The Financial Express

Sanders' crusade seems losing steam

Abdur Rahman Chowdhury from Virginia, USA | Published: March 20, 2020 20:42:22

Democratic presidential candidates Senator Bernie (right) Sanders and former vice-president Joe Biden at the 11th Democratic candidates debate in Washington DC on March 16, 2020.           —Photo: Reuters Democratic presidential candidates Senator Bernie (right) Sanders and former vice-president Joe Biden at the 11th Democratic candidates debate in Washington DC on March 16, 2020. —Photo: Reuters

"There should be no billionaires. We cannot afford a billionaire class whose greed and corruption has been at war with the working-class families of this country for the past 45 years." - declared Senator Bernie Sanders, one of the front runners in the US presidential election race.

This has been the second attempt of Sanders seeking the Democratic Party's nomination for election in the United States. Though his earlier attempt in 2016 did not meet with success, he was nonetheless, able to orchestrate a movement demanding social justice and ostracising income inequality in the society. He reentered the presidential race after three years only to find that the movement for an egalitarian society has grown bigger, stronger and countrywide. The people in general and the youth in particular have embraced the movement to their heart. They would not settle with anything short of social justice for all segments of the society transcending religious, ethnic and cultural divide. Sanders has now infused another dimension to the movement reminiscent of the civil liberty movement of 1960s.

Sanders' election manifesto in 2020 has been the same as in 2016. There has not been an aberration from the earlier commitment. He has been strongly criticising the Wall Street, corporate America and the wealthy elites for turning politics unconscionable. The owners of big businesses, by providing lavish funding to the campaign of individuals seeking public offices, have convoluted the system of public representation in the USA. The big businesses or their cohorts in the Congress or in the highest office of the country place vested interests over national priorities. Consequently, the Congress has become ineffective in serving the nation and transmogrified into a forum to protect the interests of the Wall Street and corporate America. This was Sanders' core message in 2016 election and remains vibrant in 2020.

The infiltration of the big businesses into the highest offices of the country has distorted the economy and given rise to monopoly and cartel. The top 1.0 per cent of the population owns almost as much wealth as the bottom 90 per cent, while millions in the low-income families are left to survive at subsistence level. They live from pay-check to pay-check and cannot access much needed healthcare services. The safety net programme suffers from lack of adequate funding from one side and its abuse by unscrupulous elements on the other, denying access to many needy families. Higher education in the universities has turned outrageously expensive and students from low income families undertake huge burden of debt for many years following graduation from the universities.

The government in the name of augmenting investment and thereby creating more jobs, reduced corporate income tax from 36 per cent to 21 per cent while the middle-income groups are subjected to over 23 per cent tax. There has hardly been an increase of income in the middleclass families in the past three years. The unjust taxation structure has exacerbated income inequality in society.

In the past three years there has been a surge of intolerance, bigotry and racism in the society. The places of worships have come under violent attacks more frequently in recent years than in the past. The administration has clearly demonstrated its abhorrence against immigrants. It banned visitors from predominantly six Muslim countries and decided not to welcome refugees from the conflict zones - a marked departure from the position previous administrations had maintained. Even the children of undocumented immigrants born and grown up in the United States now confront an uncertain future. About 60,000 migrants mainly from Central American countries have been forced to return to Mexico over the past year to await adjudication of their asylum claims. Many have given up. Those who remain stranded in squalid shelters along the southern frontiers have become easy prey to Mexican criminals.

The Trump administration has abdicated its international leadership, turned inward looking and focused on making America Great Again at the expense of global partnership. International collaboration has been attenuated to "sale of weapons" ignoring the ultimate usage of arsenals sold. The American weapons are being used in the carnage let loose in Yemen which is undergoing worst human catastrophe. Syria is being torn apart. David Miliband, President of the International Rescue Committee said, "The war in Syria is not just a disaster. It will dangerously become a precedent for a new normal of brutal, divisive contagious conflict." Israel has been licensed by the United States to annex the West Bank and part of Jordan valley endangering the two-state solution, in wanton disregard of the past agreements and understanding.

Given this situation, Sanders' electoral commitment to broaden medicare for all, tuition-free education at the universities and exemption of student debt, New Green Deal aiming at global warming, higher taxes for the wealthy, minimum wage of $15.00 per hour caught the imagination of the youth. They had joined the political insurgency led by Bernie Sanders in 2016 and expanded it to millions in 2020. They mobilised donations, worked as volunteers and spearheaded the movement all over the country.

Sanders has been at odds with formidable adversaries in the Democratic Party itself, many of whom have been associated with the establishment that perpetuated the reign of the plutocracy. They could not concede a Democratic socialist to challenge the establishment, overhaul economic structures that promoted the interests of the billionaires; and uplift the disadvantaged sections of society. They lavishly provided money, resources and mobilised the media to stop Sanders who till the end of February was unstoppable. In Joe Biden, the former Vice President, the billionaires found a befitting comrade to halt Sanders' march to the path of victory. The primaries held between March 03 and 17 did what the Wall Street and corporate America had desired. Biden has moved ahead of Sanders in 17 out of 25 states. The path for Sanders' victory seems to have diminished.

Now the question is -- should Sanders withdraw from the race and let Biden be awarded the nomination of the Democratic Party? Or should he fight till the end?

It has never been Sanders' objective to win the race at any cost. He has been striving to inject progressive agenda in the core philosophy of the Democratic Party and has succeeded to a large extent. The front runner in 2016 and many of the presidential hopefuls in 2020 embraced Sanders' progressive agenda including the expansion of medicare, enlargement of the safety-net programme, tuition-free education, climate control, higher taxes on the rich, minimum wage of $15 per hour and reengagement with the international community to promote peace and stability in the world. The party has shifted to the left as a result of Sanders' robust campaign. The coronavirus crisis has unfolded the inadequacies of the heathcare system and the safety net programme; and staying in the race will grant Sanders much needed opportunity to explain how progressive social agenda can effectively address the calamities. Millions of people have devoted themselves to Sanders and he has made them believe that a better and fairer future is within reach. He would be letting them down if he doesn't continue that fight until the end.

Sanders has pledged that he would support whoever ultimately wins the nomination of the Democratic Party. This is very reassuring but millions of people who have had found "epitome of hope and inspiration" in him, are not easily transferable. They are angry, hostile and will not submit to lofty promise. The party leadership should not lose sight of the fact that Sanders' cohorts remain an overwhelming force. If they are not reached out, millions would either abstain from voting in November or vote for Biden's opponent. Either option will have a far reaching consequence for the Democratic Party.

Abdur Rahman Chowdhury  is a former official of the United Nations.


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