Democracy & Government

Bernie Sanders’ Progressive Ideals Must Be Embraced

The former Democratic presidential candidate understood the needs of working-class voters and people of color, but he was marginalized by party elites. To be viable, the Democratic Party must change.

Bernie Sanders' Progressive Ideals Must Be Embraced

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) speaks during a Capitol Hill news conference on better wages for workers on Oct. 6, 2015 in Washington, DC. He held the news conference to introduce legislation designed to make it easier for workers to join together and bargain for better wages, benefits and working conditions. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

The shock and collective depression that gripped many after Donald Trump’s victory impacted our communities in different ways. For the Latino community, the political leadership realized immediately that a re-evaluation was necessary to determine how to proceed.

For a brief time, Latinos had assumed they would have a modicum of political leverage in a Clinton administration. In fact, Ken Salazar, a Mexican-American who had been secretary of the interior in the Obama administration, had been chosen to chair Clinton’s transition team.

The Latino leadership, along with the Democratic National Committee, assumed a progressive coalition would bring the Democrats to victory, with Latinos voting overwhelmingly for Hillary Clinton. I gather that we are now not only back to, but behind, square one!

“What happened?” many are now asking, in an attempt to process the unexpected and learn from this coalition failure. The easy and simplistic answer is that racism and misogyny prevailed and brought Trump to victory. But I believe if we choose to look only at this one-dimensional analysis we miss the full explanation, which is needed to understand what happened and move forward with success.

We must acknowledge that many progressives have been in denial, failing to acknowledge that both the Democratic and Republican parties alike had become the parties of the elites.

After speaking with political scientist, Angelo Falcon, executive director of the National Institute for Latino Policy, following the elections, we concluded the racism and misogyny explanation is simply not sufficient to explain the results. We would have to conclude that the over 60 million people who voted for Trump are misogynistic, hyperracist, white supremacists. Although racism and sexism are ingrained in the fabric of our society, including that of the Democratic Party, it stands to reason that under normal circumstances Trump’s horrific rhetoric would have been rejected by most Americans. So what was different in this election?

We must acknowledge that many progressives have been in denial, failing to acknowledge that both the Democratic and Republican parties alike had become the parties of the elites. This reality has been discussed by millennials supporting Sen. Bernie Sanders as well as by working-class, poor, white male and female Trump supporters.

As I observed the Democratic presidential campaign during the primaries it was apparent to me that Clinton had been crowned the presidential Democratic candidate by party elites not only because of her own political history but also because of the elite political “family” she represented. I joined with many millennials and others in feeling extremely frustrated and demoralized when Sanders spoke of the high ideals that progressives should support only to be described by Clinton surrogates, including the DNC, as a “utopian” old uncle. The patronizing attitude toward an overwhelming number of Democratic and Republican voters by party elites did not land upon an oblivious constituency.

Isolationism or defense of workers? When Sanders and Trump spoke of the threat of TPP and other trade agreements, it was suggested they were naively challenging the inevitability of a global economic capitalist system.

The late French social and political philosopher, Pierre Bourdieu, commenting on the rise of global capitalism and the ensuing ravages on so many throughout the world, stated that the biggest mistake progressives and leftists could make would be to believe economic globalization is inevitable. Bourdieu suggested the progressive, leftist anger in the past targeted the powerful nation-states responsible for the evils of capitalism. However, Bourdieu suggests these same nation-states may be strategically positioned to protect the working class against the ravages of global capitalism. Rather than being isolationist, this view incorporates a policy of protection for the working class.

The DNC, progressives, liberals and leftists must commit to engaging in serious socioanalysis and revamping its leadership to truly become an inclusive alliance. The Clinton era of centrism, with its devastating effects on poor whites and people of color, may no longer be viable.

Samuel Cruz

Rev. Dr. Samuel Cruz is professor of church and society at Union Theological Seminary. He has published columns on civil rights for El Diario and the New York Daily News, and has been a commentator on MSNBC, WBAI, Univision, most recently advocating for humane immigration policies, marriage equality, opposing “stop and frisk” police practices and critiquing the prison industrial complex. Rev. Cruz is senior pastor of Trinity Lutheran Church in Brooklyn, New York. Follow him on Twitter: @revdrcruz.

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