Now, what I want is, Facts. Teach these boys and girls nothing but Facts. Facts alone are wanted in life. Plant nothing else, and root out everything else. You can only form the minds of reasoning animals upon Facts: nothing else will ever be of any service to them. This is the principle on which I bring up my own children, and this is the principle on which I bring up these children. Stick to Facts, sir!
– Thomas Gradgrind
I’m not gonna lie: I’m a little disappointed with Tuesday’s primary results.
The problem with the American electorate is that it suffers from a remarkable lack of imagination. And it has, once again, scared itself off just short of greatness.
Why are we, in this country, so afraid of big ideas? The Cold War ended 25 years ago; let the bogeyman go, people! In any case, no one is suggesting we go around calling each other “Comrade” and painting things red. And let’s be clear: Joseph Stalin was not a socialist, he was a dictator who used socialist rhetoric to consolidate and validate his rule. Not unlike certain other dictators (like Museveni in Uganda or al-Assad in Syria) who hide behind the rhetoric of democracy. Or xenophobic narcissists who build their movements on a platform of patriotic nationalism. Not that there are any of those around lately.
“Socialism,” as the younger generation of voters has responded to it over the last few months, is not (as has been condescendingly suggested by talking eggheads on news networks) just about “free college.” That’s part of it, but not remotely all of it…or even most of it.
The “New Socialism” is in many ways a restatement of Rawlsian “justice as fairness.” At its most basic, it’s about sharing. This is not a novel idea; most of us were taught to share as children. We just forget as we grow older. We’re not talking proletarian gray, here, either: no one’s calling for a complete leveling, just a little long overdue balancing in an effort to bring social divisions a bit closer to true.
It is not enough simply to preach faith in the American dream because the unpleasant truth is that not everyone is “created equal.” Donald Trump, for instance, did not earn his fortune. There were no bootstraps involved in his ascent; his is not an Alger-esque tale. Being born black is not the social equivalent of being born white; being born female is not the social equivalent of being born male; being born gay is not the social equivalent of being born straight. Not in practice. Doesn’t matter what the eyes of the law see; the eyes of prejudice are blindfolded.
What I advocate is not the abolition of success; it is the democratization of opportunity. Too many of our so-called entitlement programs are step-stools to nowhere. Even if all the unemployed were employed, the pay for “unskilled” labor will never amount to a living (never mind that our daily lives depend on this “unskilled” labor in almost every way). Why? Not because employers cannot afford to pay a living wage, but because doing so would cut into their profit margin. There is no will, so there is no way.
The only way to get past the “unskilled” jobs is to go to college, and increasingly, undertake some form of post-graduate study. But who can afford that? Working one’s way through college isn’t a feasible option anymore. So there’s the student loan. Which defeats its own purpose. These days, it’s a double whammy: not only will a college degree not net you a good job, but your unemployment will be complicated by debt payments people with jobs struggle to make.
This is the socialism of the Bernie Sanders supporter: Make America Fair Again. It’s not about free enterprise; it’s about freedom of movement. Freedom of access. Above all else, recognition of one another as interconnected. “Free college” is not an end in itself; it is a means to an end. It creates a ladder out of disadvantage to a career, and a living; it creates an educated electorate that knows the difference between a brain and a hairpiece; and it raises the bar for all of us by raising the level of public discourse in our communities.
The rationale behind reining in the banks and drafting the support of the über-rich is simple: wealth hoarded, in the vicinity of so much disadvantage, is immoral. It is also unsustainable. The idea that affluence is the ultimate expression of the American dream is ludicrous, especially if my dream fuels another man’s nightmare. When we have what we need, we don’t need any more; however, the capitalist impulse creates the impression that we can never have enough. Which makes us blind to all our fellow human beings who actually don’t.
We need leaders who both acknowledge these imbalances, and who are willing to try and rectify them. Even if by way of baby steps. I support Sanders the democratic socialist because at the end of the day, a small step is still a step in the right direction. And if that’s as far as he managed to go, at least the next guy or gal will have one less rung to climb.
Here’s the thing about Hillary Clinton: she could easily run as a moderate Republican. Bernie, on the other hand, represents the true progressives among us. True progressives are, by definition, ahead of the curve; they make change by tugging the narrative forward, not by pushing it from behind. Not that Clinton will do either. If her tack holds, she could win, take a four-year nap, and still deliver as promised.
It’s not enough just to get four more years. We need someone who will actually do something with them.