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Thursday, April 7, 2016

Why I want Sanders to lose the election

(Note: This is a sorta rewriting of my last two entries.)

Yes, I contributed to his campaign. Yes, I will vote for him in the Maryland primary. But I want Bernie Sanders to lose the election.

Why? Because I believe in democratic republicanism over populist democracy.

Populism is focused on one issue or common enemy. It is often hooked up to electoral politics rather than building a base of autonomous power among people bringing together many issues and a more sophisticated analysis of those issues. Populists generally wind up giving away their power to demagogues who rule in their name to relieve their fears and satisfy their anger without subjecting their opinions to critique in the public space. This is why demagogues also want to suppress or control the press and put down dissent.

A republic is an organization of interacting publics. And a public consists of people acting together to shape the common good. A public is a town hall meeting, a council or conference, a settlement house or neighborhood center, a civic association or community organization. Often publics are gathered in geographic districts or connected to committees related to government. In publics, personal interests are achieved by being connected with others to create an agenda by which all can live and thrive. The republican education of critical thinking citizens occurs in public schools and through experience in civic affairs.

We've seen populist governments, left and right, recently in Russia, Latin America, and Jacksonland southern states. And we could probably point to elements of demagoguery at all levels of American government where the people elect their masters and leave the public space to them. When publics fail and people have only private opinions recorded in Gallup polls or even in mass votes, unchallenged by critical thinking or public discussion, we have the situation which rulers use to get and keep control.

We ask how did a silent majority permit the KKK lynchings of African Americans? The Know Nothing persecution of Catholic and Jewish immigrants? The concentration camp internment of Japanese Americans? The witch hunts of McCarthy? The mass incarcerations of Black Americans? 

The silent majority is silent because it is afraid. It becomes noisy when it blames "outsiders" for threatening their way of life. But silent or noisy it is a "mass"--unsullied by liberal education or community service where one touches other views and cultures and share their suffering with others not like them. Populists are not organized in publics, but in parties and special interest movements.

President Obama tried to maintain a community-based organizing process that would turn his electoral populist movement into autonomous community organizations. But that was impossible because the Organization for Action (OFA) was really an extension of his campaign. I believe the same would happen if Sanders were elected.  The popular movement might continue but the power arrangements would pretty much stay the same.

Now Sanders is no demagogue  Suppose he is not elected but continues his revolution. Say he works with a collective leadership (including perhaps the former community organizer now in the Oval Office) through experienced community organizing efforts now underway in neighborhoods, churches, worker groups, and schools, maybe we could see a real revolution. A revolution that would build local power for smart growth, living wages, preserved wilderness, water, air, and climate, universal health care and education, affordable housing for all, immigrant rights, and an equal starting point for all regardless of ethnicity, religion, culture, and sex.

For example, the Next Systems Project is trying to rethink and reframe the political-economy for the U.S. But they lack the local political organizing to make it happen.

The assumption of democratic republicanism is that most people, if educated in the skills of critical thinking and civic participation, will understand the obstacles and illusions that hold them back. And they will do the right thing. They will no longer be members of the populist silent majority or noisy mass which operates on the ignorance that promotes fear and hate of others.

Go Bernie, go!