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Bernie Sanders: He’s Not Black, But He May be Your Brother

I been down so long : it seem like up to me

Furry Lewis, “I Will Turn Your Money Green”

A Gallup Poll puts Hillary Clinton’s favorability among African-Americans at 80% and Bernie Sanders at 23%. She’s a familiar face while Bernie’s chalk white face isn’t. Two-thirds of blacks polled never heard of Bernie and the other third probably knows he’s Jewish (not a plus among African-Americans), talks socialism in a funny back in the day way Brooklynites sound to the rest of the country. He’s an old white guy, in short. First impressions aside, African Americans need Bernie Sanders as president. I say especially African Americans because they are so far down in the U.S. and have been for so long that not being in jail, not being beaten or killed by the police, not being jobless, not having serious emotional problems or hypertension, or diabetes, not being on welfare, and not seeing your children inherit the same toxic lives and circumstances — all this looks up to them.

Blankly put, racism is a tactic employed by a financialized capitalism to keep a potential revolutionary force divided so that the lopsided, plutarchic order it has created remains in place. “It’s good to be the king,” as Mel Brooks tells us in History of the World Part 1 and that blissful state finds every means, including racism, to preempt any change. But situated as African Americans are in American society in regard to inheritance, education, powerful social and business affiliations, “LinkedIn” status, models and mentors of success, and social esteem and reputation, they are in similar circumstances of medieval peasants who for more than a millennium could make no advance in monarchical/aristocratic Europe. Closer to native soil, they remain captives in a plutocracy in which even their captivity remains invisible. In other words, our capitalist Monopoly game is advanced and African Americans have already been bankrupted. It’s a zero sum game and the Winners have already found their place and property and the Losers must accept their loss.

This means of course that anything short of a dismantling of the economic system that has created this plutarchic order will not be of much use to those who have been discounted and dismissed by that same order. In fact, Liberal attempts to soften the blows either legislatively or rhetorically do no more than afford Americans with a false front of compassion, charity and hope that they grant themselves, especially on the world stage. As destructive of Underclass, working class and middle class lives as the Neoliberal assault since Reagan has been, Liberals provide Americans with proofs of their good heartedness while at the same time leading all to think that Neoliberal destruction is really not bad, that it’s being tempered by efforts to help the poor, the sick, the homeless, the jobless, the deranged and so on. Liberals provide an alibi discourse so that the Neoliberals can continue their pillaging of the “Moochers” lives.

I connect Hillary with this Liberal drama of beneficence. I also connect her with her husband’s Third Way politics, a tactic that enabled Bill Clinton, as a “New Democrat,” to deregulate like a Neoliberal. He leaned into the Neoliberals on the repeal of the assistance program, Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC), arguing without pause that work was the answer to those in need, accepting the Neoliberal view that the needy didn’t work because they were being paid by the Feds not to work. That low, demeaning view of the poor consolidated with the always already view of white America that African Americans are poor because they are lazy. The almost transparent racism of the Neoliberal welfare “reforms,” here implemented by a Liberal, persists in all Neoliberal proposals of “reform.” An entrenched wealth class will not stand for their wealth to be taxed because such “sharing” of their winnings directly opposes the zero sum competitiveness of the economic system within which they have won. That system cannot be brought back to a state where the 80% do a fair share of the winning by tolerating its present wildly out of control state.

When President Obama finally realized he was into partisan politics, he found a tutor in Bill Clinton, leaning when he could into a Neoliberal “Want” list, although a more Left leaning Democratic party incited by Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders, among others, has pushed back against this “Third Way” leaning. Hillary clearly has never shared Obama’s “post-partisan” politics, realizing that politics is now more than ever a knife fight in a phone booth. But how much she will be forced to lean into that sector that she is financially and socially a part of, that Wall Street money that supports her candidacy is the real basis of a voter’s uncertainty. If she leans into Wall Street to the degree that her husband did while achieving some victories for the bottom 80% as her husband did, the status quo of plutocracy will seem more winning than ever having endured and been confirmed by yet another Liberal presidency.

Amazingly, Donald Trump is less ambiguous than Hillary in regard to clearly opposing the sacred economic doctrines of the Neoliberal. He wants to maintain a graduated tax structure and Social Security and Medicare, increase taxes on corporations that do not act in America’s best interests, impose tariffs on companies that outsource, increase taxes on the compensation of hedge fund managers, and go after companies that removed their headquarters abroad to avoid taxes. Trump, however, appeals not because of views that rankle the economic order more directly than anything Hillary has proposed but because he’s a celebrity, billionaire shark who can get into the political tank and rip right and left. A significant percentage of those hurting have decided the Federal government run by Barack Obama and his socialist buddies, or, in some beliefs, his Islamic buddies, are ruining their lives. Sadly, they fail to recognize that the power that burdens and hurts them has created Trump and a whole gang of Bernie Madoff type Winners whose talents beyond the 2007 looting of the country remain a mystery but are clear sighted when it comes to preserving the status quo in which they are so comfortable.

Trump is a cultural creation that is to be expected when wealth and power grant a majesty of ego unrestrained and celebrated. All the mad clowns and despots of history can be summoned here. The “bottom” 80% of the American population has no time to drift “deeper into unreality, with no reconciliation in sight,” which is what Trump offers. There are few in the bottom 40% who are hard-core for Trump. They should be, however, hard core Sanders supporters because they desperately need a whole scale restructuring of an economic system that keeps the wealthy in place while hollowing out the lives of everyone else.

Bernie Sanders is in no cloud of ideological obscurity comparable to Hillary’s nor is he a self-indulging dilettante whose “art of the deal” is no more than a swindler’s, deceitful art. Sanders’s views emerge from a surveying of the American scene: capital vanquishing labor, an illusionary personal autonomy that obviates social and political responsibilities, a financialized capitalism’s mad rush to quick returns, and a resulting wealth gap that has eroded egalitarian democracy. In Sanders’s view, there is no way that the Neoliberal doctrine of what Paul Krugman succinctly describes as “the sovereign importance of low taxes on the rich” will ever do anything good for those at the bottom of the economic ladder. There is no way that those caught on the bottom, disproportionately African Americans, can find their way upward by believing that eventually this collusion of Neoliberals and financialized capitalism will “raise their boats.” What we saw with Hurricane Katrina was that poor African Americans were left stranded on rooftops and only the rich got out on copters, boats and cars, none of which were owned by African Americans. “Get in your car and drive out of there” made as much sense as asking African Americans to “just start a business.”

Bernie Sanders is attacking the root of the distress the “bottom” 80% of the population feel, namely an untamed, rabid form of capitalism operating with a full licensing of both political parties. We also witness a mindboggling acquiescence to this destructive status quo by many of its victims. No more than the top 1% and about a 20% professionalized, gentrified class that serves them are feeling no pain as dividends and interests compound while that “bottom” 80% is lost in a dark abyss of anxiety, confusion, illusion, anger, frustration, fear and loathing, and acquiescence. The Neoliberal genius has been to turn all of that in the direction of Liberals who join with Neoliberals in obscuring the fundamental flaws of our financialized capitalism with cultural issues. It didn’t matter during the South’s enslavement of black Africans if those shackled slaves were gay and permitted to marry or whether a woman had a right to abort or if they were Muslim or Christian, or whether slaves were legal or illegal immigrants. Under the historic circumstances of slavery, only a fool would fail to give full attention to the evil of enslavement itself.

Bernie Sanders sets out to show that what he proposes is an ejection of profit from places where profit should not be our primary consideration and a rebalancing of our economic inequities so that middle class economic power and regained economic mobility from the bottom up can push plutarchy back to equitable democracy. He’s not mumbling his socialist critique but Liberals are shy of supporting it while Neoliberals feel they’ve demonized such a critique in the American cultural imaginary to the extent that they have no fear of Sanders.

When Bernie Sanders sets out to redirect us from the Federal government toward the real villain on the stage, runaway capitalism, he faces difficulties the Fed and Obama bashers don’t face. While everyone has very clear and specific beefs against the government, they have very little and in fact nothing to hold against capitalism. What comes to mind is not any socialist’s critique but some echo of Churchill’s words: “The inherent vice of capitalism is the unequal sharing of blessings; the inherent virtue of socialism is the equal sharing of miseries.” We all can queue up to buy bread; we can reach into the rich man’s pockets until they’re empty. We can become full Orwell 1984 or Animal Farm, wind up in Solzhenitsyn’s Gulag Archipelago. Only the Feds will have guns. And so on. We can’t see the wreckage wrought by a runaway capitalism because it surrounds us with so many consumer choices, so much fun cybertech, so many new apps for our Smartphones.

In an America in which Civics is no longer taught, in which Facebook society is now all of society, in which the rising generation doesn’t think politics matters because political decisions, like all decisions, end with your own Facebook posting, and in which online life has replaced the Great Outdoors so that what happens in the Great Outdoors doesn’t matter, education is a difficult matter and learning, which is hopefully assisted by education, beyond personal borders of “Like” is even more difficult. Bernie Sanders therefore needs to do platform tutorials as he campaigns. He needs note takers, readers, critical thinkers, students willing to learn. What he will get and is already getting is the horse race that the media needs to keep the American electorate interested in their own democracy. If Bernie Sanders is entertaining, he won’t salvage his socialism from savagery; if he is tutorial, he won’t find an audience. It’s a bind that Hillary doesn’t face because she is isn’t attempting an assault on our miscreant capitalism. We need to attend closely to what Bernie Sanders has to say, encouraging him thereby to go deeper into problems and solutions, right to the roots that feed our present plutocracy.

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Joseph Natoli has published books and articles, on and off line, on literature and literary theory, philosophy, postmodernity, politics, education, psychology, cultural studies, popular culture, including film, TV, music, sports, and food and farming. His most recent book is Travels of a New Gulliver.

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