Bernie Sanders and the New American Age

Bernie Sanders is considering a new bid for President of the United States of America and we should all be paying very close attention.

Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
MOTHER OF EXILES.(source)

Someone recently shared a article from a left-leaning magazine where the author boldly steps forward to promote the importance of Bernie Sanders becoming the next Democratic nominee for President. Her case was simple: the other major democratic candidates currently on the ticket don’t hold up under close scrutiny. And she’s not wrong. Senator’s Elizabeth Warren and Kamala Harris both hold opinions that fall far short of the sort of changes championed by Senator Sanders. The same is true for Beto O’Rourke, whose record of supporting and voting for less-than savory things (such as a bill that would send teens to prison for at least fifteen years if they attempted to send a “sext”) should give any potential voter reason to pause.

This is all fine. It’s a good thing to question our candidates and explore our options. Because we are a Republic — not an open Democracy — we need to be paying close attention to the people we elect to lead us (I so dearly wish this went without saying).

As a personal aside, I think Sherrod Brown stands out as a democrat who leans in a more favorable direction in a number of areas, but there’s some question on whether or not he has the potential to draw the sort of support on a national stage that he would need to be a serious contender.

But I am concerned.

I’m concerned because this election is so incredibly important for the future of the planet (and I don’t feel that I’m being overly dramatic when I say that). And, with so very much at stake, I cannot help but listen to some of the voices rising up from within the larger body of the Left and wonder if we really have what it takes to make a stand. And part of my concern — and I know this won’t be popular with everyone —is about the nature of the tone we use in discourse, because our tone reflects deeper divisions and causes for concern.

I believe that it is perfectly natural to feel strongly for whatever positions you support. I believe that you have a right to voice your opinions. But I question the wisdom of allowing ourselves to fall prey to divisive language. Conservative voters are not divided on the issues — they are going to keep moving forward in support of those things they find important and they are willing to make sacrifices to achieve those ends. This part of my concern falls under the header of what happens if Bernie Sanders runs yet doesn’t win the nomination? Will it be “Bernie or Bust” again? I am not at all certain that this sort of rhetoric serves anyone’s interests. I’ll return to this in a moment, however, because I want to continue addressing the issue of tone.

I think that tone is important. I also understand why there are some out there who believe that “tone policing” damages the ability of minority and disadvantaged groups to speak out and be heard (as well as for those who believe that tone should be proportional to tone, i.e. if some group or individual is openly calling for the death of some other group, we should not feel a need to speak respectfully about the person or group using this hatespeak). There are valid positions to consider within this arena and you can read about them pretty much anywhere on the internet. Personally, I believe that we should maintain a system of respect.

Respect is important for the facilitation of positive communications. There is some element of “do unto others” within the idea of respect, certainly, but its importance goes deeper. The roots of the importance of respect are psychological ones, operating at a level that has nothing to do with complex political arguments and everything to do with how we, as social animals, behave[1,2]. The article that I was sent, the one which got me started writing this piece, utterly lacked in the language of respect. It went for the “cheap shot,” using base descriptors for people and slipping into unoriginal use of profanity (profanity can be fine, but not if it doesn’t add anything of its own. Otherwise it just becomes a pointless attempt to look cool).

So, the first step that we need to take as we enter this new age of politics, is to pay attention to how we treat one another. Are we standing up for the very best of ourselves and our society? That’s the question we should be asking of ourselves before we act. We will not always get it right — that’s okay — we don’t have to. But we do have to try (and show others that we’re trying).

Now, returning to the idea of “Bernie or Bust,” I think we need to consider what notions are underlying this perspective. Generally it seems to be a variation on the argument that someone is “tired of voting for the lesser of two inferior candidates” (and I’m being politic in my rephrasing). Breaking this down, I have to disagree on two important grounds.

The first: Voting for the lesser evil out of two evils, is, actually, a good thing. I might not like that Candidate A holds certain positions but I can understand that Candidate B is going to champion the same bad positions as Candidate A and will also champion a whole lot of other awful things. This is a moral argument, yes, but also a pretty practical and pragmatic one.

This brings up the issue of our election system in the US which only supports two parties at the moment, but that’s something for a different article.

The second issue with the “lesser of two evils” argument is one of simple comparison. Lining up all the positions of one candidate against those of another (as well as lining up other things, like voting history, type of rhetoric they use, etc.) it should be relatively easy to decide which person is the better choice. Do they support more of the things that are important to me? Yes? Good!

From there, the work is not done, though. That’s where I think a lot people get hung up. In a representational democracy we need to hold our politicians accountable. If a politician holds certain views that we don’t agree with, then we need to build as large an organized an effort as possible to focus them on why they need to reassess their position. We need to allow for that shift of position and we need to work for it. If they don’t do enough to follow-through then we vote them out and find the next best person to fill their role.

So, Bernie Sanders is my top pick for President. I believe that he should run because he stands for all the positions that the United States needs to adopt if we are going to become a true world leader once more (and a far better one than we have ever been before). I also believe he has an excellent chance of winning against any Republican who is placed against him in a national race. I’m mostly concerned that he will suffer setbacks from inside the Democratic Party (as when the DNC actively worked against him during the 2016 race).

But, if Sanders doesn’t manage to win the nomination, I am not going to pick up my ball and go home. I am going to continue to campaign my butt off for the next-best person on the list — I will fight for the next person who is likely to make the greatest difference for the country and the world. Standing back and refusing to vote, or voting for someone I know will lose based on simple statistics, does nothing to help the causes that I believe in. It might make me feel better, but right now the planet is in too precarious a position to allow my ego a seat at the table.

As we move into the 2020 election season, we are going to see a lot of heat flying in all directions. But I hope, with all my heart, that a greater number of people manage to remember the following things:

  • The Left needs to concentrate on unity. This is not the normal idea of “Party unity,” mind. I’m talking about the unity of shared ideals, visions for the future, and goals for immediate betterment of our society. This is about going beyond those differences we have in order to seek the greater good (because, right now, the greater good is pretty darn paramount).
  • Rejecting simplistic answers and decisions based on strong emotion.
  • Holding our politicians accountable without dismissing them outright especially if they are the best on the field at the time.
  • Doing research into the potential candidates to make a decision based on their real voting records (not on what friends or family — or, forbid, the media — have to say).
  • Standing up for the inherent right to be respected that everyone has — especially the people we don’t like. This doesn’t mean we don’t defeat the people who are doing things that are wrong. It just means that it is more important to concentrate on the issues than it is the people. And this does make us better. Taking the high road sucks sometimes, and it’s not always emotionally satisfying, but I think it pays off in the end.

Odin Halvorson is a poet and published short-story author seeking to make the world a better place by beginning with himself.

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