Is a socialist America worth immigrating to?
I was born in North Carolina, but my parents are from Vermont. So in my youth I drove north up the east coast for many summers to visit our family in Burlington, the largest city in the state with about 40,000 inhabitants. It was on one of these excursions, sometime in the early 1990s, that I heard about Bernie Sanders and his specifically American idea of democratic socialism.
Vermont is a strange place. Its just 626,000 inhabitants, which make it the second smallest of the 50 US states, live predominantly in small country towns scattered across the Green Mountains. These mountains run the length of Vermont as if they formed the backbone of the small state. The Vermonters are considered self-confident, determined to be independent and occasionally revolutionary. Their state was founded during the War of Independence by militiamen who acted on their own. Later he was the first to abolish slavery and played a key role in the so-called Underground Railroad: Vermonters hid fugitive slaves and smuggled them over their northern border into Canada. In my childhood and youth, I heard some of the stories about it that are loved to be told as evidence that Vermonters are committed citizens who don't like injustice or political duplicity.
Bernie Sanders, born in Brooklyn, first stepped onto Vermont's political stage in 1980, from the left. As an independent and avowed Democratic Socialist, he ran for the office of Mayor of Burlington and won ten votes more than the incumbent - who had previously been re-elected four times. In the period that followed, the Burlingtoners confirmed him three times in office. His time as mayor gave Bernie the reputation of an avowed leftist, but above all a capable administrator. He instituted the city's first women's committee, promoted the development of workers' cooperatives, and took the initiative in one of the first and most successful government-funded (Vermont) community housing experiments in the United States. The latter measure ensured that housing for low and middle incomes remained affordable and the gentrification of Burlington was limited, although at the same time a project to improve the urban development of the riverside greatly changed the face of the city center. As a committed leftist, Bernie invited Noam Chomsky to give a lecture at the town hall and helped Burlington to become a Sandinista twin city by visiting Daniel Ortega in Nicaragua. A capable administrator, he kept the budget balanced and did his part to ensure that Burlington is now widely recognized as one of the friendliest and most livable cities in the United States.
In 1990, Bernie applied for a congressional mandate, which he won. From then on, for the first time in four decades, there was an independent in the Washington House of Representatives. He soon set up a progressive parliamentary association, the Congressional Progressive Caucus - which has remained one of the few left bastions on Capitol Hill to this day. Sanders reprimanded politicians from both major parties when he found them guilty of submitting to Washington's corrupt logic. He has the reputation of a serious, straightforward politician who is always insistent - perhaps a little monomaniacal - that our country has serious problems that it must face. Even if he occasionally appears rude, even rude, no one ever doubted that he took his work extremely seriously. His voice was soon heard across the country, whether it was criticizing income inequality and calling for public health insurance for all or reforming campaign finance and, for example, LGBT rights (the rights of lesbians, gays, Bisexuals and transsexuals). Later he was one of the first to criticize the Iraq war and domestic surveillance programs such as the Patriot Act.
In principle, Bernie has persisted in the course he has taken from the start - that of an intrepid leftist who is guided in his work by principled independence and the determination to make a difference and to create what he tackles. Back in Vermont, which he has represented as a Senator since 2006, Bernie continues to be incredibly popular. He won his most recent election with 71 percent of the votes cast and is consistently among the US politicians with the highest approval ratings in their constituency. That he disdains aggressive election advertising is just as well known as his seemingly old-fashioned endeavor to look for common ground with politicians from the other camp. Both have only strengthened his reputation. Bernie's most significant achievement - the real secret of his success - is the creation of a new political consensus in the state of Vermont. Of course, most of the true left-wing liberals like it, but its real strength comes from the approval of small-town white working-class families, who (at least in the last few decades) have hardly been said to have democratic-socialist tendencies.
My family consists largely of hairdressers, mixed with a few nurses and electricians. We are a family of hunters and Katy Perry fans. And we are among those who have had to believe that their votes don't count in the political culture of America today. Frankly, it was only Bernie Sanders who could change my family's mind. Almost all family members intend to vote for Bernie Sanders as a presidential candidate in the upcoming primary election, although they would otherwise tend towards the Republicans in every election. We don't usually talk about politics on my visits to Vermont, but when we do, we talk about Bernie. I still have my aunt in my ear: “Even if I don't agree with everything he says or does,” she once assured me, “I know for sure that he means what he says and believes in what he does. I know that he will never sell us and will always pour pure wine. "
That Senator Bernie Sanders is running to become the 45th President of the United States seems less and less like Donquixoterie. His campaign left the American public in an unfamiliar, almost hectic mood. He attracts more audiences and arouses greater enthusiasm than any other candidate from one party or the other. During 2015, his campaign received $ 73 million from over one million individual donors. He's been on the front pages of all major US media for some time, and countless tweets, shares, and internet memes talk about Bernie on the web. His main adversary, who is still ahead in the polls - Hillary Clinton, the former Secretary of State, Senator, First Lady in the White House and favorite of the Democratic Party establishment - was more popular than anyone when it launched just six months ago, no one else will be able to stop them. But now, as I write this - at the end of January 2016 - Hillary is clinging to a seven-point lead in national polls and even has to fear that the first two primary states, which have always served as a barometer of sentiment for the rest of the country, will subject. What is even more amazing is that Bernie Sanders ’campaign is doing so well, despite not accepting corporate donations, not supported by any establishment group, and incessantly promoting the virtues of democratic socialism. His message that this country urgently needs a political revolution cannot be ignored.
Since Bernie spent decades in politics, it is not surprising that his election platform is broad and very detailed - one could almost say: factual. Perhaps too detailed, but by no means confused: The democratic socialist leaves no doubt that he is most concerned about the inequality that characterizes America's economy. He proposes an increase in the minimum wage from $ 7.25 to $ 15 by 2020. He promises to want to create millions of jobs through infrastructure and youth development programs of the federal government. He wants to expand public pensions, provide free higher education at all public universities, and provide comprehensive health care for all people in the United States through public health insurance. He explains quite simply how these programs are to be financed: through tax increases for the rich and large companies and the taxation of speculative financial transactions.
When he talks about how America became one of the countries with the most pronounced inequality in the world, Bernie's anger is particularly true of the big banks, whom he blames for the financial crisis of 2007/08. Not a single bank boss was jailed for complicity in the crash, while the American criminal justice system, on the other hand, sentenced millions to prison terms for minor and non-violent offenses. Sanders advocates a contemporary revision of the Glass-Steagall Act, which had stipulated the separation of investment and traditional banking activities from 1933 until it was repealed under President Bill Clinton in 1999. Recently he also announced that he would - if elected - ensure the unbundling of all "too big to fail" financial institutions in his first year in office.
But the reference to his determined economic populism alone cannot explain why millions of people are now falling into a kind of “Bernie mood” - “Feel the Bern”, as the viral hashtag puts it, which has become one of the slogans of the Sanders campaign. It is more likely that he is so blunt about the state of the country. Household indebtedness and economic inequality have reached historic proportions, and the generation now entering adulthood has been socialized by the Iraq War and Great Recession. Growing up with the myths of the American Dream, they were confronted with completely different realities from an early age - with an increasing downward mobility that threatens almost everyone except the elites and a few lucky ones. Against this background, one can understand why Bernie's campaign is doing so surprisingly well: Because he describes this system as broken, and irreparably broken - as "not just broken but fixed" in the sense that it is the perpetuation of the controlling power of a small, political serves firmly anchored capital interests of certain elite.
In addition to its economic policy proposals, the Sanders campaign has another focus with the demand to free politics from the influence of big money. Bernie loudly calls for a comprehensive reform of campaign finance, including the repeal of the Citizens United ruling by the US Supreme Court and the abolition of the "Super-PACs" (PAC = Political Action Committee). The 2010 court ruling and the favoring of large donors through the approval of Super-PACs have meant that the financial power of corporations has increasingly influenced the electoral process. Bernie regularly reminds us that he is the only candidate without a Super-PAC and that he is running an independent campaign. His election campaign funds come mainly from small individual donations and a few larger donations from the union side. Hillary's campaign, on the other hand, is funded mainly by wealthy citizens and corporations; among its ten largest donors are six banks.
Bernie believes the economy has hijacked America's democracy, and that makes him publicly contemplate a "political revolution." He blows this horn in almost every speech, without ever leaving any doubt that neither he nor any other politician can alone bring about the necessary changes. In Bernie's version, the political revolution begins with the American people voting as en masse as possible. With this in mind, he also calls for the elimination of the racist restrictions on voting rights that Republicans practice. He is concerned that we get our democracy back and insist on the reforms propagated in his election program, which should give us a lasting influence on economic activity and the political process.
Unsurprisingly, the ruling powers don't take pleasure in Bernie. The party establishment of the Democrats is particularly offended - unfortunately, but not surprisingly either. His candidate Hillary Clinton has so far won 455 statements of support from governors and congressmen, compared to three for Bernie Sanders. Eighteen unions with twelve million members have voted for Clinton, while only three unions with a total of one million members support Sanders. Hillary is said to have a 45: 1 lead among the so-called super delegates. (The "superdelegates" are an unpleasant peculiarity of the American electoral system: they hold about a third of the party vote, but are not subject to any democratic control by actual voter opinion.) The Democratic National Committee (DNC), for its part, has tried to get Clintons Secure the lead by extremely narrowing the candidates' televised debates. Once the party leadership even punished Sanders disproportionately hard for a (controversial) "data theft" by temporarily banning him from using the party database for his election campaign. Meanwhile, establishment television broadcasters are rioting to deny Bernie's ability to win elections, despite numerous polls showing otherwise.
The most well-meaning Hillary supporters might argue as follows: No matter which crazy / dangerous rascal emerges victorious from the brawl in the wrestling-style Republican primary fight - Hillary Clinton is the one who does it Boys most likely to hit. And her friends will continue to argue that, once elected president, she will be the most likely to get things straight in Washington. Politics is a dirty business, and the Republican Party has changed fundamentally through its obstructionism and fanaticism. Hillary may not be a shining light, but at least the one in the Democratic Party who can at least push through some positive reforms, insofar as our dysfunctional system of government allows this at all. In addition, the well-meaning people will say that it is high time to finally elect a woman to the White House after more than two centuries of uninterrupted male rule.
Against this line of argument, I would argue that Clinton represents far too much of what is dysfunctional in our political system today for it to actually remedy. She is as closely connected to Wall Street as any politician from whatever party. She voted for the Iraq war and is loyal to the belligerent hawk-wing of a Democratic Party, which refuses to give up the widely discredited flag of liberal interventionism at all. Politically, Clinton is primarily geared towards gaining power as such, while Sanders has consistently stood by his standards for more than 30 years in various electoral offices. Electing a woman to the presidency would undoubtedly be a highly symbolic act - a potentially historic process that could be compared to the election of Barack Obama as our country's first black president eight years ago. But his reign also showed us the limits of symbolic politics: During these years, average incomes and wealth of blacks have fallen, while on the other hand the incarceration rates seem to rise inexorably and Latino immigrants are deported in record-breaking proportions. The hard political currency of electing a president with a plan and mandate to substantially change the way Washington - and our country as a whole - works outweighs such mere symbolic acts.
Unsurprisingly, the debates of “the left”, as I would like to generalize them, about this election have taken on rather ugly forms in recent months.For a time, Bernie's persistent refusal to use negative campaign techniques - in conjunction with Hillary's originally comfortable lead - ensured a somewhat civilian outcome. But as the campaign progressed and its lead narrowed, Hillary's supporters in the media began to label Bernie supporters quite indiscriminately as “brocialists,” a kind of sexist macho leftist. (The swear word "Brocialist" is made up of "Bro" alias Brother / Kumpel and "Socialism" - d. Ex.) Bernie's followers were biting and sometimes quite undiplomatic - but rightly on the matter - against that he always had again supports political steps and other measures that have achieved far more for women's equality (at least beyond middle class circles) than Clinton's proposals. This debate would have the potential to lead to a productive argument about the differences between liberation and career-oriented feminism, but so far it has mostly been limited to paper-based and partisan arguments and has barely got beyond the stage of mud battles à la Twitter.
Further to the left, the usual suspects proclaim that Bernie is not called to champion the true revolution. They hold up against him a whole litany of wrongdoings, even downright original sins, which, roughly speaking, all amount to the reproach that he has not devoted himself skin and hair to a very specific (and in my opinion esoteric) political line. Some say he acts as a kind of shepherd dog for the Democratic Party, driving disappointed young people back into their corral like runaway sheep - although Bernie worked as an independent for most of his political life and is now something like "Public Enemy Number 1" for the party establishment. has become. Others, on the other hand, cannot forgive him for falsely pretending to be a democratic socialist when in truth he is a social democrat - what a cheek! And finally, there are those for whom Bernie is persona non grata because he supposedly or actually made the wrong decision in this or that foreign policy vote, i.e. was no better than everyone else. The fact that he persistently criticizes our country's regime change policy does not count for them. Just as little as he emphatically emphasizes the far greater threat posed by climate change compared to the threat of terrorism aggressively highlighted in the media. Even if such political pathologies hardly affect mainstream political consciousness, it is worth mentioning because they have made the positions within the “socialist left” in the broadest sense more clearly identifiable - the difference between those who are to the people, for example go and develop their politics on the basis of the real conditions, and those who prefer to stay to themselves and insult everyone who does not yet join them.
More interesting and significant for the current state of affairs in American politics is a debate that flared up at the last conference of Netroots Nation, an important annual meeting of left forces. Activists from the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement interrupted a Sanders speech there to draw attention to the ongoing police violence against black people and to call for more decisive action plans to overcome structural racism in the USA. Sanders' response to this move has been dismissed by some as inappropriate in tone and derogatory. The fact that Bernie then pointed out what he himself had done in terms of racial justice and tried to place the issue of racism in the context of his economic policy program aimed at reducing social inequality did not help him at first. A week later, a BLM group from Seattle interrupted another Sanders performance, this time at an anniversary event to mark the 80th anniversary of Social Security. The BLM activists grabbed the microphone before Bernie could speak and refused to let him respond to their allegations. They accused the city of Seattle of racism after boos from the audience and kept the stage occupied until the event was canceled.
Immediately after this second incident, the Sanders campaign launched an agenda for black equality (presumably drafted after the first intervention), which - as a gesture of approval of the demands of "Black Lives Matter" and other activists - a list of names of the latter Time precedes black women and men killed by the police. The agenda then goes straight to the physical violence by government agencies and right-wing extremists to which people of black and brown skin color in this country are constantly exposed. What follows is a somewhat lengthy list of political proposals and demands, which also deal with the problem of political, police, judicial, economic and ecological violence, from which Communities of Color suffer particularly. This new agenda has won the approval of prominent voices from within the BLM movement.
While the first BLM campaign demonstrated how two different progressive movements, though partially congruent in their goals, can collide critically, but ultimately productively, the second showed, on the other hand, that the two sometimes talk past each other. Bernie, 74 years old, white, a Jewish man from the second whitest state of Vermont (96.7 percent), did not immediately recognize the urgency of the issue of racial justice, nor did he see what a bad image he was trying to simply address the BLM demands to be classified in his predefined election platform, which focuses on questions of economic and social justice. The BLM activists, for their part, behaved short-sightedly when they cannibalized the scene to the detriment of a person who - to say the least - has always proven to be a good “white ally” of the black movement and who marched alongside Martin Luther King as early as 1963. What served as a useful provocation at the Netroots conference was clearly excessive in Seattle. The intervention there came from activists who were relatively inexperienced in social policy and who are far less close to the leadership of “Black Lives Matter”, a fundamentally open movement. Their actions appeared rather cynical, and they did not seem particularly interested in developing a progressive policy that would overcome ideological rifts.
All in all, the Bernie / BLM story is an instructive experience for Sanders and his followers - and good news for the left as a whole. In addition to his racial justice agenda, Bernie has now filled important positions on his campaign team with blacks and Latinos. He is also making visible efforts to get the public's due attention to the continuing trend of appalling police violence against blacks. For example, he visited the family of Sandra Bland, a 28-year-old woman arrested for a minor traffic violation and later found dead in her cell. Bernie commented on this with the strong, albeit tragically simple, statement that the young woman “would still be alive today if she had been white”. He has also appeared together with prominent black artists such as Killer Mike from the rap group "Run the Jewels" and is now better able to explain the extent to which the economic development of the USA has been racially backed up since the times of slavery. Although his level of awareness in the minority communities is still far behind that of Hillary Clinton, his sympathy values and the voting results that he is trusted to have increased significantly.
More generally, these struggles and developments can be seen as part of a new upward movement - perhaps even a new generation - of leftist activity in the United States. After several decades of withdrawal - at least as far as the presence of the left in the public consciousness - the direction of development suddenly reversed with "Occupy Wall Street" in September 2011. The OWS movement had all of the beautiful and difficult qualities of a newborn child, and for many, if not most of those involved, the experience they had was actually brand new. Seen in this way, an entire generation experienced first hand that it is possible to become politically active in the United States for fundamental changes. Although “Black Lives Matter” has no direct connection with “Occupy Wall Street” and did not emerge from the OWS movement, BLM found access to mainstream media in its wake and takes a lot into account in its practice (consciously or unconsciously) of what was criticized about OWS.
The Sanders campaign reaches millions of people who a presidential campaign is more likely to inspire to be interested in politics. If one takes the three developments outlined together (even if they do not want to be seen as one, as a triple movement in all cases), we are dealing with the beginning of a new era of progressive politics in the United States. Certainly, disputes between these and other political movements are important and necessary, as is the critical struggle over the shape and direction of progressive politics. It is no less important, however, that we do not fall into destructive trench warfare and do not allow ourselves to be distracted from the fundamental question of our time: How can the political and economic system of the United States be redesigned so that it is there for everyone in this country and? at the same time causes more benefit and less harm for the rest of the world?
Bernie Sanders is doing what he can to ensure that we look seriously at this daunting task without leaving the slightest doubt that it cannot be done by him alone. That's one of the main reasons why I support Bernie and think everyone should do that. Nobody is better positioned than he to start a broad movement that can become a power factor and at the same time to bring together new alliances based on class solidarity and the overcoming of ethnic divisions, i.e. to bring about the opposite of the divisions into which corporate interests drive us. Sanders demonstrated it in Vermont, perhaps not always at the level of expectation of socialist heights, but in an undoubtedly transformative and sustainable way. And when we look at the state of American politics - which allows a right-wing populist like Donald Trump to cast its spell over a sizable section of the Republican electorate with cheap Washington bashing - we know what we have to do: Nothing is more urgent than fighting for a new New Majority in this country that is based on togetherness and not on hatred.
Back to Bernie: He continues to take care of the cohesion and expansion of the coalition, which he was able to create through a policy that goes beyond the typical factional trench warfare. His support for American war veterans is known as well as his commitment to keeping a watchful eye on the Fed - the US central bank. Both issues are traditionally considered more conservative domains. And a surprising number of his Republican colleagues in Congress like Bernie Sanders, not as a person to talk to on topics like baseball or the like, but as someone who doesn't talk differently than he does. When he recently gave a speech at the conservative Christian Liberty University, Bernie resorted to a rhetorical tool that he has used throughout his career: "We may not agree on every issue," he assured his audience. "But we can come to an understanding about how unfair the inequality, the corruption and the lack of functionality that shape our system are."
As deep as the cracks are revealed by the current primary campaign in both major parties, it also makes it clear that an even deeper cultural contrast between the conservative and the progressive camp is tearing our country apart. Nobody seems to be able to imagine anything more terrible than the election of an opposing politician to the White House. Beyond the economic and political change propagated by Bernie, it also stands for the possibility of reuniting our deeply divided community in the 21st century. The fact that a President Bernie Sanders is conceivable gives us an - albeit incomplete - route description of how we can escape the cultural and political predicament in which we are stuck.
The last time we were in Vermont, my Argentinian wife and I visited my 90-year-old grandmother, who had lived in the small state all her life and was keenly interested in golf and talk show politics. Unsurprisingly, we turned to the election campaign and she said that one of her sons - my uncle - was trying to win her over to Bernie. She remained undecided. She has known Bernie for decades, likes him, and trusts his judgment, but she's also dying to see a woman in the White House before she dies. The argument is simple and it is strong. I take it very seriously.
My wife contradicted: In the country she comes from, a woman has ruled as president for almost ten years - Cristina Kirchner, a progressive. No matter how big the step the US might take in electing a woman as president, what would it be compared to electing a socialist president in the most powerful country in the capitalist world? Wait a minute, my grandmother exclaimed - less suspicious than shaking off the dust of an idea she hadn't considered in a long time - are you two socialists? We looked at each other and hesitated for a moment until my wife replied: Yeah - if nothing else is needed to be a socialist, then we are probably some. My grandmother looked at us surprised, maybe a little mischievously - but maybe she was just trying to make sense of her grandson and her (by-marriage) granddaughter and at the same time to grasp the whole range of old and new ideas. Oh well, she said finally, slowly and deliberately.
On my next family visit, Vermont's latest contribution to the course of American history will, I hope, be cause for celebration, and if necessary, even to congratulate each other on the election of the first Democratic Socialist President. But even if Bernie loses, I think his campaign will still be seen as a success: Because it made it possible to imagine and sensually experience that we can enter a new era of progressive politics. Either way, Bernie's message that we need a political revolution has reached a new generation of young people - and has thus laid a foundation on which all who strive for a better future can build.
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