What a Bernie Sanders Presidency Would Look Like

The possibilities of an “organizer-in-chief.”

Daniel Denvir January 7, 2020

(Photo by Prince Williams/WireImage)

We have a decade to trans­form the U.S. econ­o­my to stave off cli­mate cat­a­stro­phe, and Bernie Sanders has the only agen­da to do so and the only mobi­liza­tion strat­e­gy to get it done. No plan for a bet­ter future is worth­while if envi­ron­men­tal cri­sis ren­ders our future unimag­in­ably bleak.

Sanders’ program unifies the interests of working-class people without erasing their differences.

As Nao­mi Klein notes, this plan­e­tary emer­gency entered main­stream con­scious­ness” in the 1980s as the Right and big busi­ness launched an ide­o­log­i­cal war … on the very idea of the col­lec­tive sphere.” To take the col­lec­tive action need­ed to phase out fos­sil fuels, our next pres­i­dent must build a for­eign pol­i­cy of rad­i­cal coop­er­a­tion along­side a new domes­tic pol­i­tics of inclu­sion — or else wit­ness a racist, nation­al­ist, far-right pol­i­tics expand its divi­sive power.

Sanders is the only pres­i­den­tial can­di­date who has put for­ward a gen­uine Green New Deal, a plan to rad­i­cal­ly remake the econ­o­my to serve ordi­nary peo­ple rather than just green­ing” the eco­nom­ic sys­tem that threat­ens to end human soci­ety as we know it. His Green New Deal would dis­man­tle the fos­sil fuel indus­try and put a renew­able ener­gy sys­tem under demo­c­ra­t­ic con­trol, work­ing with gov­ern­ments around the world to achieve what the sci­ence demands.

Sanders’ pro­pos­als go beyond piece­meal lib­er­al solu­tions by tar­get­ing the unjust eco­nom­ic sys­tem that fuels cli­mate change and push­ing an agen­da that simul­ta­ne­ous­ly empow­ers work­ers and saves the plan­et. This agen­da would help mil­lions of work­ers join unions, give work­ers an own­er­ship stake in major cor­po­ra­tions, pro­vide uni­ver­sal health­care and tuition-free high­er edu­ca­tion, build mil­lions of afford­able homes and pro­tect (rather than tar­get) immigrants.

Though Pres­i­dent Sanders could exe­cute parts of this agen­da on his own, much of it would require Con­gress. How could it pass, giv­en Repub­li­can extrem­ism and like­ly push­back from even a Demo­c­rat-con­trolled House and Sen­ate? The ques­tion pos­es a seri­ous prob­lem for any pro­gram that meets our chal­lenge. And it is one Sanders is unique­ly posi­tioned to solve.

Sanders under­stands that change at this scale will require mass move­ments to pres­sure Con­gress and every lev­el of gov­ern­ment — and to change their com­po­si­tion. Amer­i­cans iso­lat­ed and atom­ized by cut­throat cap­i­tal­ism must engage in mas­sive col­lec­tive action. His polit­i­cal pro­gram isn’t just about pol­i­cy, then, but about the capac­i­ty of ordi­nary peo­ple to par­tic­i­pate in democ­ra­cy. This dis­rup­tion includes, crit­i­cal­ly, his plans to facil­i­tate direct par­tic­i­pa­tion in deci­sions from our work­places to our ener­gy sys­tems, shift­ing the bal­ance of pow­er in our soci­ety. No one con­tends that Sanders alone will spark, let alone be, a mass move­ment. The Sanders cam­paign slo­gan, Not Me. Us.,” con­veys pre­cise­ly that. Sanders, as he puts it, is gonna be organizer-in-chief.”

Sanders’ Green New Deal plan, which builds on the res­o­lu­tion intro­duced by Rep. Alexan­dria Oca­sio-Cortez (D‑N.Y.) and Sen. Ed Markey (D‑Mass.), will take mas­sive orga­ni­za­tion to make a real­i­ty. His plan alone among Demo­c­ra­t­ic can­di­dates takes seri­ous­ly the mas­sive pub­lic spend­ing ($16.3 tril­lion, to be exact, much more than Sen. Eliz­a­beth War­ren pro­pos­es) need­ed to reach 100% renew­able elec­tric­i­ty and trans­porta­tion by 2030 with full decar­boniza­tion by 2050, a reori­en­ta­tion of pub­lic pri­or­i­ties (divert­ing $1.215 tril­lion from mil­i­tary spend­ing on pro­tect­ing the glob­al oil sup­ply”), the cre­ation of 20 mil­lion jobs, and unprece­dent­ed lev­els of pub­lic-sec­tor coor­di­na­tion and social mobi­liza­tion. Sanders is the only can­di­date who iden­ti­fies the pri­vate own­er­ship of ener­gy as a core prob­lem, call­ing out the greed” in our for-prof­it sys­tem, from investor-owned util­i­ties like California’s Pacif­ic Gas and Elec­tric Co. to the fos­sil fuel com­pa­nies that col­lect bil­lions in fed­er­al sub­si­dies while con­t­a­m­i­nat­ing the plan­et. Sav­ing the plan­et is impos­si­ble with­out height­en­ing class conflict.

Sanders’ crit­ics who say he would nev­er be able to get much done sim­ply haven’t been pay­ing atten­tion: Sanders’ record of con­nect­ing to mass mobi­liza­tions and dra­mat­i­cal­ly reshap­ing pub­lic debates sets him apart. Before he ran in 2016, for exam­ple, Medicare for All was deemed a pipe dream; now, it’s a cen­ter of atten­tion. Unlike War­ren, who in her con­stant equiv­o­ca­tion has man­aged to elic­it crit­i­cism from all direc­tions, Sanders pledges to intro­duce Medicare for All leg­is­la­tion dur­ing his first week in office. And he has respond­ed to the main­stream­ing of Medicare for All by push­ing pol­i­tics in yet more rad­i­cal directions.

The fight of this gen­er­a­tion depends not only on putting forth good poli­cies but on a pow­er­ful revival of col­lec­tive pol­i­tics. With con­trol of the White House, Sanders and the move­ments ral­lied around him could do huge things. 

Since the 1970s, Amer­i­can pol­i­tics has been stunt­ed by neolib­er­al gov­er­nance, which invokes free mar­kets” to pro­tect cap­i­tal from demo­c­ra­t­ic con­trol and grind down the unions that once checked cor­po­rate pow­er. Many came to believe change is impos­si­ble, even as capitalism’s costs shift­ed onto ordi­nary peo­ple and exploit­ed their social bonds to keep the bro­ken sys­tem from going off the rails. Young peo­ple must bor­row for edu­ca­tion against their future and their par­ents’ assets; women can be trapped in abu­sive rela­tion­ships because of expen­sive child­care, low wages and high rents.

Sanders takes neoliberalism’s atom­iz­ing points of dom­i­na­tion and trans­forms them into a set of demands for col­lec­tive free­dom, with poli­cies like Medicare for All, free pub­lic high­er edu­ca­tion, uni­ver­sal child­care and pre‑K, and the abo­li­tion of stu­dent and med­ical debt. These poli­cies would help break the cycle of pri­va­tized finan­cial bur­den and, in doing so, free peo­ple to engage in more rad­i­cal­ized struggle.

Sanders’ homes guar­an­tee and Green New Deal for Pub­lic Hous­ing, intro­duced with Oca­sio-Cortez, would deliv­er direct eco­nom­ic ben­e­fits while empow­er­ing the work­ing class and cut­ting car­bon emis­sions. Real estate assets, as of 2017, were worth an esti­mat­ed $228 tril­lion, a more valu­able asset class than all stocks, shares and secu­ri­tized debt com­bined,” accord­ing to Sav­ills World Research. As such, they have been a key dri­ver of inequal­i­ty and house­hold indebt­ed­ness. Real estate spec­u­la­tion also, of course, helped spark the glob­al finan­cial crash of 2008.

Build­ing 10 mil­lion per­ma­nent­ly afford­able homes, invest­ing in shared equi­ty home­own­er­ship mod­els like com­mu­ni­ty land trusts, enact­ing nation­wide rent con­trol, and upgrad­ing and expand­ing pub­lic hous­ing with local renew­able ener­gy would be rev­o­lu­tion­ary in a coun­try where more than 500,000 peo­ple are home­less on any giv­en night, tens of mil­lions pay more than a third or even half their income in rent, and poor peo­ple live under the con­tin­u­al threat of evic­tion. Mak­ing hous­ing afford­able would make peo­ple less urgent­ly depen­dent on their pay­checks. Sanders also pledges to attack the res­i­den­tial seg­re­ga­tion and gen­tri­fi­ca­tion that con­sign poor, racial­ized com­mu­ni­ties to sec­ond-class schools, inse­cure hous­ing and sub­par pub­lic services.

Our eco­nom­ic sys­tem is pro­tect­ed by racist repres­sion, which divides ordi­nary peo­ple and scape­goats peo­ple of col­or, for­eign­ers and, increas­ing­ly since the 911 attacks, Mus­lims. Sanders’ pro­grams break down these bar­ri­ers and defend immi­grant labor rights against boss abus­es. His core uni­ver­sal social pro­grams, Medicare for All and Col­lege for All, are tru­ly uni­ver­sal, avail­able regard­less of immi­gra­tion status.

Bernie’s immi­gra­tion plan is rev­o­lu­tion­ary,” Sanders’ Lati­no Press Sec­re­tary Belén Sisa says, because it iden­ti­fies undoc­u­ment­ed immi­grants as us rather than them. Sanders denounces exploita­tive cor­po­ra­tions as ene­mies of all work­ers, for­eign and U.S.-born alike, a rejec­tion of nativist pol­i­tics long orga­nized around the demo­niza­tion of immi­grants as a threat to jobs and wel­fare benefits.

Sanders’ leg­isla­tive pri­or­i­ties include expand­ing immi­gra­tion visas to reunite fam­i­lies and pro­vid­ing cit­i­zen­ship to the over­whelm­ing major­i­ty of undoc­u­ment­ed Amer­i­cans. Crit­i­cal­ly, Sanders rejects the immi­gra­tion reform mod­el of the George W. Bush and Oba­ma years, in which estab­lish­ment politi­cians increased depor­ta­tions and mil­i­ta­rized the bor­der in a bid to gar­ner right-wing sup­port for a path to cit­i­zen­ship that nev­er passed.

In fact, Sanders has said he would use exec­u­tive actions to reverse this trend, no con­gres­sion­al approval nec­es­sary — by plac­ing a mora­to­ri­um on depor­ta­tions, offer­ing per­ma­nent pro­tec­tion to many undoc­u­ment­ed immi­grants and rais­ing the refugee cap — end­ing the long-stand­ing bipar­ti­san war on ille­gal immi­grants” that main­streamed nativism. Notably, his leg­isla­tive agen­da includes a bold new pro­gram for cli­mate refugees.

Sanders’ immi­gra­tion pol­i­tics reflects his movement’s max­i­mal­ly expan­sive def­i­n­i­tion of the Amer­i­can peo­ple. His pledge to final­ly pro­tect LGBTQ peo­ple from dis­crim­i­na­tion in hous­ing, the work­place and pub­lic accom­mo­da­tions does the same. Anoth­er exam­ple is his pledge to not only sup­port abor­tion as a legal right but make it freely avail­able through Medicare for All.

Sanders’ uni­ver­sal­ism extends to the fight against the mass social death imposed by mass incar­cer­a­tion. Polic­ing and pris­ons have been used to dis­ci­pline, con­trol and ware­house poor peo­ple, espe­cial­ly com­mu­ni­ties of col­or, pushed to the mar­gins under neolib­er­al­ism. The major­i­ty of pris­on­ers are incar­cer­at­ed at the state lev­el, so what a pres­i­dent can do is lim­it­ed. But Sanders can still make change, includ­ing by reform­ing the fed­er­al sys­tem. While Sanders should do bet­ter and shift his posi­tion to sup­port sex work decrim­i­nal­iza­tion, his plans are sol­id: He seeks to end manda­to­ry min­i­mum sen­tences, with­hold mon­ey from states that refuse to end cash bail (which incar­cer­ates peo­ple for being poor), grant vot­ing rights to pris­on­ers and triple spend­ing on indi­gent defense. Impor­tant­ly, he pledges to end pro­grams like 287(g) and Secure Com­mu­ni­ties that have turned local law enforce­ment into proxy ICE agents. Sanders’ agen­da is com­pre­hen­sive­ly about our free­dom from boss­es, debt, land­lords, ICE and pris­ons — and from fos­sil-fueled cat­a­stro­phe, which is the free­dom that guar­an­tees all others.

Unions remain the unri­valed vehi­cle for build­ing work­er pow­er, but Democ­rats have long failed to deliv­er for orga­nized labor. Sanders’ com­mit­ment would be with­out prece­dent: He pledges to dou­ble the num­ber of union mem­bers dur­ing his first term.

Sanders backs neglect­ed Demo­c­ra­t­ic goals like card check — the abil­i­ty to form unions with a sim­ple major­i­ty of work­ers’ sig­na­tures — as well as mea­sures to make labor actions more pow­er­ful, like ban­ning the per­ma­nent replace­ment of strik­ers and allow­ing sec­ondary boy­cotts,” in which work­ers in a labor dis­pute pres­sure oth­er com­pa­nies to stop doing busi­ness with their employ­er. What makes Sanders unique is his track record and our trust he will actu­al­ly fight for workers.

Sanders’ labor plan also stands out with mea­sures to bol­ster work­er pow­er broad­ly. End­ing at-will employ­ment would mean that work­ers could only be fired for just cause, uni­ver­sal­iz­ing a cor­ner­stone of union con­tracts. Insti­tut­ing wage boards would allow unions to work togeth­er to push wages up across an indus­try, rather than fight­ing out con­tracts with indi­vid­ual companies.

Impos­ing addi­tion­al tax­es on cor­po­ra­tions cor­re­spond­ing to their CEO-to-work­er pay gap would pro­gres­sive­ly raise tax rev­enue while curb­ing inequal­i­ty. Giv­ing work­ers the right to buy a com­pa­ny if it clos­es, moves abroad or goes up for sale would tame hyper-mobile cap­i­tal. End­ing stock buy­backs would redi­rect cap­i­tal from investors and CEOs to work­ers and pro­duc­tive invest­ments. Allo­cat­ing work­ers at large com­pa­nies con­trol of 45% of board seats and 20% of shares would pro­vide labor with new levers over cor­po­rate gov­er­nance and check one of the key dri­vers of wealth inequality.

In addi­tion to these leg­isla­tive goals, Sanders pledges to sign an exec­u­tive order plac­ing a mora­to­ri­um on all pen­sion cuts and anoth­er end­ing gov­ern­ment con­tracts to com­pa­nies that take a vari­ety of anti-work­er actions. As Sanders told a crowd of union mem­bers in War­ren, Ohio, near the recent­ly shut­tered Lord­stown fac­to­ry that pro­duced the Chevy Cruze: If enti­ties like Gen­er­al Motors think that they can throw work­ers out on the street while they’re mak­ing bil­lions of prof­it, and then move to Mex­i­co and pay star­va­tion wages and then line up for fed­er­al con­tracts, they’ve got anoth­er thing coming.”

Trans­for­ma­tive change often depends on dis­rup­tive mass move­ments: Work­er strikes in the 1930s cre­at­ed mas­sive unions and forced the fed­er­al gov­ern­ment to pro­tect them, the 20th-cen­tu­ry Black free­dom strug­gle broke racist South­ern politi­cians’ stran­gle­hold, the gay lib­er­a­tion move­ment erod­ed oppres­sive mores and defend­ed the lives of HIV-pos­i­tive peo­ple, and the immi­grant rights move­ment suc­cess­ful­ly curbed Obama’s deportations. 

Today, young peo­ple are com­ing of age at a moment when neoliberalism’s legit­i­ma­cy is in tat­ters from the 2008 cri­sis. The Great Reces­sion revealed the sta­tus quo as frag­ile and intol­er­a­ble, and Occu­py Wall Street, rad­i­cal immi­grant rights activists and Black Lives Mat­ter demand­ed a new pol­i­tics in its place.

One of the most unusu­al aspects of Sanders’ rhetoric is his will­ing­ness to speak about how bro­ken Amer­i­ca is for so many: the bills that nev­er end, the debt that accu­mu­lates, the cor­po­rate intru­sion into every facet of life. As Bri­ah­na Joy Gray, Sanders’ nation­al press sec­re­tary, said on her pod­cast Hear the Bern, Bernie ral­lies are so pas­sion­ate because Bernie artic­u­lates more clear­ly than any oth­er can­di­date that the prob­lems fac­ing every­day Amer­i­cans are not the result of lazi­ness or fail­ure to work hard; it’s because sys­tems have been rigged to ben­e­fit the rich at our expense.” Speak­ing that truth is a pre­req­ui­site for transformation.

Gen­er­a­tional expe­ri­ence is the motor of this new class pol­i­tics: With lit­tle chance of upward mobil­i­ty, many young peo­ple are hell-bent on some­thing new and bet­ter, evi­denced by the Demo­c­ra­t­ic Social­ists of Amer­i­ca becom­ing the largest and most con­se­quen­tial social­ist orga­ni­za­tion in over half a cen­tu­ry. The Left is win­ning elec­toral vic­to­ries, from rad­i­cal dis­trict attor­neys in Philadel­phia and San Fran­cis­co to six social­ists on Chicago’s city coun­cil. Teach­ers strikes have soared, and health­care and hotel work­ers have walked out in large num­bers, too.

Peo­ple are always befud­dled in the ear­ly stages of a move­ment,” says Frances Fox-Piv­en, co-author of the clas­sic Poor People’s Move­ments: Why They Suc­ceed, How They Fail. They don’t rec­og­nize that it’s there. But it is here … teach­ers, nurs­es, ser­vice work­ers gen­er­al­ly are in strike mode. When­ev­er there’s a major move­ment, it, in a sense, is con­ta­gious.” Fox-Piv­en empha­sizes how rad­i­cal move­ments and politi­cians need one another:

[BLOCK QUOTE] Dis­rup­tion doesn’t work unless there is a kind of elec­toral res­o­nance. A bloc of elect­ed politi­cians [can] inspire the pro­test­ers because it’s scary to be dis­rup­tive, dan­ger­ous. And it real­ly helps if you have polit­i­cal lead­ers who are echo­ing and enlarg­ing the demands of the pro­test­ers. That gives morale to the protest move­ment. They think they can win. It’s also true that the exis­tence of an elec­toral bloc like that is impor­tant in restrain­ing repres­sion. And final­ly, if the pro­test­ers actu­al­ly win some­thing as a result of the dis­rup­tion that they cause, they have to have peo­ple in posi­tions in gov­ern­ment to fash­ion the con­ces­sions. So there’s a con­stant feed­back between the protest move­ment and their elec­toral bloc. [END BLOCK QUOTE]

The con­gres­sion­al bloc we need is emerg­ing in embry­on­ic form with lead­ers like Oca­sio-Cortez and Reps. Ilhan Omar (D‑Minn.) and Rashi­da Tlaib (D‑Mich.), all of whom have endorsed Sanders. Oca­sio-Cortez exem­pli­fies how move­ments can win elec­toral pow­er and, in turn, strength­en move­ments: She came to polit­i­cal con­scious­ness because of her expe­ri­ence work­ing in the ser­vice indus­try, vol­un­teer­ing on the 2016 Sanders cam­paign and sup­port­ing indige­nous anti-pipeline water pro­tec­tors at Stand­ing Rock.

While we have a plan and while we have an agen­da to pass a Green New Deal, to pass Medicare for All, to make pub­lic col­leges tuition-free … the thing is that these poli­cies are not self-enact­ing,” Oca­sio-Cortez told a Sanders ral­ly in Coun­cil Bluffs, Iowa. The only way that we achieve and become an advanced soci­ety is not through a tech­no­crat­ic pol­i­cy pro­pos­al, but through a polit­i­cal rev­o­lu­tion of work­ing people.”

I asked Fox-Piv­en if this wouldn’t be rather hard to achieve. Very dif­fi­cult,” she con­firmed. The move­ments have to take on the fos­sil fuel indus­try and the finan­cial sec­tor. This should make you gulp because they’re both pow­er­ful — and in the case of fos­sil fuels, des­per­ate — indus­tries. But that’s our only path out of extinc­tion, isn’t it?”

It’s clear that a rad­i­cal pres­i­dent can shift a party’s cen­ter of grav­i­ty: Repub­li­can pub­lic opin­ion— on immi­gra­tion, Rus­sia, the FBI—has rapid­ly moved to align with Trump’s views, and Repub­li­can politi­cians have large­ly done the same. A Sanders pres­i­den­cy would polar­ize the nation­al debate in a sim­i­lar way, pres­sur­ing Demo­c­ra­t­ic leg­is­la­tors to side with their leader over the inevitably fanat­i­cal Repub­li­can opposition.

In fact, Sanders’ move­ment is already doing just that: No sin­gle fig­ure or force aside from Trump has done more to reframe the terms of Amer­i­can pol­i­tics over the past four years.

Sanders’ polit­i­cal rise emerged from (and accel­er­at­ed) a cri­sis of the cen­trist lib­er­al estab­lish­ment. Wit­ness the elite pan­ic and per­son­al arro­gance that has sent Deval Patrick and Michael Bloomberg rush­ing in to relieve and replace Joe Biden, their tot­ter­ing stan­dard-bear­er. Still, while the old world is dying, its replace­ment with some­thing bet­ter is not inevitable. A grow­ing num­ber of col­lege-edu­cat­ed white vot­ers, for instance, are turn­ing to May­or Pete Buttigieg, a for­mer McK­in­sey con­sul­tant whose only con­sis­tent belief is in his own great­ness. When Sanders insists that we need to not only defeat Don­ald Trump, but to take back our democ­ra­cy from the cor­po­rate elite,” he is draw­ing a line in the sand and indict­ing the sta­tus quo: If Democ­rats aren’t with the peo­ple, then they’re stand­ing against them.

Effec­tive left pop­ulism requires a vision of the peo­ple and their ene­my. This movement’s ene­mies are the few: a greedy and patho­log­i­cal­ly destruc­tive bil­lion­aire class; the fos­sil fuel, phar­ma­ceu­ti­cal, insur­ance and finan­cial indus­tries. By con­trast, the peo­ple con­tains mul­ti­tudes: a diverse coali­tion of the work­ing and pre­car­i­ous mid­dle class­es. Though pow­ered at present by mass youth appeal, a Sanders vic­to­ry could rapid­ly ener­gize skep­ti­cal Gen X and Boomer vot­ers whose polit­i­cal hori­zons have shrunk under the decades-long neolib­er­al onslaught.

Sanders’ pro­gram uni­fies the inter­ests of work­ing-class peo­ple with­out eras­ing their dif­fer­ences. His deep sup­port in the Lati­no com­mu­ni­ty and the remark­able enthu­si­asm he’s gen­er­at­ed among Mus­lims illu­mi­nate the con­tours of a poten­tial realign­ment that puts those most demo­nized by the xeno­pho­bic Right at the core of a pow­er­ful Left. His Octo­ber 2019 Queens, N.Y., ral­ly with Oca­sio-Cortez empha­sized the eth­i­cal basis of a polit­i­cal coali­tion root­ed in love and sol­i­dar­i­ty: Take a look around you, and find some­one you don’t know,” Bernie told the crowd. Maybe some­body who doesn’t look kind of like you. Are you will­ing to fight for that per­son as much as you’re will­ing to fight for yourself?”

Sanders’ plan to win the gen­er­al elec­tion in red states like West Vir­ginia like­wise holds out the pos­si­bil­i­ty that a mul­tira­cial work­ing-class coali­tion can sub­vert the social divide. When Sanders was asked whether West Vir­ginia Sen. Joe Manchin or Mon­tana Sen. Jon Tester, both cen­trist Democ­rats, would vote for his pro­grams, his response was blunt. Damn right they will. You know why? We’re going to go to West Vir­ginia,” Sanders told CNBC. Your aver­age politi­cian sits around and he or she thinks: Let’s see. If I do this, I’m going to have the big mon­ey inter­ests putting 30-sec­ond ads against me. So I’d bet­ter not do it.’ But now they’re going to have to think, If I don’t sup­port an agen­da that works for work­ing peo­ple, I’m going to have Pres­i­dent Sanders com­ing to my state and ral­ly­ing work­ing-class peo­ple.’” That’s not fan­tas­ti­cal. The work­ing class in West Vir­ginia is rest­less, with a wild­cat teach­ers strike shak­ing the state in 2018 and spark­ing fur­ther walk­outs in Ari­zona and Okla­homa. A recent poll shows that a full 69% of West Vir­ginia vot­ers con­tin­ue to sup­port teach­ers strik­ing for high­er pay. The leg­isla­tive agen­da of any Demo­c­ra­t­ic pres­i­dent depends on a seis­mic polit­i­cal shift in enough red and pur­ple states that Democ­rats cap­ture both the House and Sen­ate, and remak­ing the elec­toral map requires deep­en­ing these move­ments’ pow­er. Sanders has already used his cam­paign data­base to push sup­port­ers to the pick­et lines and could lead a far more mas­sive mobi­liza­tion from the Oval Office. As soci­ol­o­gist Bar­ry Eidlin notes, FDR’s sign­ing of a 1933 law pro­tect­ing unions helped spark mass labor orga­niz­ing in the 1930s, even though the law had no prac­ti­cal enforce­ment mech­a­nism. Imag­ine the pow­er of a pres­i­dent using a prime­time address to offer his sol­i­dar­i­ty to a strike wave. It would be his­toric — and transformative.

Sanders promis­es to reshape the glob­al order by exer­cis­ing U.S. pow­er in pur­suit of nego­ti­at­ed geopo­lit­i­cal set­tle­ments — above all, on the envi­ron­ment. And nowhere does an Amer­i­can pres­i­dent have more con­crete pow­er than in the realm of for­eign pol­i­cy and nation­al security.

Unlike Eliz­a­beth War­ren, who has no sub­stan­tive cri­tique of Amer­i­can empire, Sanders has straight­for­ward­ly denounced the mil­i­tary-indus­tri­al com­plex, has long vot­ed no on defense bud­gets, and stands alone in his con­sis­tent sup­port for mak­ing the Unit­ed States a part­ner to Glob­al South strug­gles. In the 1980s, Sanders stood in sol­i­dar­i­ty with Cen­tral Amer­i­can rev­o­lu­tion­ar­ies against the Rea­gan administration’s bloody sup­port of oli­garchs. Recent­ly, Sanders cheered the release from prison of Lula da Sil­va, Brazil’s for­mer Work­ers’ Par­ty pres­i­dent, and quick­ly denounced the Novem­ber 2019 coup in Bolivia for what it was.

The poten­tial a pres­i­dent has to uni­lat­er­al­ly reorder the glob­al pow­er sys­tem has been demon­strat­ed by none oth­er than our cur­rent pres­i­dent. His behav­ior has been so errat­ic that Sau­di Ara­bia is report­ed to have qui­et­ly reached out to Iran, hedg­ing against the pos­si­bil­i­ty that they might one day be unable to rely on U.S. mil­i­tary pro­tec­tion. Imag­ine what might be pos­si­ble if Sanders, a relent­less crit­ic of the Sau­di roy­al fam­i­ly and the war it leads against Yemen, pushed for a nego­ti­at­ed set­tle­ment among rival region­al powers.

Sanders could like­wise pro­vide unprece­dent­ed hope for tip­ping the bal­ance in favor of the Pales­tin­ian lib­er­a­tion strug­gle. Though imper­fect on the issue, Sanders has bro­ken with the pro-Israel bipar­ti­san con­sen­sus more than almost any mem­ber of Congress.

U.S. for­eign pol­i­cy has long been dri­ven by nation­al secu­ri­ty con­cerns that in real­i­ty reflect not any nation­al inter­est” but rather the inter­ests of major cor­po­ra­tions and the nation­al secu­ri­ty state’s con­ven­tion­al wis­dom. In 2015, Oba­ma advis­er David Axel­rod called Sanders tin-eared” for his repeat­ed asser­tion that cli­mate change was the great­est threat to nation­al secu­ri­ty. The Wall Street Jour­nals Peg­gy Noo­nan called him slight­ly daffy.” Some peo­ple laughed in 2015 when Bernie said cli­mate change is the most seri­ous nation­al secu­ri­ty chal­lenge we face,” says Matt Duss, Sanders’ top for­eign pol­i­cy advi­sor. No one’s laugh­ing now.”

As Sanders has stat­ed, Our end­less entan­gle­ments in the Mid­dle East have divert­ed cru­cial resources and atten­tion” away from address­ing cli­mate change. Instead of more war, Sanders pledges $200 bil­lion for the Green Cli­mate Fund to help the Glob­al South adapt to the cli­mate emergency.

U.S. will­ing­ness to com­mit to deep emis­sions cuts is a pre­req­ui­site for con­vinc­ing oth­er nations to do the same, as inter­na­tion­al cli­mate nego­ti­a­tions are gov­erned by a log­ic akin to that of nuclear dis­ar­ma­ment: No one wants to go first and be left vul­ner­a­ble. Chi­na must be con­vinced that a rapid tran­si­tion will not under­mine its econ­o­my. Poor coun­tries across the Glob­al South must be assured they will not sim­ply be denied the fruits of fos­sil-fueled devel­op­ment already enjoyed by the Glob­al North.

Sanders was clear about that at the Sep­tem­ber 2019 cli­mate town hall: I think we need a pres­i­dent, hope­ful­ly Bernie Sanders, that reach­es out to the world — to Rus­sia and Chi­na and India, Pak­istan, all the coun­tries of the world — and says, Guess what, whether you like it or not, we are all in this togeth­er, and if you are con­cerned about the chil­dren in your coun­try and future gen­er­a­tions, we’re gonna have to work togeth­er. And maybe, just maybe, instead of spend­ing a tril­lion and a half dol­lars every sin­gle year on weapons of destruc­tion designed to kill each oth­er, maybe we pool those resources, and we work togeth­er against our com­mon ene­my, which is cli­mate change.”

Neolib­er­al­ism has divid­ed us across bor­ders and atom­ized our per­son­al lives, lead­ing us to blame our­selves for prob­lems caused by a rigged sys­tem. This moment demands a new pol­i­tics that unites us to con­front our shared ene­mies and trans­form our soci­ety. Sanders con­sis­tent­ly argues, Beat­ing Trump is not good enough.” This is an under­state­ment. The world quite lit­er­al­ly depends upon a polit­i­cal rev­o­lu­tion. And only Sanders has a plan for that.

This sto­ry was pro­duced in col­lab­o­ra­tion with Jacobin.

This was one of two cov­er sto­ries of In These Times’ dual-sided Jan­u­ary issue. For a com­ple­men­tary per­spec­tive, read the alter­nate cov­er fea­ture, What an Eliz­a­beth War­ren Pres­i­den­cy Would Look Like,” by Kath­leen Geier. [< – CHRIS INSERT LINK]

The views expressed in this piece are the author’s own. As a 501©3 non­prof­it, In These Times does not oppose or endorse can­di­dates for polit­i­cal office.

Daniel Den­vir is the author of All Amer­i­can Nativism (forth­com­ing from Ver­so) and host of The Dig, a pod­cast from Jacobin magazine.
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