Bernie, the Monster, and the Train Coming Down the Tracks

Well, Bernie folks, your boy’s on a roll, and, if truth be told, I’m scared.  Not because I disagree with Bernie.  In fact, I believe in almost everything he stands for.  But because I’ve been here before, and I have a pretty good sense of how the movie ends.

You probably think I’m just one more “get off my lawn” old white man who fails to see the power of the great groundswell that is taking place.  But there’s more to it than that.  Remember, I’m from the “get out the way if you can’t lend a hand, for the times they are a changin’” generation.

Though the issues were different, we’ve been where you are and we felt like you feel.  In fact, our anger and frustration were more immediate.  You’re pissed; we were dying.  And not in some long term, planetary sense.  Really dying.  Remember Country Joe — “Be the first one on your block to have your boy come home in a box?”  Remember Kent State and the National Guard?  Remember Fred Hampton and the Philadelphia Black Panther murders?  Remember Watts? Those were tough days, every bit as tough as these, and, God knows, it was time for a change.  So, what did we do?  We spoke out, we stood up, we created a groundswell and mounted a Youth Crusade, just like you are doing, and pushed McGovern — a good and visionary man — forward.  And you know what happened? The Republicans wiped the floor with us.

We got slaughtered.

We got Nixon.

Maybe this time is different, but remember the adage, “Those that don’t learn from history are doomed to repeat it.”  And I see history coming like a freight train down the track toward us.

Hear me clearly here.  You may see visions of what our nation should be. You see The Squad speaking truth about the Green New Deal and the need to save the environment.  You see Katie Porter kicking ass on all the banking corporadoes.  And you know they are right.   Guess what?  We see it, too, and we also believe they are right.  But we also know the Republicans know how to steal your lunch and eat it right in front of you.

Here’s what you need to understand:  the current crop of Republicans don’t believe in government.  They think government is the enemy, an impediment.  They just want everyone to have the right to make as much and keep as much as they can.  There are no overarching social values, only the value of personal freedom.  And, to them, government stands in the way.

They don’t want to govern.  They just want to win so the Democrats can’t govern.  They have no Marquis de Queensbury political rules. They will lie, cheat, steal, and use every means at their disposal to win.  And Trump is the most shameless proponent of this approach that we have ever seen.

The problem is that we all live inside our own echo chambers.  You are quick to point out that the Republicans live inside the Fox News echo chamber of lies, and you are right.  But you don’t see that you live inside the internet/twitter echo chamber of your own particularized truths, and that makes you think that a groundswell is the same as a wave.  It’s not.  And it can be manipulated by Trump, the Republicans, Russia, and anyone with the chops on the internet who wants to do so.  You can be pushed around like babies in a carriage, and, trust me, you will be.

We need to accept the truth that we are now tribal people.  The tribes cut many ways, and they cross over each other.  Our job as Democrats is to find and engage the tribe that can counter the monster who is ruining our planet for our children.  And, if the past is any indication, it isn’t the internet tribe of idealistic young people.

Traditionally, young people dream and young people protest, but young people don’t vote.  You can claim this isn’t the case – that this time it will be different.  And I hope you’re right.  But history offers lessons, and when those lessons are amplified by Republican gerrymandering and voter suppression, and Russian efforts to cloud the waters, we face the very real possibility that the passion for Bernie will not translate into votes, no matter how well-oiled his grass roots machine is, and those votes that he does get will not translate into an electoral victory.

This is not the way I want it to be.  I revere almost everything Bernie stands for.  But his tribe — your tribe — is an echo chamber tribe as surely as the Trump tribe, and the voting tribes that are capable of getting the monster out of the white house are the African Americans, the Latinos, and the suburban women, not a youth brigade.

But instead of listening to these people, Bernie is busy telling them why he is right.  And he may be.  But a person who is not willing to listen, but is intent on telling you why his or her ideas are right, is doomed to have a small but rabid following of true believers who end up turning off people who do not share every specific of that value system or who look at the world from multiple points of view.  And that’s most of us.

I spend a lot of time in middle America and the inter-mountain west.  I’m there right now.  And I can tell you that these people see an America crumbling around them, both in terms of values and infrastructure.  When they hear about Make America Great Again, they think of jobs and boarded up storefronts and not gender-neutral toilets and the voting rights of felons.

And keep in mind that Trump is an amoral liar and a criminal, and that his modus operandi is to accuse you of exactly what he does and turn it on you.  If Bernie is the nominee, get ready for “Now you see why I have been working with Russia.  It was not for myself, like the lying Democrats say. It was to protect us from Communists like Bernie ‘I honeymooned in Russia’  Sanders, who wants to take all your money and use it to fund things like abortions for illegal aliens. Keeping quiet has been tremendously hard on me and my family. No one knows how hard.  And very unfair.  But I did it to protect you and our American way of life.”

You say this is ridiculous? You think this won’t work?  Think of John Kerry and swift boating.  And if you don’t know what it is, look it up.

The hard truth is that change takes place by planting ideas in the collective consciousness, and letting them grow.  Bernie has planted some of the best and most necessary new ideas in the American consciousness of anyone in my lifetime.  But he can’t bludgeon people into accepting them.  A true leader makes people think that he understands them, not that he knows what is best for them.

You can go out there with Bernie in the lead, holding the flag.  You can get behind him in what seems like the most unstoppable force of human energy the country has seen since the anti-war movement of my generation.  You can tweet back and forth, facebook each other, cheer the slick ads on the internet and the television, and tell each other than we finally have someone who can galvanize the rampant dissatisfaction rumbling in the American psyche, and stand for values that America should stand for.  But what you can’t do is make outsiders insiders by having a litmus test of political purity by asserting the rightness and righteousness of your beliefs.  Sometimes it is more important to be embracing than it is to be right.

So embrace, don’t demand.  Listen, don’t lecture.  Be patient, be careful, and know your enemy – and, understand, the Republicans will treat you like the enemy.  If you don’t believe it, look at how the truest believers among you Bernie followers have taken to looking at your opponents in the Democratic party as your enemies. This is what happens when ideological purity is the price of full membership.

By my lights, Bernie has finally set the course of the Democratic party in the right direction.  He has said we are a party of caring and sharing and building and fixing.  He has evoked memories of Roosevelt and the New Deal when we did something to make the country better, not just stuffed our pockets and our faces.  But the hard truth is that Bernie is the irascible, unpleasant, hectoring uncle you don’t want to get riled up at the dinner table.  That you are willing to sit with him is great, but it is because you believe in what he is saying.  But I’m sorry to tell you that most folks will simply want to get up and leave. He should be the conscience of the Democratic party.  But he should not be its face.

I don’t have a horse in this race beyond my desire to see Trump’s horse shot out from under him.  And thus far the Democrats have made their usual balkanized mess of things.  I think their system has kicked some good people off the stage and allowed the dollar to run the show.  I don’t know who will come out of this mess, and, frankly, I don’t really care.  For me, America is at stake.  And if past is prologue, black and suburban women and the Latino voters, not a youth brigade, are the keys to saving us from a further descent into this very dangerous place we have entered.

So Bernie folks, listen to me on this.

You may think that Bernie is galvanizing, but from where I stand in time and place he is divisive, not inclusive.  Trump lies through his teeth about everything, but says, “Make America Great Again.”  Bernie tells the truth, but says, “Shame on you, America.”  You don’t need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows on nostalgic dreams versus shame.

I want to be wrong on this.  Oh, how, I want to be wrong.  But, like I said, I’ve seen this movie before.  And though it is exciting almost all the way through, it really falls apart at the end.







31 thoughts on “Bernie, the Monster, and the Train Coming Down the Tracks”

  1. I believe you are right on. Unfotunately. The screaming crazy stuff does not impress. The democrats, politics have abandoned the middle class. The standard I use is Standing Rock. A travedsy ignored by all. Bernie visited but as you said, not sure he sat and listened. Thr farmers need someone to listen. The “minor” details attention are critical to beating the slob in,office. A solid reassuring personality

  2. I agree 100%. I’m old enough to have seen the same movie. I will vote for whomever the nominee is, because nothing could be worse than Trump, but how many will really do that, and as you point out, then there’s the gerrymandering. I’m in Iowa, close to Ames. We lost a representative and the districts were chopped down to 4. Ames got tacked on to the whole NW conservative section of Iowa and Steve King moved in. We’ve been trying to get rid of that embarrassment ever since! But no matter how disgusting he gets we have so far been neutralized by the right wingers.

  3. Spot on, Kent! I was at least heartened a bit by Tom Friedman’s suggestion of Dems forming a team of rivals to take on 45. We need to get far beyond politics as usual to shift our nation’s downward path.

  4. Kent, sadly and uncomfortably correct I believe because now that there is so much venom spewing from ‘feel the bern’ crowd it makes me very uncomfortable with their mindset, much like the TeaParty crowd. But the party leaders haven’t helped prevent this either. we’re in a tight spot here and alternatives are running out.

  5. This. So much this! I have been saying the exact same thing, every bit of what you just said, since his first run, albeit, not as eloquently. Be prepared for the Okay Boomer response, because its coming. I do my best to avoid the echo chamber but being on the internet, at all, makes that difficult. Right now, my echo chamber seems to be disheartened, liberal boomers who already know, based on our actions so many years ago, that the young protesters aren’t going to listen to us. It’s like watching a train wreck in slow motion, knowing full well there is nothing you can do to stop it.

  6. I find it quite interesting that you left out a significant plot twist in your retelling of the 1968 election. The Repubs won a landslide victory because the DNC Party officials overrode the will of the people at the convention and selected their own “safe” candidate. That resulted in riots in the street which scared the crap out of mainstream America. In addition Humphrey was an empty suit and a shitty candidate. Right then and there the DNC chose to embrace a lesser of two evils strategy that they still continue to cling to today!! The Party lost the youth of this country for generations with that stunt and it seems perfectly willing to do so again.

    The DNC loves to hide behind words like pragmatism and electability but as usual they are simply being complicit and cowardly. I have had enough! Chances are the Trump will win again because he has lined the Government with lap dogs who will cheat on his behalf but damn it… if I am gonna go down anyway, it sure as hell is gonna be swinging!

  7. I read, heard and reflected on this article and was left with a ringing reminder of my spiritual master’s words that: “Now the young have no respect for the old and the old have no affection for the young.”

  8. Catherine Cerulli

    From another “graduate” of the school of the ’60s, I am with you 100%, Kent.

    I am a Vermonter. I have had conversations with Bernie over the years. And, you are absolutely right – the conscience, not the face.

    Who is that face? I’d love to see Caroline Kennedy emerge and declare her willingness to serve in this capacity.

  9. Catherine Cerulli

    Child of the ’60s that I am, I agree with you, 100%!
    I am a Vermonter. I have voted for Bernie, spoken with him.
    As much as I love his vision, given our political climate, he is not the one who can be the face of the Democratic party.
    I fantasize that Caroline Kennedy throws her hat in the ring and becomes the unassailable, electable standard-bearer for the Democratic party.

  10. I couldn’t agree more, Kent! I’ll vote for him if he’s the nominee, of course, but I really think we could find a better face for the party and to lead.

  11. You have expressed, exactly, what my fears are regarding the coming election. I drove 120 miles to vote for George McGovern and was utterly appalled at the result. I’m currently nauseous thinking about where we’re headed as a nation with The Enemy in charge. Your call on Latinos, African-Americans, and suburban women is right on.

    Thanks for climbing onto the soap box.

  12. Thank you Kent. Please keep speaking and writing and articulating so accurately what so many of us think inside out heads.
    History is the master professor. Why Democrats can’t listen and learn amazes me.

  13. So true! Although I would not want any horse to get shot, even if it is under Trump. I doubt he could ride a horse any better than he can fold an umbrella.

  14. Yes, as you say, we have to be leary about Bernie and promises and claims.
    You are on target. Thank you for your insight.
    We are in dark times and need to regroup in our work towards problems developed over many years.

  15. Take a look at the UK general election in December 2019. Labour Party had a leader who had a faithful following amongst young party members but deeply unpopular with the general public. Despite Labour having good policies which would benefit many people, the Conservatives won by a landslide because they have a popular, feel- good, “let’s make Britain great again” leader.

  16. Sad to say, I think you’re absolutely right about this. And I love Bernie. But I have the feeling that supporting Bernie will mean another 4 years of He-Who-Should-Not-Be-Named…

  17. Thank you for enlightening me. You have helped me to see a broader look at things. You couldn’t be any more right. Bernie preaches false promises that in realty can not be fulfilled. Bernie tells people what they want to hear. May the White Spirit bless us all.

  18. I dont agree with you. I am also a child of the 60s. I agree with Carla H. And I believe that if the Democrats dont go with Bernie, the youth definitely will not vote at all, therefore putting Trump back in office.

  19. I have never heard it expressed as eloquently. I, too, grew up in the 60’s and agree that history is our greatest teacher, but I fear that too few will remember, and the youth, although spirited, don’t want to hear what you have said. I was recently with a group of people in their mid-20’s and thirties, who were quick to berate me and our generation for not caring. They broke my heart, and were so quick to cast blame. I am so sad that they couldn’t see what so many of us stood for. So very sad….

  20. At 71, you would think that I would have learned by now that all hope is dead. I have suggested that the Dems should bury the hatchet and have them name their running mate, and their cabinets. They could pick from any of the original candidates as well as those still on the stage. Obviously for this to happen, egos would have to be suppressed, and due consideration would have to be given for each office. If Joe Biden is considered the best to handle foreign affairs, name him Secretary of State. How about Kamala Harris for Attorney General, Jay Inslee for the EPA, and maybe Cory Booker for the head of HUD. These are only suggestions. All of them would have to agree to taking these very important positions, but giving people a total view of the government to come could inspire a belief in a vision for the future which would allow each member to highlight their area of strength. Elizabeth Warren says she has a plan for (fill in the blank). But if you have a direction to go in, and experts in charge of the departments that would execute the changes, there would be no problem that couldn’t be answered in a just and cohesive way. The office of President would be a member of a team. Of course the president would have the last word when final decisions are made, but at least there would be input from people who are assigned to specific areas, and who have publicly displayed their credentials, and their commitments.

  21. Hi Kent
    I hear you and of course definitely don’t want to have my head in the sand with respect to very legitimate concerns based on facts and history. At the same time, I feel that it is very important in terms of one’s sense of wellbeing to stay as positive as possible. Ultimately, I feel that it is up to us to reverse the tide for the wellbeing of all by not engaging in doomsday thoughts and attitudes while staying awake and mindful and proactive at the same time.
    Thank you for your books of which I have read many and have greatly enriched my life and awareness

  22. When the forest is on fire and the fire is heading in your direction, I don’t want the firemen to come and ask me how I feel about the impending tragedy..I want them to do exactly what it needs..and if there is any opportunity for listening, to do that after the fire has been extinguished. In this group, Bernie is the only one who can do that.

  23. Thank you! I’ve been there too. And I’m also concerned about what happens when ideological purity does get into office. Having come of age in the 50’s, I’ve seen the kind of illusions that cover post-revolutionary repression. Hopefully Sanders is different from that — this being America, but…. If he is, his campaign isn’t showing it.

  24. Kent, thanks for shining light on why I am both drawn to and repulsed by Bernie Sanders. So much of what he says is true and yet his abrasive manner suggests he will get beat. I don’t see him uniting our country. Having said that, I will vote for the Democratic nominee whoever it is and not because I’m a dyed-in-the-wool Democrat. Far from it. But another four years of Trump may strangle our republic to death. It is already being dismantled piece by piece. The complete freedom from government, as you so accurately describe it, is an illusion. As I write this, our government is being reshaped. We will all live with the consequences. Or not. Perhaps the Trump administration will eliminate the excess population, you know those unnecessary pesky poor, nonwhite people with the rich caucasians who want to have unbridled wealth accumulation. Bungling the coronavirus is the perfect start to another genocide. Yes, history does repeat itself unfortunately or perhaps more accurately, the human race repeats it’s worst behavior.

  25. Kent, you are absolutely right, and voice perfectly the growing unease many of us feel about Bernie. I supported him in 2016, but he is smiling less and sounding more strident and preachy this time.
    In answer to Faye (#21): Even if Bernie gets the youth vote out in millions, it won’t matter. Piling up huge margins in CA, OR, WA and NY ain’t worth a hill of beans. Just like the last few elections, the election will be won or lost with the swing voters in PA, OH, MI, WI, and maybe FL and NC.

  26. Wayne VanDyke

    I am a Canadian, born in the 40″s we have health care. If it were not for Tommy Douglas who fought for, stood out, against all odds brought us what we have today. He felt the pain of those without it. Bernie speaks and reminds of me Tommy Douglas. It was not the leftist CCF of the day that brought in health care it was mediocrity of the liberal government of the day. It was the voice of Tommy who brought a way of critical thinking, about a possibility few dreamed possible. If nothing else Bernie has questioned capitalism and more what it means to be our brothers keeper. I fear if he wins and the US economy goes to hell which is happening but yet more dramatically while he is in leadership then will be blamed or he will be shot before any thing is implemented or has aspired too. Mediocrity makes me want to puke for three days straight .We are not here so we can hope but are here because we have and must do what is right for the planet and our sisters and brothers who suffer.The injustice we see that surrounds us is reason enough to be angry and scream. Thanks for Bernie for screaming. He feels the pain!!!!!

  27. W. Wynne Zaugg

    IMO, there is no longer any difference between the repubs and the corp/estab/centrist non-dems. none to see. BOTH are totally owned by the 1%. It matters not if the pathetic Joe Biden is nominated, or Hitlery. No difference. Without a real revolution, and removal of the 1%, we are all doomed. I will help, if I can, to get a third party started, something that should have happened after 2016. The democratic party is dead, and that death started when the Clinton carpet baggers same to town.

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