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A second visit to the thoughts of veteran US politician Bernie Sanders is needed this week to round up some more of his ideas. Not for the first time, I was reminded of the line from Enoch Powell’s biography of Joseph Chamberlain when he said: ‘All political lives, unless they are cut off in midstream at a happy juncture, end in failure, because that is the nature of politics and of human affairs.’ Sanders has battled valiantly over so many years to have his ideas understood and implemented, yet in the end he will run out of road with much of his ambition unfulfilled.

I enjoyed some of the quotations he used to make his case, for example one from Eugene Victor Debs, who founded the Socialist Party of America in the nineteenth century and who ran for president five times between 1900 and 1920: ‘I am opposing a social order in which it is possible for one man who does absolutely nothing useful to amass a fortune of hundreds of millions of dollars, while millions of men and women who work all the days of their lives secure barely enough for a wretched existence.’

The Russian author Fyodor Dostoevsky wrote: ‘If one wanted to crush and destroy a man entirely, to mete out to him the most terrible punishment, all one would have to do would be to make him do work that was completely and utterly devoid of usefulness and meaning.’ While Martin Luther King said, ‘If a man does not have a job or an income, he has neither life not liberty nor the possibility for the pursuit of happiness. He merely exists.’ In a world where so many people have to engage in meaningless work, the delight of being paid to do something you love doing should never be underestimated.

As we move towards the widespread development and use of artificial intelligence, Sanders also quoted the left-wing economist Darrick Hamilton, who said, ‘The goal must be to eliminate working poverty and involuntary unemployment altogether. This is an opportunity for something transformative, beyond the tinkering we have been doing for the last forty years, where all the productivity gains have gone to the elite of society.’

The book seemed to rise to a crescendo when the author moved away from describing why he did not get the chance to run for the presidency in 2016 and 2020. Not surprisingly, he is scathing throughout about Donald Trump, for example when he says that in terms of political coverage, his main concern with corporate media has not been about the accuracy of the reporting, but rather about Trump’s reaction to it: ‘Trump is wrong when he says what is reported by major media outlets is fake news. That is not the case. He is just upset that the media often exposes his own pathological lying. For the most part, my experience has been that reporters are serious and hardworking people who try to get their facts straight. I have been in politics a long time, and I can tell you that I have rarely been misquoted.’

However, he asks some interesting questions about why mainstream politicians and the corporate media avoid really hard questions like these: How does massive income and wealth inequality – and the corporate power that extends this inequality – impact the whole of society? What kind of ‘democracy’ are we when billionaires are allowed to buy elections? Why has there been a massive transfer of wealth from the middle class to the one per cent over the last fifty years? Why do we spend twice as much per capita on healthcare as other nations and have so little to show for it? Why do we accept childhood poverty in a land of plenty, and what does that mean for the future of a country that keeps failing its next generation? Why is there so much available for mega-mansions, gated communities and super-yachts, and so little to address homelessness and hunger? Why do we allow a handful of corporate media conglomerates to control our political discourse? What does it say about our political system that the last two major American wars, in Vietnam and Iraq, were based on establishment lies? Why have we allowed the fossil fuel industry to keep destroying the planet?

Real politics, he argues, seeks to lay bare our problems and to develop concrete solutions to the crises we face, without concern about whether doing so will offend the powerful or negatively impact the bank accounts of the wealthy. Above all, real politics recognises the need for systemic change, not tinkering around the edges of social policy. It understands that unless we make bold changes to our uber-capitalist system, life will never significantly improve for the vast majority of our people. It understands that the greed of the ruling class today is not only destructive to the lives of ordinary people, it threatens the literal survival of the planet. This understanding underpins the essential premise of real politics: that power over the economic and political life of the country must rest with the majority of the people, not a tiny minority.

Real politics, he goes on, is about knowing our history and recognising its power as an organising tool. Every new generation of Americans must be reminded of the great battles for transformational change that have been fought and won, and will continue to be won, against overwhelming odds. When someone says that it is impossible to take on uber-capitalism, we have to answer them with lessons from our past. Creating unions, ending child labour and the uncontrolled ruthless exploitation of workers was not easy. Abolishing slavery and legalised segregation was not easy. Standing up for the rights of Native Americans to control their own lands was not easy. Winning women the right to vote and establishing abortion rights protections so that they could control their own destinies was not easy. Enacting legislation that protects civil rights and women’s rights, and provides minimal protections for the poor and working people – social security, Medicare, Medicaid, a minimum wage, clean air and clean water standards – was not easy. But those fights were won, and those victories inspire us to wage the great struggles of the twenty-first century.

Real politics, he concludes, is about rejecting the establishment’s determination as to what is ‘possible’, ‘achievable’ and ‘acceptable’. It is about declaring, unapologetically, that we will not allow American oligarchs and their legions of publicists to shape our visions to the kind of world we want to live in. That is our decision. Real politics sees through the disempowering lies that are told by the establishment. It understands that in the wealthiest country in the history of the world, we must reject the austerity economics that attacks the needs of working families in order to keep taxes low for the rich. It recognises that we have the capacity to build a humane society in which all people can live with security and dignity. Real politics knows that this is not utopian, pie-in-the-sky, thinking. It is simply the conscious rejection of an age-old hierarchical system based on oppression and exploitation. Real politics recognises that the technological revolutions of our time are already transforming society, and that the benefits of that revolution must improve lives for the many, not create more wealth for the few.

It is certainly powerful stuff, and you can see why Sanders was able to attract a significant following of grass roots supporters who loved the power of his vision. Unfortunately, however, the tide of history looks to be flowing against him and I fear he will be like the man who chooses to stand on the motorway waving the Highway Code at the drivers who break the rules. He is right, but he will eventually just be run over, and you can be certain that Biden versus Trump in November will do nothing to break the current cycle.

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