American Politics Without Sanders

The decision of Senator Bernie Sanders to withdraw from the Democratic presidential contest is a blow to the prospects of democracy in America.

For several years, but especially since 2016, Sanders has been talking of the need for political revolution, by which he means: (1) revitalize democratic institutions and the economy by taxing the rich and closing the gigantic inequality gap between rich and everybody else, including the poor. He would use the revenue from taxing the billionaires for public works paying living wages and employing millions of Americans to rebuild the country’s crumbling infrastructure and fight climate change; and (2) reorganize and strengthen environmental protection and education, offer health care to all Americans, and see that workers had safety and health.

These reforms would raise the living standards and health of most Americans left behind by the present economy and culture dominated by the military-industrial complex and the billionaires.

Sanders would reduce the enormous Pentagon budget and try to bring the great powers together for a join effort to fight climate change with the resources now being wasted in preparing for war.

To understand Sanders, we need to understand reality in the United States. Why is America in 2020 on the verge of civil war? This is despite its persistent trumpeting special status in world affairs and bragging of exceptionalism. Where is the fault line?

The model of the French Revolution 

One hears the words “political revolution” and, immediately, thinks of battles in the streets for power or changing the government. The model for political change has been the French Revolution of 1789.

Two political and intellectual movements prepared the French Revolution. The first was the study of the Greek legacy (of science, democracy, art, and literature) in the fifteenth century and after. That rebirth of civilization, Renaissance, triggered an avalanche of desires and knowledge to imitate the Greeks. Philip Melanchthon (1497-1569), a German classicist and lover of Greek civilization, kept saying, “Embrace the Greeks.”

The Enlightenment, an eighteenth century  movement of scholars and journalists, embraced the science and philosophy of Greek civilization. It was the culmination of the Renaissance. The learned men of the Enlightenment had had it with the tyranny of kings, priests, and landlords. They denounced religion as superstition and equated theology to black magic. They crystalized their message of reason, science, and freedom in the Encyclopedia, a massive summary of knowledge published in Paris in seventeen folio volumes from 1751 to 1772.

The editors of this pioneering and magnificent work were the polymaths Jean Le Rond d’ Alembert (1717-1783) and Denis Diderot (1713-1784). The contributors included men of daring and genius like Francois-Marie Arouet (Voltaire) (1694-1778), Charles-Louis de Montesquieu (1689-1755) and  Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712-1778). Freedom of speech and freedom from tyranny were their battle cry.

The French Revolution was an effort of turning the Enlightenment into policy and civilization. It is the mother of all modern liberal revolutions. Equality, fraternity, and liberty were the goals of the French revolutionaries.

After the storming of the Bastille in 1789, the peasants of France rampaged and burned the homes and castles of many landlords to destroy the evidence of their indebtedness to them.

The French Revolution went through moments of exhilaration in the abolition of old tyranny and moments of terror in the abuse of power by some leaders of the revolution.

Is America of 2020 like France of 1789?

Nevertheless, the legacy of the revolution, and the ideas that made it possible, changed the world. People started trusting themselves more, dreaming of better times to come. That dream has made our civilization. And despite the divisive and destructive religious wars of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries  and the violent reaction of kings and nobles against the French Revolution, going back to the old regime has  been impossible.

Of course, 2020 America is not exactly 1789 monarchical France. However, there are disturbing similarities in feudal farming and abhorrent inequalities.

Opening the glittering food cornucopia of rural America reveals oppressive political and environmental conditions. Like in eighteenth-century France, farm land  in America is in the hands of the few. Huge amounts of poisons and heavy machinery have been poisoning and crushing the top soil, making the land a desert. Thousands of farm workers (mostly imported slaves for rent) do the hard work.

In addition, Trump is not that far removed from being a despot of the ancien regime.

It’s incomprehensible that Trump, a man with so many character defects, primarily those of arrogance, crudeness, greed, hubris, deep corruption and ignorance, was “elected” president of the United States.

His malice came out in the open when he denied the existential threat of climate change and issued a series of executive orders gutting the already weak and vulnerable US Environmental Protection Agency and the laws of the country protecting human and environmental health. Then I knew Trump was a tyrant.

Trump surrounded himself and gave cabinet posts to “billionaires,” telling the world America was an oligarchy and plutocracy.

Trump’s deleterious policies have been pleasing none but the American party of wealth and power. This is the “conservative” Republican Party, populated by men and women equivalent to the land and ecclesiastical oligarchs French kings kept in the palace of Versailles in Paris in order to control them.

Bernie Sanders’ America

The other American politicians are making up the Democratic Party. They hate Trump and the Republican Party. The tension between these two political groups does not bode well for America. They are bringing the country to the precipice of civil war.

Wealth and income inequality is obscene. About 0.1 percent of American citizens own and rule the country. These super wealthy Americans (billionaires) purchase the major television, newspaper, and radio media and  politicians to keep repeating their messages and carry out their policies.

Sanders has been correct in denouncing the billionaire class.

Class divisions are getting sharp and hostile between the overwhelmingly white Republican politicians funded by billionaires and Democrat politicians representing the shrinking white middle class and the white, black, and Hispanic poor.

Sanders votes with the Democrats, but he is Independent. He keeps repeating that Trump is a pathological liar who has to be defeated at all costs this coming November. More than any other Democratic politician, Sanders has had the courage to denounce the billionaires for the injustice they impose on vast number of Americans: millions of them living from paycheck to paycheck, more millions still having no medical insurance, and an unknown number (probably hundreds of thousands) of people are homeless.

Sanders speaks of justice, equality, fairness and freedom. His vision of America is one of universal opportunity for a better life for all Americans, including those who have entered the United States illegally.

On April 9, 2020, from his home in Vermont, Sanders addressed his followers and explained why he suspended his campaign:

“Together, we have transformed American consciousness as to what kind of nation we can become, and have taken this country a major step forward in the never-ending struggle for economic justice, social justice, racial justice and environmental justice.…

“If we don’t believe that we are entitled to healthcare as a human right, we will never achieve universal healthcare. If we don’t believe that we are entitled to decent wages and working conditions, millions of us will continue to live in poverty. If we don’t believe that we are entitled to all of the education we require to fulfill our dreams, many of us will leave schools saddled with huge debt or never get the education we need. If we don’t believe that we are entitled to live in a world that has a clean environment and is not ravaged by climate change, we will continue to see more drought, floods, rising sea levels, an increasingly uninhabitable planet. If we don’t believe that we are entitled to live in a world of justice, democracy and fairness… we will continue to have massive income and wealth inequality, prejudice and hatred, mass incarceration, terrified immigrants, and hundreds of thousands of Americans sleeping out on the streets in the richest country on Earth.

“This current horrific [corona virus] crisis that we are now in has exposed for all to see how absurd our current employer-based health insurance system is. The current economic downturn we are experiencing has not only led to a massive loss of jobs but has also resulted in millions of Americans losing their health insurance. While Americans have been told over and over again how wonderful our employer-based private insurance system is, those claims sound very hollow today as a growing number of unemployed workers struggle with how they can afford to go to the doctor or not go bankrupt with a huge hospital bill. We have always believed that healthcare must be considered as a human right, not an employee benefit.”

This agenda of Sanders goes back to President Roosevelt’s late 1930s-early 1940s New Deal, but, in essence, it is an Enlightenment agenda with enormous potential to set America back to the path of civilization.

Yet, in contrast to the period of the Enlightenment, there are no philosophes or Encyclopedia to fight the greed of Darwinian economics and barbarian inequality while, for the first time in history, America and the world are under the threat of catastrophic climate change.

This suicidal impulse finds inspiration in superstitious religion and the propaganda of the billionaires and their media and academic mouthpieces. It’s as if the country and its elites are frozen in a prayer to the mammon.

Second, with Sanders out in the cold, who is going to struggle for social and environmental ethics and protection? Who is going to insist on global nuclear weapons disarmament, no more pesticides, and family farming?

All eyes are now turning to the former vice president Joe Biden.

Sanders likes Joe Biden. He says he is an honest man whom he trusts. Sanders wants to believe his proposals have entered the mind and agenda of Joe Biden. He said he is certain that Biden will cancel student debt, make public universities free, and he will reduce the age to sixty for joining Medicare.

It’s possible Biden is learning from Sanders. Perhaps, Biden is discovering himself outside the Obama influence. He might keep Sanders as his close personal advisor. And I would hope the emergency of the current plague has shattered any doubts one might have about the vision of Trump and his Republican conservative supporters.

Trump and Republicans remain apart from America. They are taking advantage of the two trillion dollars plague money, seeing that most of it ends in their coffers. They are building their personal wealth, while arming to defend a different country.

Defeating Trump in the November election would empower Biden to turn the country’s and the world’s attention to fighting climate change. In addition, defeating the conservatives and Trump might save the country from a potential bloody civil war.

Evaggelos Vallianatos, Ph.D., studied history and biology at the University of Illinois; earned his Ph.D. in Greek and European history at the University of Wisconsin; did postdoctoral studies in the history of science at Harvard. He worked on Capitol Hill and the US EPA; taught at several universities and authored several books, including The Antikythera Mechanism: The Story Behind the Genius of the Greek Computer and its Demise.