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.

The Real Election Interference Threatening Our Democracy

Voting Machine

Ever since the 2016 election, our non-stop news cycles have focused on Russian meddling in our (supposedly) otherwise well-functioning electoral system.

And just lately, President Trump, who denies that such interference helped get him elected, has warned that the Chinese are also about to intervene – this time, he fears, against the interests of his party.

The President’s double standards aside, all such scapegoating ignores the fact that the real interference threatening our democracy comes from within. In fact, it largely originates with Republicans, whose policies have rendered the system entirely dysfunctional and unreliable.

To begin with, I’m referring to their sponsorship of the Citizens United lawsuit. It opened the door to the corrupting influence of campaign contributions from wealthy donors to Republicans and Democrats alike. I’m also referencing The Supreme Court’s striking down Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act. The Court’s (Republican-led) 5-4 decision opened the door for laws intended to disenfranchise Democrat-leaning minorities.

Add to this the practice of gerrymandering that renders GOP congressional seats virtually invulnerable, along with widespread voter suppression that discounts thousands of votes in each state and millions nation-wide in each election cycle, and you get an idea of just how corrupt our system has become.

And I haven’t even mentioned refusal to eliminate the Electoral College that has overridden the popular electoral will in favor of our last two Republican presidents – or the entirely hackable voting machines controlled by GOP-friendly operatives like Diebold Election Systems.

And then there’s the most fundamental voter-suppression measure of all – holding elections on Tuesdays precisely during the hours when working-class voters are on the job or traveling to the workplace.

All of this suggests that we must face up to the facts that:

• G.O.P. operative, Paul Weyrich, meant what he said in 1980 about Republicans not wanting everyone to vote (because if everyone did cast a ballot, a Republican president would never again darken the White House door).
• Computerized voting machines overwhelmingly favor that minority otherwise unelectable party by potentially miscounting and/or flipping millions of votes that end up completely unverifiable.

Addressing the problem will entail:

• Getting private money out of the electoral process in favor of public funding.
• Eliminating the electoral college in favor of direct popular vote.
• Abolishing gerrymandering by making redistricting a bi-partisan process subject to the approval of a reformed Federal Election Commission whose goal would be to maximize voter turn-out as well as to increase voter confidence by a transparent certification process.
• Outlawing completely highly hackable voting machines.
• More specifically, implementing a system of universal, automatic and verifiable voter registration and reverting to employment of hand-counted paper ballots.
• Changing Election Day from Tuesday to Sunday, or even establishing a national voting holiday (e.g. from Saturday to Tuesday), with ballots hand-counted by unimpeachable young people like senior Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts on Wednesday.

Failure to enact such changes, especially following the debacles of the presidential elections of 2000 and 2016 is not the fault of foreign interference in our electoral process. It’s the fault of a fundamentally broken system intended to discourage grassroots participation in favor of a minority party. Fixing it will require great commitment and work by us all.

Despite the obstacles placed in our paths, a first act towards repairing the systemic dysfunctions just described will present itself to us on November 6th.

In other words, that first reparative step is to vote the Republicans out of office replacing them with progressive democrats who refuse to take corporate money.

Why I’m Not Celebrating July 4th This Year

Anti-Americanism

I remember in 1972, I was asked to give a 4th of July speech in some church context which I’ve since forgotten. I was a 32 year old Roman Catholic priest then. And my remarks were critical of the U.S. role in Vietnam and in the Third World in general.

Before I began however, an officer from the local VFW led everyone in the Pledge of Allegiance. I remember how he prefaced his part with a long July 4th introduction. He praised the flag for being “unsullied in emblemizing mankind’s struggle for freedom, unparalleled in standing in defense of human rights and the pursuit of justice, blessed by God above all others as the flag of his New Chosen People.”

It was enough to turn my stomach.

My nausea was induced by what I knew the U.S. was doing in Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia. Like everyone else, I knew about Mai Lai, Agent Orange, the Phoenix Program, the Pentagon Papers and merciless illegal bombings of civilians.

My revulsion was also fired by my growing awareness of what the United States was doing in the Third World in general and especially in Latin America where the liberation theology I was studying was powerfully shaping consciousness throughout the hemisphere. Its insistence on historical and structural analysis had caused a paradigm shift in my own perception. Increasingly, I was seeing the United States as the Sandinista Anthem would later phrase it, “the enemy of mankind.”

Somehow I got through my speech without having anyone walk out. I still wonder why.

These days I’m feeling even more alienated than I did more than 40 years ago. Contemporary realities have actually turned me against July 4th celebrations.

Afghanistan, Iraq, Abu Ghraib and the use of drone technology to execute U.S. citizens and anyone in the world without due process are only part of the syndrome this time around. It’s what we’ve recently learned from Ed Snowden, Bradley Manning and Julian Assange that make flag-waving and Pledges of Allegiance so repulsive. Now when I see fireworks, I can only think of Dick Cheney and the “Shock and Awe” pyrotechnics we all saw on CNN when Our Great Country used lies and false pretenses to attack a sovereign nation that had never done us any harm. As Allen Greenspan said in effect, Iraq’s curse and crime was having huge supplies of high grade crude.

As for celebrating our Great Constitution, Snowden’s revelations coupled with a mere reading of the Fourth Amendment are enough to give anyone pause: “The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.” Yes, the Constitution’s fine; but increasingly it’s a dead letter.

Similarly, my willingness to celebrate American democracy is tempered these days by memories of the 2000 “election” of George W. Bush through the intervention of his brother who happened to be governor of Florida with the power to deliver the White House to his dear sibling. The machinations of brother Jeb and a crony Supreme Court would have been comical in any Banana Republic scenario. Having it occur in the United States was more than embarrassing. Subsequent insistence on our privilege to monitor and invalidate elections elsewhere in the world has made us the international laughing stock we’ve hoped to make countries like Venezuela and Iran.

And then there’s Republican redistricting, voter suppression, Citizens United, and the recent SCOTUS evisceration of the Voting Rights Act. What’s that you say about free elections?

The crowning glory of all this embarrassment is our country’s willingness to end life as we know it on Planet Earth by blocking every serious attempt to reverse climate change. President Obama’s recent tepid declarations notwithstanding, the U.S. persists in catastrophic denial of what every serious scientific study reiterates: we are on the road to destruction with the “America” blazing the trail.

Our country’s willingness to end life as we know it on our marvelous planet (not to mention our wars and arms industry) is reason enough to believe that Mother Earth would be better off if the U.S. just dropped off the map. Think about it: the earth would be better off without the United States’ pollution, wars and “Way of Life.”

That’s why I’ll do no flag waving or banner display. I’ll recite no Pledges of Allegiance, nor stand for the Star Spangled Banner. Patriotic speeches and other jingoistic claptrap will draw no applause from me.

It’s all gotten so bad and such a matter of public record that it might even make my VFW friend turn over in his grave.