The current prediction is simply unimaginable. Not because Bernie Sanders is incapable of winning the popular vote in the Democratic Party primaries. And it is plausible that a majority of the voters may be attracted to his integrity and his social program. But the first big stumbling block will appear at the national convention, which will be dominated to a certain extent by the captive delegates of a party bureaucracy that views him with suspicion and antipathy. This first obstacle will be a difficult one to overcome.
Strictly speaking, the greater challenge would start in the direct struggle with Donald Trump. The extreme right in the U.S. seems to feel comfortable with an opponent like Sanders. Apparently, they are convinced that his insistence on democratic socialism, as well as his New Deal project (for the 21st century), will scare off the core of the mainstream and end up reducing his campaign to that of a testimonial candidate.*
Yet nothing is written in stone. In 2015, when Trump started his implausible campaign rooted in anti-Mexican rhetoric, his ratings were at almost zero. The same thing happened with the Brexit campaign in England. Nobody knows better than these right-wingers that, at this moment, the more eccentric (that is, ex-centric, outside of the center) the candidate, the greater the chances of winning. The reason is simple. Politicians who experience the institutions of politics seem to become permeated with a growing burden of mistrust, uncertainty and arbitrariness. Trump is not going to escape this cloud. For his part, Sanders is counting on looking like the opposite. He has served in practically all of the establishment’s elected offices imaginable, but has never failed to derive his legitimacy from the social causes and movements that are in opposition to precisely that establishment. This is a unique case in U.S. politics, especially because of its leftist orientation.
And what would happen if he were to succeed in winning the presidential election? This question leaves out the most important thing: the campaign itself. That’s where alliances, compromises and boundaries are defined that can establish the character of a presidency for years.
Nevertheless, two tendencies can be seen that could turn his candidacy into an authentic break with the history of the United States. The first is quite obvious. Because of his supporters, because of his democratic socialist discourse, because of his own determination not to abandon social causes and the defense of gender and immigrant rights, a left-wing coalition could define national policy in the United States for the first time. The other tendency, much less visible, is what could give him the victory. The highly privatized nature of education, health care and the social safety net hinders U.S. industry in competing today with economies like those of China, Japan and Germany. Costs of production in the U.S. are simply too high. If the government were to assume part of these costs (rather than an ever more parasitic private banking system) industry probably would regain its previous success. It is possible for Bernie today to split the historic bloc that emerged from Reaganism. The question is whether he can do it.
What would happen in terms of relations with Mexico? We don’t know that either. Sanders is not a fan of the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (at least not in its current version), nor of facilitating immigration. On the other hand, the agreement represents the only option for the establishment to abandon its current state racism and for Washington to intervene against the massive exports of small arms. This is the only way Washington can weaken its ties with organized crime in Mexico – which it in fact promotes. In our country, it would open up real options for social reform that would close the book on the neoliberal era, provided there are local forces to take up the task.
There is one aspect of Sanders’ campaign that must be emphasized. A few days ago, CNN reported a new poll which asked two questions. First, would you approve of a socialist president in the White House? And second, who are you thinking about voting for in the presidential election? When Sanders appeared on the program, he was asked about the poor result for the first question. (Only 27% said yes.) When Sanders turned this around, asking about the result of the second question, this same commentator was surprised to discover that, in the poll, Sanders won the election by a wide margin.
In the post-truth era today, people trust neither ideas nor parties. So, that leaves only the idea-men and the idea-women, which is not really good news. But that’s the way it is. Sanders will have to elaborate on his own version of socialism, one which is quite different from the one we inherited from the 20th century. It will not be easy for him, although U.S. society would be capable of doing much to preserve its appearance of hegemony. It should not be forgotten that Rome ended up adopting Christianity, the religion of its adversaries, for the sake of preserving the empire.
In any event, we will be awaiting an exciting and edifying crisis among our northern neighbors.
*Translator’s note: In Argentine politics, so called testimonial candidates have historically been well known, popular national figures who are placed on the ballot to attract votes for their party, with no intention of taking office should they be elected.
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