History Will Remember Bernie Sanders Fondly

A fighter for the lower classes he was, despite fierce opposition.

U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders speaking with supporters at a campaign rally at Arizona Veterans Memorial Coliseum in Phoenix, Arizona. Courtesy of Flickr by Gage Skidmore. Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0.

Bernie Sanders may not be president come November, but his impact on American politics will reserve him permanent residence on the pantheon of the all-time greats. The Vermont Senator ran the youngest and most diverse campaign in a bid to win the Democratic primary, which he ultimately ended up deciding was not worth the pursuit anymore as Biden was comfortably widening the delegate gap with the chance of a contested convention becoming less of a possibility as the primary progressed along. There’s plenty to blame for why Sanders’ political revolution didn’t come to fruition, but his effort was nothing short of laudable, and dare I say even heroic.

The tone of the campaign isn’t that markedly different from its 2016 iteration, though what has changed, is that Bernie Sanders embraced a message of class consciousness that very few politicians on the national stage dared to invoke–”Not me. Us.” was a perfect encapsulation of the solidarity ethos Sanders was advocating for, and it doubly functions as a reminder that the Vermont Senator was only but a vessel for the oppressed to channel through their frustrations at the status quo, rather than a messiah whose kind could not be replaced.

Togetherness is of the essence in a time where neoliberalism seems to have stripped us all communal bonds. Our concerns became individualized, and the pursuit after our ends was becoming less cooperative and more competitive–for the short period that coronavirus is hitting hardest the most vulnerable, this seems to have reawakened a sense of community that was once thought to have been completely lost to the crushing thump of alienation under capitalism. Now that we know people are capable of extending generosity without being transactional, it has never been more crucial to ask if Sanders’ theory of social and political change is indeed one right for this moment, especially as mutual is poised to become more-important-than-ever with civilization-upending threats like climate change looming on the horizon.

Sanders understood the urgency of the situation, which is why he’s so often been painted as a radical. Very few wager to ask the question of whether Sanders is rather the moderate one, and everyone else is radical–after all, a continuation of the status quo is one whose consequences will prove far deadlier than whichever healthcare plan is deemed too costly to implement. When politics becomes a game of favorable statistics over a blanket guarantee for all to lead a good and honorable life, people cease to be as numbers they become. This is the path Joe Biden is intending to walk–a continuation of the Obama era without much introspection on why it was immediately succeeded by the rule of a democracy-undermining right-wing populist like Donald Trump.

As sophisticated as Bernie’s vision of a better America seems to be, it is grounded into a simple socialist ethic whose regard for human sanctity trumps any other consideration. It is why when mainstream Democrats keep singing the praises of their paltry compromises with the lot of conservative Republicans, Sanders will consistently make the case the boons of political prudence don’t nearly justify its cost. “What sets Sanders apart from many liberal Democrats isn’t his voting record or even his policy proposals,” writes Vox’s Ezra Klein. “It is an animating belief that our political and economic system is unjust, and its successes do not remotely blunt its failures.”

America is in the very unique position of being able to end so much of the suffering taking place within, but refusing to do so because of ill-considered political calculations. Republicans still view wealth as an earnable entity only to be granted at the most restrictive of conditions, and Democrats will means-test their welfare programs to such a degree, that those who the programs were supposed to aid are further impoverished–if agreeable legislation is often found at the middle-point between those extremes, a just one exists completely out of that spectrum. The Nordics have delivered a masterclass on human welfare with the rest of Western Europe not falling too far behind, but America’s political class keeps articulating in ever-so-convoluted terms that they couldn’t have good things because they “can’t pay for them” even as warfare continues to be plentifully provided for.

Now that America is looking ahead to what will most likely be an era led by worker strife as the coronavirus wreaks havoc on the economy, it is becoming necessary that Sanders’ ideas venture beyond electoralism and start influencing the day-to-day machinations of American life. As the current political apparatus has proved itself to be incapable of cushioning the blow of an economic downturn, people will have to start embodying the values of solidarity and entraide on a society-wide scale–only vote in politicians who view the presence of material deprivation as a moral defect, and help those most in need as they’re the ones who’re least equipped to handle our upcoming woes.

“While there is a lower class, I am in it, while there is a criminal element, I am of it, and while there is a soul in prison, I am not free,” says the great Eugene V. Debs. These words lay out the blueprint for what an equitable society should be–disregarding the downtrodden is a sure way to put all of us in peril, and there has been no better example of that than this recent global pandemic in which wealth has built some fortresses to stay in isolation within, while many are stranded on ever-emptier streets, left hopelessly gawking at vacant hotel rooms as the chance to experience a sliver of an erstwhile comfortable life is still beyond reach.

This is why Bernie Sanders’ loss will remain perplexing to me, even as I understand that America would’ve never likely given him a fair shake. He speaks of the presence of half-a-million homeless Americans (a number which will likely see a sharp rise in the coming months) as a moral obscenity and decries it with as much vigor as other candidates have pandered to their primary constituencies–and even when he lost, he still endorsed the last obstacle standing in the way of another four years of Trump. Altruism was at the core of Sanders’ politics, and it’s a travesty many couldn’t see past Joe Biden’s poorly-challenged claim to electability.