Sanders’ book picks up the story from where “Our Revolution – A future to believe in” ended. It covers his campaign for the democratic nomination for president in 2020, and his time as chair of the powerful Senate Budget Committee. The book sets out clearly the many issues with a system of government that puts the needs of the business world before those of the people, and it is clear to the British reader that the issues raised by the author apply equally well here.
Having lost out to Hilary Clinton for the nomination to run in 2016, he was leading the pack of Democrats to face Trump in 2020, and would have been a likely winner until Joe Biden’s late entry into the race as the establishment candidate. Inevitably for any candidate threatening real change the big guns of the media were soon taking aim, just before one crucial democratic debate
“The Washington Post ran 16 negative stories on Bernie Sanders in 16 hours”[p. 245]
Sanders though didn’t pull out straight away, broadcasting his message about the need for change, sustaining the level of support and interest across the country. After he withdrew Biden invited Sanders and members of his team into his campaign, seeking to bring his supporters on board. Sanders fully engaged with this seeing the danger that his supporters might stay at home, and let Trump back in. In the UK it seems implausabe that Keir Starmer would even consider inviting Rebecca Long-Bailey’s team on board his platform.
Sanders was rewarded with a leading role in the Senate, and the book follows the progress of the “Build Back Better Bill”. We learn about the Byrd rule that requires more supporters to bring a bill to debate than are needed to pass it, and how to get around it! The bill was a colossal proposal, a $6 trillion plan for key areas such as Education, Health Care, Housing. It needed the support of all 11 democrats on the budget committee, but two opposed and cuts had to be made, then more cuts as it reached the Senate. Sanders lists all the key measures that were lost and reflects…
“We were the closest we had ever been to finally making the transformational changes to our society …. It didn’t matter that in poll after poll, the overwhelming majority of Americans supported the entirety… No. What mattered was that billionaire campaign contributors and lobbyists were determined … to defeat our agenda.”[p.86]
An agenda for change
The flaws that work against democracy are listed in a 19 point agenda for change [p. 267]. Proposed changes include taking money out of politics, reform of the senate, affordable housing, wealth taxes, and voting rights (many of these points have equivalences in the UK). He argues that Democrats are happy for people to be exploited by the elite,.
He points out how the market has failed to improve the conditions of the poor, with the gap between rich and poor widening. In the 1950s a CEO earned 20 times the average wage, by 2020 CEOs were earning 400 times the average wage (p. 159), with just three Wall Street firms controlling assets worth $20 Trillion.
People need to figure out for themselves how to make the world a better place for everyone, to understand how the world works, and the levers that need to be pulled to trigger the changes needed. Sanders quotes Nelson Mandela:
“Education is the most powerful weapon which can be used to change the world” .[p. 212]
The danger of news deserts
Sanders offers Finland as an example of where education works for the people rather than industry and commerce. Students are taught how to engage to improve society, encouraged to take part in protests, and taught about problems in society and how to solve them. People need to be armed with knowledge, to see through the arguments used to deny the basic needs that leave so many living in poverty.
Throughout his political life Saunders has been dogged by a biased media landscape dominated by a few wealthy owners focused on gossip rather than policy. The scale of this was illustrated by analysis of a period in 2015 when Trump had 23 times more air time than Saunders! The collapse of the funding model for local news and journalism is leading to news deserts which threaten to become democracy deserts as voters are unable to engage with local movements for change. 200 years ago as the US expanded a similar issue was addressed and news distribution was funded by subsidising the use of US Post.
The book is a great read, progressives are only too familiar with the scale of the challenge they face with the immense power and wealth that opposes change, it can be daunting and demotivating to see it all set out so clearly as Saunders does here. There is no quick fix, and Sanders is right to quote Mandela on the power of education. We can only get there by sharing and engaging with others: our family, friends, neighbours and children, explaining why it is right to be angry with capitalism, and help to build a movement to deliver the transformational change the world needs.
“It’s OK to be Angry about Capitalism” by Bernie Sanders. Published by Penguin books on 18 January. Details here
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