He commented at the time, “There goes the South for Democrats forever.”

That’s the last time, but for John Kennedy, I can remember Democrats standing on the right side of history. Ronald Reagan broke their spirit when he killed off the unions and Newt’s Contract With America scared the shit out of them. The combination of these events over a brief decade and a half set the liberal compass spinning and from then on our celebrated two parties operated as co-conspirators in the sell-out of the American middle class.

“Oh what a tangled web we weave…

…when first we practice to deceive.” Americans don’t know Sir Walter Scott very well, if at all, don’t understand politics and never have, never wanted to, never felt the need. They expected (and depended upon) Congress to keep the wheels of business and industry greased, so they had a decent job and could go fishing on the weekends and maybe send their kids to college. Not all that much to ask, really.

But globalism was the economic drug of choice in those days. Milton Friedman ran amuck at the Chicago School of Economics and won a Nobel Prize for inventing a theory that destroyed most of South America and threw a shadow that American business is only now creeping out from under. Friedman was an advisor to Republican President Ronald Reagan and Conservative British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. I almost needn’t say more. The pair of them simultaneously set in motion the economic demise of the two most powerful nations of the times and the destruction of the middle class in both.

Not knowing any better, Democrats got swept off their feet

Ah well, the Ronnie and Margaret team swept a very well organized form of capitalism under the rug and by the time they set down their brooms there wasn’t much left. Globalism was hot and I’m not yet done with Milton Friedman, so hang on.

Fitting in neatly with business throwing workers, profit-sharing, pension plans, health care and increases in the minimum wage to keep up with inflation under the bus, was Uncle Milty’s mantra that the sole purpose of business is to generate a profit for shareholders. Thus was consummated a marriage made in heaven—a Nobel Prize endorsed permission for business to throw all that crap described above over the side of the American ship on its way to Asia.

The sole purpose of business quickly morphed into building China as a world power

Fascinating and probably not what most CEOs had in mind. But so it came to be, as China enjoyed decades of annual GDP at 10 to 15% rates, the American stock market soared and our home country GDP staggered at 2 and(in a good year) 3%. That also marked the total disassociation of the NY Stock Exchange from American economic growth—but that’s a subject for another time.

Republicans and Democrats in lock-step

Two things happened—three things actually. First, Republicans loved globalization, thinking they were still the party of business (old habits, hard to forget) after absorbing southern Democrats to their cause. Who cared in those heady times that they were welcoming aboard a base that would cripple them. Second, Democrats smoked the same dope, thinking a galloping stock market was somehow connected to a collapsing middle class still hoping to fish on weekends and maybe send their kids to college. Third—and most importantly to this argument—both parties forgot who the hell they represented and fell into the arms  of unlimited money in politics.

The United States Congress legalized their private Gravy Train

Fraud and corruption were and still are against the law—and properly so—a Senator or Representative could go to the pokey for messing with any of that stuff under the table. So Congress made and then joyously passed laws that allowed political contributions, not to them personally—heaven forbid—but to their re-election campaigns. Of course anything that might be left over was okay to take home. Leftovers became very tasty indeed. Another law that seemed well worth passing allowed retired legislators to either lobby for or sit on the boards (same difference) of major corporations.

Can you imagine the intellectual creativity behind making fraud and corruption legal? What a gravy-train. Hence the reputation of the United States Congress as the best government money can buy.

So Bernie, Democrats don’t have to win over anyone

The middle class they left wounded and bleeding in the wreckage of political and economic theories gone wrong is way past any winning back. It might be a nice touch to admit the party’s hand in causing the accident before driving off, but even that is beside the point.

Listen, Bernie. Turn away from the crowds bemoaning your being left by the side of the road, find yourself a quiet place and listen.

That faint rumble you hear is not evening traffic on the Beltway or a lone moose in the Vermont woods, it’s Trump supporters begging for their party back. Nixon’s ‘southern strategy’ was never a comfortable fit for those living below the Mason-Dixon line.

The South never belonged to Trump. It’s been natural Democrat country since Republican Abraham Lincoln defeated slavery. Southerners have no natural allegiance to a crooked real estate guy from NYC. But he fed their frustrations like a carnival barker and then turned his back on them. How about feeding their hopes Bernie, not with MAGA hats, but actual jobs and financial help that holds firm until better days. Did you notice that 25 million Americans will lose their covid benefits two days after Christmas? You and Joe and Kamala have any plan ready for that? A leg-up is better than a hand-out, but American society among the have-nots is crumbling before our eyes.

Now we need to extend covid financial help. Not only to the millions losing their benefits, but to all without work. Now we need a Green New Deal to match FDR’s New Deal. Not in a year or three years or five—now. If Mitch McConnell still sits as leader of the Senate after the Georgia special election and won’t bring up the Green New Deal (or 400 other House bills stalled), then bring the Trump supporters to the streets—led by Democrats. They’re your people, Bernie. They share your exact values (other than a little racism and gun-toting here and there).

America is bleeding and Democrats shared in the carnage

FDR saved America twice, once during an economic meltdown and a second time in a World War not of our making. I don’t remember anyone who asked how much it would all cost winning over those who understood the need.

We’re woefully short on statesmanship these days and brought to our knees by partisan politics. It’s worth remembering that there was a Franklin Roosevelt and there was a Winston Churchill. They were both statesmen and power politicians. Are we so weak and confused, so divided  a nation that we can’t pull together on the oars of our American ship?

Joe and Kamala and Bernie, be bold. Be out there every day, talking to America and requiring our support. If the 2022 mid-terms come and you lose some ground, fight harder. If you get your ass handed to you in 2024, you will have fought the good fight.

Sometimes that’s all there is.

Sometimes that’s enough.


4 thoughts on “How Do We Avoid Future Authoritarians? asks Bernie Sanders

  1. The difference between ‘winning over’ and ‘winning back’ is largely superfluous, but I think I can live with winning over, since pretty much nobody voting today actually ‘remembers’ FDR. I’m 66, and he was dead 9 years before I was born. Anybody who actually voted for him is a bare minimum of 98 today.
    Otherwise, I agree with most of what you said.

  2. Probably true, Willie. But both of us were dead during the Civil War and that doesn’t mean it hasn’t affected us. Those who think American history only extends back to Reagan are in real trouble ferreting out the truth of today’s political circumstances. I write about Pearl Harbor as well, not because I was alive then (although I was), but because there is connective tissue in world history that must be remembered.

  3. There’s a factor you aren’t considering, which is connected with the breakdown in the sense of reality. It’s true that Nixon grabbing the South was a pivot point, as was LBJ’s Civil Rights Bill: but the South was Democratic because that was the pro-slavery party, and then naturally the anti-Yankee party. Working class politics is not the main issue. The Southern Baptist Convention was founded in 1845 as a pro-slavery organization and has 14.5 million members today. The Evangelicals are the single most important Republican voting bloc. They are disciplined and get out and vote at a much higher rate than anybody else (28 percent of the population providing 60 percent of the Republican vote as far as I remember), but the problem is that they are crazy. As crazy as QAnon, now another significant Republican constituency. And what is the opposition to this? Not a return to working-class politics as you suggest, but a coalition of crazy people on the left. If I look for an analogy, I come up with Northern Ireland. Most people there are not extremists or fanatics, but the religious and ideological division in society is so deep that it is easy for the fanatics to claim that they are the true representatives of the people. Trump has succeeded in destroying what was left of American democracy.

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