As Bernie Sanders picks up momentum in California before the June 7 primary, making a rather unusual stop in the sleepy beach town of Ventura on Thursday, May 26, the pushback against the 74-year-old democratic socialist is palpable. Build the wall; earn your own; the youth, the poor, etc., don’t deserve handouts — these are popular sentiments coming from the Trump camp and others against Sanders with his utopian ideals. And while we know that Sanders has some lofty visions for this country, he also understands how a society functions, that it doesn’t work when people are pitted against each other over superficial things such as race, gender and sexuality, and that it does take a village to raise children and that a rising tide raises all boats. His lifelong ambition has been to create balance where there have been serious civil inequities.
There is no denying that the U.S. political system and this presidential election are in an uproar. To one extreme, we have Donald Trump, an alleged “self-made” billionaire (who took a “small” loan of a million dollars in his youth from his father) funding his own campaign, though the jury is still out on that, and who panders to everyone and acts as the voice for racists, misogynists and the fearfully paranoid and ignorant. On the other end of that spectrum, there is Sanders, whose net worth is a little over $400,000, and who has raised over $200 million from an unprecedented 8 million individual donors. Sanders speaks for the youth who can’t afford college, the millions living at home with their parents who can’t leave because they can’t find good-paying jobs or affordable housing, those who struggle just to keep up with their regular bills. He speaks to the majority of this country even if they can’t and even refuse to hear what he is saying. And in the middle of Sanders and Trump, there is a woman who toes the party line and represents the Democratic establishment. She is careful not to ruffle feathers and is that “safe bet” for liberals who will do anything to ensure that Trump does not win.
While there is a clear division within the Democratic Party, and before the Democratic Convention, Sanders and Clinton supporters will not be swayed from their positions, but will adamantly and feverishly defend them, Sanders’ message is for average Americans, those who live paycheck to paycheck, who can’t plan family vacations or make necessary improvements to their cars and homes, much less afford their own homes and cars outright. Sadly, there is a big disconnect between today’s youth and the enormous financial challenges they face and yesteryear’s youth who today have paid off their relatively affordable homes and school loans. And that’s why Sanders supporters are so visibly united and upset. Sanders isn’t riling them up. They are motivated to get behind him because they don’t have the same opportunities that their parents and their grandparents had. And if anyone thinks it’s all relative with regular economic inflation, that’s just nonsense. Unfortunately, facts and data won’t persuade those who need to understand it the most. But the 47 million Americans who live in poverty do understand.
But Sanders also highlights various other important issues, such as:
Why does the US need to spend $600 billion each year on defense when our infrastructure is crumbling? (The American Society of Civil Engineers gives the U.S. infrastructure report card a D+, calling for a necessary $3.6 trillion investment by 2020.)
Why is healthcare in the U.S. so much more expensive than other developed countries? (According to the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development Health Statistics, Health spending per person in the U.S. was $8,745 in 2012, 42 percent higher than Norway, the next highest per capita spender.)
Why do students pay 6 percent-8 percent interest on their education when prevailing rates are 3 percent-4 percent?
Why do we have 2 million in prison at a cost of tens of billions annually?
As this heated primary election season dwindles down, we ought to reflect on who and what Sanders really represents. While we keep likening “socialism” to, for example, failed policies in Venezuela, we ignore democratic socialist countries that have some of the happiest people on earth — Sweden, Denmark, Norway. (On that note, we want to know, how much is happiness really worth?) Unfortunately, it seems Americans are a ways off from understanding what socially minded means, a term that some voters seem to be afraid of, though in other countries, Sanders is considered a moderate.
Is it time for a true moderate, who will not kowtow to special interests, to lead this nation? The voters will decide.