Current Issue #487

Modern Times:
Democratic primaries are a moment of truth for America's establishment

Senator Bernie Sanders on the campaign trail
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Senator Bernie Sanders on the campaign trail

Bernie Sanders’ strong showing in the US Democratic primaries has presented a challenge not only to Trumpism, but to the centrist orthodoxy of his own party. At such a tipping point, it’s becoming clear that America’s establishment thinks only of itself.

In early February, when the opinions editor of USA Today, a centrist newspaper, described the 2020 US presidential election as ‘existential’, she was referring to its importance to the Democratic Party. It may be existential, period. Another four years with Donald Trump as president and the planet may be at tipping point.

Meanwhile, the candidate who presents the starkest contrast to his agenda is being attacked by centrist and progressive (so-called) elements of the establishment. The same USA Today article made reference to Bernie Sanders’ age and health, and noted that the ‘campaign against socialism is in full swing’. Which, indeed, it is.

For good measure, the piece quoted President Trump: “We will never let socialism destroy American health care.” American health care is not known for its accessibility, nor affordability. Universal health care, such as that we have enjoyed in Australia since Whitlam, has come to represent the socialist devil.

One week earlier, the Washington Post deployed a Murdoch-style attack on Sanders. Supposedly a bastion of progressive commentary, the Post disparaged Sanders’ choice of clothes, his hair, his alleged decrepitude. The establishment does not see Sanders as one of their own, and would like him gone.

The business community is even more concerned. Fellow Democrat candidates Joe Bieden, Amy Klobuchar and Pete Buttigieg (the latter two having this week endorsed Biden after pulling their campaigns) each receive donations for their campaign funding from at least five CEOs of top 500 S&P companies. Sanders does not receive donations from any CEO representing companies in this elite group. He has, however, received more contributions than any other candidate: US$34 million in the final quarter of 2019.

Unlike his opponents, though, Sanders is reliant upon the support of large numbers of people, giving more modest sums. Over half a million people have contributed financially. If Sanders wins, they won’t be expecting favours, but simply expect that his policies will enhance their wellbeing and bring greater opportunity.

The collective determination of the American establishment to exclude a candidate whose program poses a threat to the interests of the elite, as the tipping point rapidly approaches, is cause for grave concern. Does Sanders represent so great a threat to American democracy that it overwhelms threats of a truly existential nature?

Sanders is not the only candidate who offers hope. Others, especially Elizabeth Warren, have attractive elements in their programs. It would be possible to randomly select anyone, elect them President of the Unites States, and be sure they would pose less of a threat to humanity than the incumbent.

President Donald Trump acknowledges the threat of global warming. He just doesn’t appear to care. Meanwhile, as we walk hand-in-hand into the fire, the American establishment remains focused on eliminating Sanders. As night follows day, many Australian commentators are falling into line.

It is unclear whether this is because most Australian and American journalists answer to the same master, or whether cultural propinquity leads us to the same assumptions.

But anything that draws attention to these events is positive, as the presidential election that will take place this November will be very important. Its effects could be irreversible. Its impact will be global.

As an Australian, I am following events closely. As a father, I am very concerned.

Andrew Hunter

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