Onward from Nevada. Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty
The Bernie surge in Nevada and elsewhere has sparked talk of "a wake-up moment for the American power establishment," from stunned Democratic leaders to freaked-out, Nazi-invoking media pundits "behaving like aristocrats in a dying regime." It's also exposed the deep hunger for change of those suffering under this unholy regime, and the need to see a way out of it. With her usual calm, lucid, judiciously hopeful perspective, historian Heather Cox Richardson offers it. Yes, she says, we have been here before, sort of, in the 1850s, 1890s, and 1920s. Three times, although only once was it this bad, corrupt oligarchs indifferent to the needs of its people took over the White House, Congress, the courts, the media. In each era, she writes, "Just when democracy seemed lost, regular Americans took it back" - by speaking up, showing up, fighting back.
Richardson outlines each dark period: In the 1850s, rich southern slaveholders took over the Democratic Party and insisted on the right to expand nationwide their economic system of big plantations worked by slaves. In the 1890s, industrialists and Republicans rigged the laws and packed the courts to protect their interests, move ever-more money upward, and destroy workers’ rights. (Does any of this sound familiar?) In the 1920s, a moneyed GOP attacked union and civil rights movements, bringing KKK membership to five million before the 1929 Crash ended it all. In each era, people stood up. "They started simply by complaining," she notes; then they protested, organized, wrote letters to Congress, ran for office, and made sure people voted in elections. "The people in power cheated and the game was rigged," she notes. "But the people defending American democracy still won."
"Americans change politics first by changing minds," she argues. "If this were not the case, Russia would not be swamping us with disinformation, and the right wing would not flood the country with talk radio and the Fox News Channel, which present fact-free stories designed to divert people from reality. And, of course, Trump would not bother spinning his own lies. People, and now bots, spreading those lies have been so assertive that a lot of folks who know they’re crap have stayed quiet, not wanting to start a fight. But speaking up to identify lies and to celebrate real American values is a crucial step toward changing the national narrative. If it weren’t, no one would be paying bots and trolls to shut us up." Those in power wouldn't be working so hard to silence us, she stresses, "if they thought our actions didn’t matter."
Along with changing the narrative, it's important now as then to "complain constantly" to those in power, even when they ignore us - thanks Susan Collins - and to support progressives in House and Senate races in this most critical of elections. In light of Bernie's shocking-to-some rise, it's also vital to resist mightily the left's historic urge to form circular firing squads, and to embrace unity in the face of the horrors of Trump et al. If Bernie becomes the Democratic candidate despite panicked establishments, wildly hostile press and progressives who say they're sick of an angry old white guy yelling at them, it will be thanks to the real strength of his #NotMeUs message, its unprecedented multi-racial, multi-faith, multi-economic alliance, and its key "youth firewall" - young people who support him not as a "political savior" but as the leader of a "movement (that) will change this country." And for those discomfited that change may not come in precisely the package they've envisioned, Bob Zimmerman has big, still-germane news: "Your old road is rapidly aging."
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