On David Brooks’ “No, Not Sanders, Not Ever”

I have to be honest. In this election season, with all the attacks on Bernie, the support of “liberal” centrism, and defense of the status quo, I can’t help feeling discouraged – almost depressed.

My most recent source of near despair was a New York Times op-ed last Thursday by conservative columnist David Brooks. The piece was called “No, Not Sanders, Not Ever.”

Despite authorship by a conservative, it pretended to voice sympathetically the so-called “liberal” wisdom that Brooks claimed should prevail among Democrats. (Don’t you just love it when conservatives instruct liberals on how to be liberals and win elections?)

To begin with, Brooks openly red-baited the Senator from Vermont.  He brazenly associated him with the Soviet Union’s slaughter of 20 million people, with mass executions and intentional famines. He connected Bernie with slavery, Cuba, Nicaragua, communism, Nazism, and Trumpian populism.

Meanwhile, he praised Hubert Humphrey, Ted Kennedy, and Elizabeth Warren, because as true liberals, they “worked within the system, negotiated and practiced the art of politics.” He heaped similar accolades on F.D.R. who unlike Sanders “did not think America was a force for ill in world affairs.” None of the above, Brooks said – not Humphrey, Kennedy, Warren or Franklin Roosevelt – thought or thinks that “the whole system is irredeemably corrupt.”

However, while reading Brooks’ attacks, I couldn’t help thinking: but what if Senator Sanders is right? What if the entire system is beyond the pale and liberalism simply doesn’t work? What if political opponents in the party of Trump and McConnell ensure that it doesn’t work by absolutely refusing to cooperate with Brooks’ liberals (as he put it) “in the traditional way: building coalitions, working within the constitutional system and crafting the sort of compromises you need in a complex, pluralistic society?” What if (as I’ve suggested elsewhere) the entire system been successfully seized in a coup d’état by nihilists, mobsters, pedophiles, and blackmailers – by the Republican Party which Noam Chomsky has identified as the most dangerous organization in the history of the world?

Finally, what if such suspicions about complete systemic breakdown are confirmed by the evidence including:

  • An entrenched level of wealth-inequality unprecedented since the Gilded Age
  • Capture of both parties (Republican and Democrat) by the nation’s richest 1%
  • The extreme politicization of the Supreme Court in favor of those same wealthy Elites
  • The Court’s Citizens United decision enabling billionaires to buy politicians (and the presidency itself!)
  • Resulting legal preference of corporate personalities over human persons
  • A two-tier legal system allowing the rich and powerful to perjure themselves, defy subpoenas, and/or receive light sentences for severe white-collar crimes, while harshly punishing the poor for relatively minor offenses
  • The triumph of the Military-Industrial Complex expressed in policies of permanent war
  • Climate-change denial and dismantling of environmental protection laws
  • The 75-year process of hollowing out Roosevelt’s New Deal and destruction of the labor movement
  • Rigging of the election process through voter suppression laws, gerrymandering, untrustworthy voting machines, and super-delegate arrangements
  • The consolidation of the mainstream media into a few corporate hands
  • The militarization of police forces too-often manned by trigger-happy jingoists, racists, xenophobes, homophobes, and misogynists
  • All-pervading systems of surveillance specifically geared to prevent rebellion

Doesn’t all of that (and so much more) describe a system that actually is irredeemable aside from complete revolution?

What I’m suggesting is that the Brooks piece and the evidence just advanced show how everything seems stacked against the naïve liberalism Brooks favors. Instead, the country’s condition cries out for radical reform. “America” has become a place where the injustices I’ve just listed seem baked into the structures of our lives. And the baking process involves laws that increasingly serve the elite and punish the rest of us.

(In fact, isn’t that what laws are? They are largely products of the rich and powerful concocted to ensure that they remain rich and powerful.)

When he says the system is corrupt, that’s what Bernie Sanders means. The changes required to make it less corrupt are common sense and involve structural and legal changes that would embody measures far more profound than even the Vermont senator proposes. I’m talking about small-“d” democratic steps such as the following:

  • Abolition of the Electoral College
  • Public funding of elections
  • Creation of a bi-partisan National Electoral Commission to oversee elections in all 50 states – all governed by the same rules and responsible for creating electoral districts
  • Automatic universal voter registration connected with one’s birthday
  • Establishment of a national holiday for quadrennial and biennial elections
  • Practical recognition of the fact that corporations are not people while restoring corporate tax levels to the 1968 level of 50%
  • Enforcement of a revitalized anti-trust regime to limit the size and power of corporations
  • Expanding Supreme Court membership to include an equal number of liberals and conservatives
  • Cutting the military budget by 40% to bring it in line with similar expenditures by other nations
  • Cessation of all current wars and withdrawal of U.S. forces from most (if not all) overseas locations
  • Redirection of the billions thus saved into a Green New Deal
  • Passage of laws to encourage formation of worker-directed cooperatives to compete on an equal playing field with private corporations
  • Commitment to the inviolability of international law as enforced by the United Nations
  • Withdrawal of support from countries (like Israel, Egypt, and Saudi Arabia) that refuse to conform to international law
  • De-criminalization of drug possession and de-privatization of all prisons

Now those steps are truly radical. They go to the heart of the matter which is lack of democracy here in the United States. Their mere listing reveals not only the corruption of the present system, but the deep law-enforced entrenchment of corporate power exercised by the nation’s rich and powerful.

No, Mr. Brooks, Bernie Sanders is not a dangerous man. And yes, absent his nomination, it will remain true that “the whole system is irredeemably corrupt.”

Bernie Sanders is actually quite moderate. The “remorseless class war” he addresses is a fact of life initiated by the 1%, not by Bernie. However, he represents a very small step towards winning that war.

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Mike Rivage-Seul's Blog

Emeritus professor of Peace & Social Justice Studies. Liberation theologian. Activist. Former R.C. priest. Married for 45 years. Three grown children. Six grandchildren.

5 thoughts on “On David Brooks’ “No, Not Sanders, Not Ever””

  1. AS a liberal who was “feeling the Bern” 5 years ago (and actually met Bernie 30 years ago when I was doing farm policy advocacy) I now feel that Bernie is simply too old. I am still hoping for a revival for Elizabeth Warren, but to be honest there is no 2nd place Alternative other than Mr. Sanders.
    Rather than detail all the ways in which your analysis is spot on, I’ll just say that David Brooks is a disingenuous pseudointellectual whose mile wide, inch deep sociological writing in the past has gotten him a highly paid sinecure in a newspaper that purports to be liberal but when the chips are down goes with the oligarchs and the plutocrats every damned time.

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  2. Hope you sent this to David Brooks, Mike!!!!

    On Tue, Mar 3, 2020 at 1:38 AM Mike Rivage-Seul’s Blog: . . .about things th

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  3. I voted for Bernie at my home in North Carolina as I am a, “card carrying” Democratic Socialist but with considerable reluctance. In my opinion, the Democrat politicians are just as corrupt as the Republicans and violate their Oath of Office every day. They serve themselves and other members of the Oligarchy—-not The People. (see InformationClearingHouse.org, “Democraticide”, by Paul Edwards) We need another revolution and it will probably be the peaceful one advocated by Marianne.

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    1. I hope you’re right, Walter. Isn’t it just amazing that Marianne (a politically progressive spiritual teacher) got the attention that she did while running for president and that Bernie Sanders (a self-identified socialist) has a real chance at the White House? I never thought I’d live to see either of those eventualities. I hope we’re on the cusp of the revolution you mention.

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