“As he rode along, the people spread their cloaks on the road. And as he approached the descent from the Mount of Olives, the whole multitude of disciples began to praise God joyfully in a loud voice for all the miracles they had seen: ‘Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!’
But some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to him, ‘Teacher, rebuke your disciples!’
‘I tell you,’ he answered, ‘if they remain silent, the very stones will cry out.’”
— The New Testament Luke 19:40
“I think it’s a good lesson for people to understand how you can start a campaign with no name recognition, no organization, no money, and end up winning 13.4 million votes in 22 states and a majority of young people’s votes.”
— Bernie Sanders 2016
It’s been a tough week! I keep thinking that this election where the keys to the most powerful nation on Earth—along with the keys to a nuclear arsenal that could take out a great dollop of life on Earth –have been handed to a megalomaniac who has promised to unleash the powers of greed and xenophobia must be some kind of nightmare—a nightmare that will just go away with a cold splash of water. But it doesn’t go away. Indeed the news is rife with stories of white supremacists being appointed to the highest public offices, and of the top military posts being filled with those who are rubbing their hands with ebullient delight over the prospects of beginning the bombing campaigns.
It’s depressing! Or, it was depressing. Recently I see a tremendous wave of people around the world for whom the election of Donald Trump is quickly becoming a great wake up call; a call not only to defensive action but—more importantly to me—a call to remember the values that make this grand experiment we call democracy worth the effort; a call that may (will likely) bring the people of the world—not just the United States—together in a way and for values that were so incrementally but deftly being squeezed out of even our consciousness of what is possible.
At first I was shocked, dismayed, at the number of people who didn’t vote in this election but I now can understand, even take heart, that so many people have seen through the neo-liberal façade of a choice that calls on citizens to choose between being shot in the head and being crushed slowly—python style.
What I am hearing all around is a remembering, a reinvigoration of the kind of moral and spiritual inspiration that led to the democratic vision of leaders like Martin Luther King Jr. whose moral and spiritual vision brought people together in an inclusive vision of a very unTrump “greatness” where all people—regardless of the colour of their skin or their religion or the circumstances of their birth are created equal. It thrills my heart to hear people, reenvisioning the idea of social good (even socialism) where the very purpose of the government and its banking system is to serve the people rather than to fleece them, where corporations are not “people” but instruments to serve the common good rather than a social sledge hammer to beat the people into servitude and poverty. All the while a privileged few siphon off the wealth that was supposed to be the basis of a good and just life for everyone. I hear so many speaking up saying that they will not leave the decisions about whether or not their children inherit a livable planet to be decided by the economic interests of ExxonMobil that I am reminded of the story of Christ’s triumphal entry into Jerusalem where he told the resentful establishment Pharisees that if he granted their request and asked the people to stop celebrating the coming of peace and love for all that the very stones would cry out.
What moves me most is the growing crescendo of voices—almost like the stones crying out for justice and peace– recognizing that we have to stop the incremental chipping away of our grand democratic vision—that all these issues are related to the neo-liberal corrosion of our democratic vision; that what is needed now is not a minor adjustment but a complete resuscitation of our core understanding of what is truly valuable. Democracy is a grand vision about governance of, by and for all people. It is not about choosing between Trump and Hillary, it is not–as Tommy Douglas articulated so profoundly– about two wolves and a sheep voting on what is for dinner. Democracy is—most fundamentally–about the inherent worth and dignity of all people and their right to a decent living at peace with other peoples and our planet.
The sad thing, the thing I have a hard time accepting is that, given the nomination of Hillary Clinton as the Democratic Party candidate for President, it seems that the election of Trump may have been the only way forward. Could it be that it had to get worse(really bad) before it can get better? Despite Trumps efforts to patch up the Republican Party behind him and his hateful, destructive ways, his election marks the shattering of the neo-liberal dream that Big Money could rule forever by offering a Alice in Wonderland Tweedledee/Tweedledum sham of choice but deliver only the ever increasing rein of Big Money and its wars with its escalading destructive exploitation of people and planet.
I remember all too well the Yes, We can! euphoria of seeing an Afro-American elected to the Presidency for the first time. A President who talked as though he was bringing in real change for a better world but delivered only more entrenchment of Big Money and indifference to the deterioration of living conditions for the country’s poor and middle class. How he got awarded a Nobel Peace Prize—this guy who kept all the wars of occupation going and added to them along with his penchant for delivering extrajudicial executions by pilotless planes– is a study of-itself in the absurdity of choice which is presented to American voters every four years.
The neoliberal hypocrisy of Obama and Clinton is nearly as nauseating as the xenophobia, delusional ignorance on climate change and warmongering of Trump. It all flows from and back to the corruption of mind and value which is the rule of, by and for Big Money. The election of Trump is, ultimately, simply the decision by American voters to stop the pretense and tell it the way it really is: the wholly unethical and ultimately devastating exploitation of the Earth and its peoples for the narrow, short term profit of a few—capitalism in a nut shell!
Unfortunately, I cannot see Bernie Sanders, at his age, running for the Presidency in four years, but it is deeply moving to think that this, until recently, unknown independent put forward a vision of progressive populism that nearly toppled the establishment of the Democratic Party–and even the nation–saving us from the neofascism through which the American people must now pass on route to a more just, equitable, and sustainable country. The thing that seemed most impressive to me was the way Sanders inspired people of all ages and occupations to a new vision of working together for our common good. And he put his ideas into such specific proposals to institute a single payer, universal health care, reform the tax system to ensure that those who made the most paid the most, to seek peaceful solutions to the problems of the world, to ensure that workers get a fair return for the wealth they create, to recognize the value of whistleblowers and to back track on the out of control spying by government and corporations, to get big money out of our democratic decision making, to end the destructive privatization of our public services and stop the race to the bottom which is all these free trade (corporate greeds) agreements, to end the self defeating assault on our atmosphere—the inextricable basis of life on Earth . And to package his vision in terms of Socialism!—meaning simply the putting the wellbeing of people and planet before the over satiated, destructive greed of a few .
The great thing about Bernie Sanders and his campaign team is they are, most definitely, not going to lie down and let the Trump team of climate change denying, racist, misogynistic, warmongering pinheads have their way with their country for four years. It seems clear that the Sanders campaign is already morphing into a full fledged social movement.
And even outside the Sanders camp Americans seem to be rising up utterly determined to save their country from the destructive intentions of the Trump team. Climate change is hurling ahead as is the will to avoid this human generated catastrophe. If Trump’s America checks out of climate change commitments, then it seems likely the world is willing to come together to check out on America. While xenophobia seems to be gaining traction in the industrialized (colonial) world, it is beginning to reawaken our memories to the democratic values that once inspired the creation of the United Nations and the belief that only though mutual respect can we hope to build a world where our differences are celebrated rather than simply secured by mutually assured destruction. No matter what the Trump team thinks and desires, the United States cannot continue to function as an internationally forsaken pariah. No matter what the Trump team thinks or desires Trump cannot continue to govern without the consent of the American people. Already there are signs that Trump’s businesses cannot prosper or even survive without customers and there is a great up swell of sentiment in the US today that is prepared to make every dollar spent speak about tolerance and understanding among peoples, about leaving a healthy planet to our children, about putting the needs of the many before the greeds of the few. It is not being called, nor thought of, as a general strike for a more just, sustaining, sustainable and compassionate America. An organized general strike would be too easy to defeat by jailing a few leaders. It is, like the internet that has spawned it, amorphous, diffuse, spreading like a tidal wave spreading over the land. Who knows how far it will go but we do know that, like the tidal wave, it is futile to think of stopping millions of people from taking their separate but united stand for a more compassionate and healthy America.
The big question now is can the Democratic Party change; can it become an instrument of governance for meaningful positive change rather than just the vehicle for pseudo-reform. Or will it take a whole new party to actually stand for a radical new direction that genuinely seeks to reconfigure government to be the agent of change for a democracy, as was intended, of, by and for the people?
My guess is that the Democratic Party is too entrenched with the interests of the few and the momentum of the status quo and old boys networks to make the grade as a genuine agent of change. Perhaps the highest we can hope for is an endorsing network that identifies and backs candidates while, at the same time, developing a new vision of a new Twenty-first century politics for the welfare of people and planet. Imagine a diverse group of progressive interests like the Bernie Sanders camp, Black Lives Matter, Fight for $15/hour minimum wage, climate change and other environmental movements, public schools advocates, unions, antipoverty, peace groups, universal—affordable healthcare supporters and others that do not make a structure that can be attacked and defeated—or infiltrated and corrupted- but functions as a network that builds cooperation and common vision while identifying progressive political candidates from a diversity of parties/backgrounds and organizes to get them elected as progressive independents.
Already hundreds of thousands of people are protesting in American streets. “Not My President” they proclaim. The necessary transition now is to morph these spontaneous protests into an on-going network bringing people from all over the US into a sustained effort for meaningful change that goes beyond just opposing Trump.
In the end this is not just about the United States, it is about the end of neo-liberalism and all the sleight of hand that has for far too long plundered the Earth and its peoples for the benefits of a few and now threatens to destroy the very atmosphere on which all life depends for its very existence. It is about the genuine democracy that once inspired us with hope for a better world. It’s about the people of the Earth coming together to create a just, compassionate, sustaining and sustainable world. If the crazy Americans, their rigged political system and their sick joke of a president can become the catalyst for bringing that about—good on um—despite, or because of their failings!