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Democratic presidential candidate Senator Bernie Sanders addresses his supporters at a campaign rally at the Charleston Area Convention Center. The South Carolina Democratic primary will be held in three days. (Photo: Paul Hennessy / Echoes WIre/Barcroft Media via Getty Images)

Democratic presidential candidate Senator Bernie Sanders addresses his supporters at a campaign rally at the Charleston Area Convention Center. The South Carolina Democratic primary will be held in three days. (Photo: Paul Hennessy/Echoes WIre/Barcroft Media via Getty Images)

Bernie Sanders Is the Unity Candidate

Despite the desperate smears from center-right opponents claiming he is "divisive," the reality is that Bernie Sanders’ policies are all about unity: common needs, mutual care, and a shared future.

Christopher D. Cook

As a Bernie Sanders nomination and presidency become increasingly viable (if not downright likely), his widening popularity signifies something bigger—a palpable yearning and movement across America for a unifying politics based on universal needs that can bring Americans together around common interests instead of dividing us through fear, scapegoating, and radical inequality.

Despite the desperate smears from center-right opponents claiming he is “divisive,” the reality is that Bernie Sanders’ policies are all about unity: common needs, mutual care, and a shared future.

Ragingly divided as the Trump era has been, there is a remarkably strong chance that Sanders’ politics of compassion and care can win the day in 2020. What this politics means for America and the world cannot be underestimated. With climate crisis and inequality bearing down on us with increasing ferocity, our planet and humanity cannot afford the “options” of Trumpian carnage and division or of woefully compromised centrist tweaks offered by Biden, Buttigieg or Klobuchar that uphold the very same system that is crumbling before our eyes.

"With climate crisis and inequality bearing down on us with increasing ferocity, our planet and humanity cannot afford the 'options' of Trumpian carnage and division or of woefully compromised centrist tweaks offered by Biden, Buttigieg or Klobuchar that uphold the very same system that is crumbling before our eyes."

The Trump era has ushered and emboldened so much hate, enmity, and division, some may ask, how could we do a national about-face and elect something so vastly different? In fact, tons of polling shows that Trump’s Darwinian politics of winners and losers, based on voracious venality and short-term plundering, can be soundly defeated by its diametric opposite: a politics of compassion and unifying shared interests.

Bernie Sanders’ entire agenda is about unifying Americans by addressing the fundamental crises that sow division and distrust. Medicare for All. College for all. Housing for all. Justice and safety for all. Jobs for all. Not just some of us—all of us. Sanders’ politics and policies are a bold rebuttal to both right-wing and neoliberal policies that create the very divides we now face.

Sanders has exhibited these politics in deeds and words for decades. Combatting war and militarism is an act of love; standing up for civil rights is an act of love; fighting for living wages and workers’ rights is an act of love; leading the effort for single-payer universal healthcare and a climate-healing Green New Deal are acts of love. These policies, and other social-justice initiatives promoted by Sanders, are about ending and reducing harm, healing wounds, and preventing pain and suffering by addressing root causes.

In a major speech in June 2019 defending democratic socialism, Sanders said America must replace its current path of hatred and divisiveness, and “instead find the moral conviction to choose a different path, a higher path, a path of compassion, justice and love… And that is the path that I call democratic socialism.” This politics is not only simply about government programs—it’s about human rights and dignity, and an economy and politics that spreads wealth rather than consolidating and privatizing it.

"Combatting war and militarism is an act of love; standing up for civil rights is an act of love; fighting for living wages and workers’ rights is an act of love; leading the effort for single-payer universal healthcare and a climate-healing Green New Deal are acts of love."

Witness the nationwide upwelling of support for transformative, socialistic policies based on shared common interests—policies based on mutual compassion and universality over inequality and separation. Democratic socialism is increasingly popular and non-controversial: in a recent Gallup poll, 76 percent of Democrats, 17 percent of Republicans, and 45 percent of independent voters said they would vote for a socialist.

Consider two immensely popular and urgently necessary policies: Medicare for all and the Green New Deal. There are entirely rational, dollar-driven reasons to support and enact both (preventative care and economics, pay now or pay later, save money and save lives over the long term). In fact, a major recent study published by The Lancet, one of the world's most esteemed medical journals, shows that Medicare for all could produce up to $450 billion in savings annually, reducing current health care costs by about 13 percent.

Beyond any units of progress they deliver, these policies provide a foundation for societal transformation by uniting mass common interests and equalizing conditions.

Decades of deepening socioeconomic divisions, entrenched by neoliberalism, capitalism, and corporate-friend policies, have led us to today’s crucible—a choice between fake “populism” and separatist nationalism on one end, and a unifying democratic socialism that transcends liberal tinkering.

The obstacles to this politics of unity and love are immense: corporate power; money; entrenched industrial and wealth interests in both political parties. Capitalism’s multitude of economic and political tentacles and well-heeled apparatchiks, embedded throughout politics, business, and mainstream media.

The “Third Way” politics of Clinton-Blair-Bush-Obama—characterized by neoliberal privatization, band-aid social welfare systems, regulatory rollback, and expanded transnational corporate power—have failed us profoundly. With its impoverishing blend of public austerity and lavish private riches, this “new” way (three decades of center-right shredding of old FDR-style liberalism) deepened divisions of wealth and power, paving the way to today’s entrenched and emboldened enmities, and Trumpian politics based on fear, scapegoating and division.

Bernie’s unifying politics diverge from these bipartisan paths based on concentrated profits and power, blazing a fresh trail that’s uniquely vital for navigating the chief crises of our times. As the climate crisis and inequality widen and deepen, only a politics of universal care can meet the needs of people and the planet. The politics of profits-over-life, of trickle-down, of corporate power and a hyper-militarized fossil-fuel economy are burying humanity and the planet. These politics of inequality and unsustainability—of both the Trumpian and Third Way varieties—are killing us and must end.

"The politics of profits-over-life, of trickle-down, of corporate power and a hyper-militarized fossil-fuel economy are burying humanity and the planet. These politics of inequality and unsustainability—of both the Trumpian and Third Way varieties—are killing us and must end."

Unlikely as it may once have seemed, Bernie’s transformative politics can win in 2020. Polling consistently shows strong majorities supporting his policies. Sanders may resonate due to his authenticity, but he’s also soaring because his policy agenda rises to our immense challenges rather than tinkering timidly at our system’s rapidly eroding edges.

We’re facing a climate crisis threatening all of humanity; a nightmare of personal debt, poverty, and homelessness crippling millions; a healthcare and education divide that is both inhumane and untenable as a society; racial injustice and a war on immigrants that betrays our promise and potential as a species and a nation. Being unapologetically bold in the face of deadly crises is an act of love and compassion.

More than two-thirds of Americans support Medicare for All and single-payer healthcare, surveys show, while only 15 percent “strongly oppose” this egalitarian shift. The Green New Deal, meanwhile, received 80 percent support among registered voters in 2018; a 2019 survey found 63 percent support for the Green New Deal—“a higher approval rating than a wealth tax, a semi-automatic assault gun ban, and free college tuition.”

The answer to this plethora of crises is a new politics that directly challenges corporate power, our vast and unacceptable wealth divide, a politics that dares to confront the root causes of inequality. This means policies like universal single-payer healthcare and free college access; a wealth tax that spurs living-wage job creation; an aggressive and far-reaching Green New Deal that tackles climate-wrecking emissions by creating millions of jobs to expand renewable energy and to transform low-income communities; policies on food and energy production that regenerate our dwindling and endangered natural resources rather than expropriate and expire them; policies that sustain our future rather than ravage the present for every last dime.

While some other Democratic candidates offer a liberal or moderate respite from Trumpian hell, our deeply unequal and climate-ravaged world requires something different—a direct challenge to the power structures that are causing these crises. If Bernie Sanders wins the nomination and presidency, the unifying—and universalizing—politics of mutual care and a shared common future will at last have a powerful seat at the table.


Our work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.
Christopher D. Cook

Christopher D. Cook

Christopher D. Cook is an award-winning journalist and author of "Diet for a Dead Planet: Big Business and the Coming Food Crisis" (2006). Cook has written for Common Dreams, Harper's, The Economist, Mother Jones, The Christian Science Monitor, and elsewhere. See more of his work at www.christopherdcook.com.

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