What a surprise, Bernie Sanders was right all along

A political and economic apparatus rigged to enrich the few at the expense of the many was always destined to collapse.

Democratic U.S. Presidential candidate Senator Bernie Sanders announces he is suspending his campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination in livestream from Burlington
Senator Bernie Sanders announces that he is suspending his campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination in a livestream broadcast on April 8, 2020 [Campaign/Handout via Reuters]

Oh, the irony.

Confronted by an economy-killing pandemic, remarkably, a bunch of frantic politicians in the West have found lots of money to try to resuscitate their suddenly on-life-support, market-driven balance sheets.

Taken together, they have injected trillions of dollars to the frenetic effort; money they have always insisted they did not have and could not spend to help people they claim – with varying degrees of sincerity – they are now determined to help.

Today, these rebar-hard capitalists turned quasi-socialists have become grudging facsimiles of Bernie Sanders – whether they are prepared to admit it or not.

The indefatigable Vermont senator has always known the money was there to help people who need help and he has always been prepared to spend it to help people who need help – long before a lethal virus began obliterating United States‘ Ponzi-scheme-like economy with tornado-like ferocity.

Sanders and his humane designs to begin the long-overdue overhaul of the existing political and economic infrastructure to help people who need help were dismissed by the neo-liberal industrial complex as the fantastical musings of a socialist cuckoo who kept peddling the impossible.

Well, the impossible has miraculously turned possible. The fantasy has, in part, turned real. The cock-sure pundits and politicians who make up the neo-liberal industrial complex and who told us that spending lots of money to help people who need help was “crazy, crazy, crazy” have lately been shouting “spend, spend, spend” like the democratic socialist “cuckoos” they once derided.      

Sanders may have dropped out of the race to become president but the plain, transformative prescription that has defined his political career and his two improbable, invigorating campaigns for president – that government must use its wealth to help people who need help – has not only been embraced by the neo-liberal industrial complex, it will, I suspect, become the defining governing principle for the foreseeable future.

Surely, Sanders can take a good measure of credit for that – whether or not smug and catastrophically wrong neo-liberals acknowledge that their disagreeably stubborn ideological nemesis has been right on this seminal score all along.    

Failing that, Sanders will, no doubt, be applauded by the we-and-the-“free”-market-know-best pundits for belatedly recognising that “his path” to the Democratic nomination had “closed” and, as a result, for finally doing the right thing, for the right reasons, at the right time.

Others may even offer up the usual bromides to describe his decision to concede, in effect, the nomination to that other card-carrying member of the neo-liberal industrial complex, Joe Biden, as “gracious” or “dignified”.

Do not be fooled by the hollow expressions of magnanimity. These are, remember, mostly the same naysayers who have spent so much vitriolic time and space on TV and in columns painting a preposterous caricature of Sanders as an angry, obdurate old man who posed an existential threat to US’s “thriving” economy.

Four years ago, Hillary Clinton was the predictable choice of the neo-liberal industrial complex. She was more than palatable since she was content simply to recycle the tired, standard line to “address” the “nagging” inequalities rife in the US.

Clinton was the status quo candidate at a time when the status quo was being emphatically rejected by so many Americans who were being left adrift. Sanders understood this zeitgeist. Clinton did not, and paid for it.

In the end, despite the incessant whining of centrist-hugging “progressives”, Clinton could not even beat an inept narcissist where and when it counted – in the electoral college on November 8, 2016.

Rather than admit that, Clinton and company were guilty of near-criminal political negligence, her allies pointed an accusatory finger at the only Democratic candidate who was able to build a pan-American movement that captured and harnessed the distemper of the times because, they said, he did not rush to endorse Clinton quickly enough. Figures.     

Sanders forewarned Americans and anyone else who bothered to listen that the country’s political and economic apparatus – where power and wealth are vested in the few at the expense of the many – was deeply and irreversibly damaging and, ultimately, unsustainable.

The vast, entrenched inequality that Sanders has sought to remedy not just rhetorically, but in tangible, concrete ways, is playing out tragically as COVID-19 exacts its relentless human toll across the US.

In Chicago alone, poor minorities with little or no access to healthcare, have not only tested positive for the virus in shockingly disproportionate numbers, but succumbed to the disease in equally shocking and disproportionate numbers.

Sanders also warned that a political and economic apparatus that was rigged to continue to enrich the rich at the expense of the many was not only unsustainable, but was destined to collapse.

Turns out, Sanders was right on that count too.  

For decades, Sanders has urged Americans to work together to build a fairer nation where the dividends of prosperity will be shared by all and not the gilded few who control most of the nation’s immense wealth. That powerful, egalitarian message resonated with millions of Americans in 2016, as it has in 2020.

It is a profound shame that Sanders, a transparently thoughtful, honest and honourable man, will be unable to lead that noble enterprise as commander-in-chief. Still, he has tried. That is more than his petty, forgettable detractors can say.

The US is teetering on a dangerous precipice. It is led by a president who lies and rewrites history with the facility of an authoritarian.

When this pandemic passes and the necessary accounting takes place, it is likely that thousands of Americans will have died due to the manifest incompetence and negligence of one man: Donald Trump.

He must be beaten in November. To do that, Biden will need to forge a genuine effort to enlist Sanders and his supporters as partners to fashion a new Democratic Party that dispenses with the shopworn hyperbole about fairness and equality and, instead, commits itself to making fairness and equality the core, dominating principles of a Biden administration.

If he does not, Biden will duplicate Hillary Clinton’s ignominious fate, while countless Americans will suffer the disfiguring trauma of Trump for four more years.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial stance.