I have never been very involved in politics. When I was an idealistic kid with a few liberal tendencies, my parents told me I would grow out of that idealism (and eventually agree with their conservative convictions). As a grew a little older and I began to take on a more conservative viewpoint in some ways, my in-laws told me I would, again, grow out of those conservative ideals. What I’m trying to say is that my political and social ideas were poo-poo’d from both the left and the right, literally and virtually. These events coupled with the incredible problems I’ve observed with our political processes… cronyism, flip-flopping, wasteful spending, and unnecessary military conflicts, led me into a deep, jaded apathy in which I had no interest whatsoever in being involved in politics, especially when it comes to presidential elections.
Over the last few elections, I’ve wanted to get involved, but the options always seemed uninspiring. There is the constant parade of rich, white career politicians. There are the masters of politico-speak who say much and do little. There is the rancor between two groups who say they love our country but whose ability to actually love is in question (in my opinion). There is constant fear-mongering from one side and consistent blind, and unfounded “hope” on the other side (as opposed to the real hope found in Jesus). All of these dynamics simply led me to shaking my head and avoiding the debates and the ballots.
And there’s one significant issue I cannot shake. It’s something I’ve thought about superficially from time to time, but because of the stuff mentioned above, I dismissed it. After all, what can be done about it anyway? This issue of which I am referring is the oligarchial rule into which our government has regressed. If you’re not familiar with that term, here is how Dictionary.com defines it: “a form of government in which all power is vested in a few persons or in a dominant class or clique; government by the few.” Certainly, from a superficial viewpoint, this is not the form of government we employ here i the States, right? In reality, it certainly feels as though this where we are heading if we are not already there. Let me explain…
When I say we have devolved into an oligarchy, I am not referring to the elected officials in Washington as the ruling class. No, I am referring to the groups who deeply influence, if not effectively control, them. I am referring to lobby groups and business interests. I am referring to Super PACs and the like. I am referring to the negative dynamics of cronyism and “tit for tat” government. I’m speaking of billionaires spending millions, if not billions, to ensure their own futures and securities. I am talking about the wealthiest of the wealthy not being taxed appropriately and housing their fortunes in the Cayman Islands where they cannot be taxed. All of these ugly dynamics are being facilitated by politicians who will cut corners and allow themselves to be influenced in order to gain office or reelection.
The pragmatist might say this is simply the way of the world and we must adapt. The follower of Jesus in me says it may be the way of the world, but I don’t have to be okay with it, especially as the disparity of wealth between the ruling class and the rest of us continues to quickly grow. I don’t have to accept that government “of the people, by the people, for the people” (in Abraham Lincoln’s words) is dead (or on life support). I shouldn’t adapt to our developing oligarchy’s rule. I can resist. I can fight. In fact, I feel it is obedience to my Lord to do so. But, who will stand with me? Certainly, among recent candidates for President (and governor, representative, senator, etc…), I’m not sure any of those folks have the moral aptitude and spinal stiffness to do it. And then along comes Bernie Sanders…
Before I go on any further about Senator Sanders, let me say this: he and I disagree about a great number of things. We could not be much more opposed in regard to some specific social issues. I am not nearly as pro-union as he is. We see things differently when it comes to Planned Parenthood. I don’t agree with his take on the $15 minimum wage. So, why would I even consider supporting Bernie Sanders, you ask? Even if you didn’t, I’m going to tell you.
While Sanders and I differ about these important issues, there is still that darned oligarchy issue and there is no single issue as important as this one, in my opinion. And that’s where Sanders and I come together. He is literally the only candidate for President (or any other federal office, honestly) I have ever heard/seen who actually seems to see this for what it is and is willing to stand against it. He is not afraid of the billionaire bullies. He will fight for the poor (which is not an original Sanders idea, by the way… the Bible has a few things to say about this) by confronting this institutional inequity. I believe that. And it’s saying something for me to state that I actually believe what a politician is saying. Sanders seems to stick by his principles. I feel like I can know what I’m going to get from him. Again, that’s saying a lot these days.
Recently, I was involved in a social media discussion about Sanders’ idealism and confronting the oligarchy. One of my friends posted something about how the system is just broken (i.e. there is no easy fix). I completely agree. And yet I know the only way anything changes in the case of institutional injustice is to start chipping away at the power structures in place, confronting the powers that be, and having the courage to stand up to the bullies (i.e. Donald Trump, the Koch brothers, certain union entities, etc.). I believe Sanders has the backbone and will to do just these things.
But isn’t he a socialist, you might ask? Yep. Does that scare me? Not really, and the reason is because, now stay with me here, the United States is already socialistic. GASP! It’s true, though. Functionally speaking, all socialism means is the government intervenes in private entities. Every time the government gives a big company a tax break, that’s socialism. Every welfare check and food stamp represents socialism. The American brand of socialism goes all the way back to the first governmental provision for the poor and disadvantaged. It dates back to the first time government passed pro-business laws.
No, we are not Norway, and we are certainly not Nazi Germany, but we are still socialistic. So, friends, socialism is nothing to be afraid of, especially “democratic socialism” which is greatly distinctive from the “national socialism” Hitler led Germany into in the early 20th century. National socialism is xenophobic, usually racist, and destructive, elevating the state and/or an ethnicity above all others. Democratic socialism still supports and advances government by the people (not just the elite few) and for the people. That’s the brand of socialism Sanders endorses. Socialism and democracy are not mutually exclusive. In fact, they work together pretty well in various countries in western and northern Europe and they can come together in great synergy here in the States.
In the past, I have had some conservative leanings when it comes to economics. As in, “Government, get your hands off of businesses (and my money).” I was a subtle, subconscious subscriber to the “trickle down” idea that the growth of businesses will end up empowering working people. But, with the development of this oligarchy and the growing economic gap in the U.S., it has become apparent to me that such philosophies don’t work. Why? I think it comes down to one word: sin. The apostle Paul wrote these wise words 2000 years ago: “all have sinned and fallen short of God’s glory.” That’s just the truth. And that “all” includes business owners and lobby leaders, as well as you and me. The sinful inclination that lives in all of us calls us to invest ourselves in ourselves only. It beckons us toward selfishness, which stands in direct opposition to love. It leads our governmental leaders and the oligarchy that influences them to do things from improper/self-serving motives. Therefore, “trickle down” economics doesn’t work. It doesn’t empower workers. It doesn’t elevate the working poor. This selfishness creates a dam and a reservoir, so that the stuff that was supposed to trickle down only stockpiles in the oligarchy’s back accounts. Recently, Bernie Sanders quoted Martin Luther King Jr.: “This country has socialism for the rich, rugged individualism for the poor.” I would modify this statement: “This country has empowering socialism for the rich and “barely surviving” socialism for the poor.” This is a problem that must be confronted.
But if the oligarchy are infested with sin and selfishness and can’t be trusted, how can we trust elected officials to do any better? After all, oligarchy has emerged because of the same sin and selfishness in politicians. This is an important point. However, one of the benefits we have on a federal governmentt level is the system of checks and balances instituted by our founding fathers. This system can (and should) lend at least some security to ensure limits to the reign of sin and selfishness in our politicians. Private businesses and lobbyists don’t necessary have the same limitations.
When it comes to Sanders, I just happen to believe he’s not in this for his own gain. He’s got his own sin just like everyone else. But I think he actually wants to serve the country as President… like actually serve rather than be served. That again, is a pretty big thing for me to say in light of my former jadedness.
I believe Bernie Sanders represents the best chance we have in this current election cycle to bring light to these deep-seated problems and begin to address them. This is why I endorse Senator Sanders for President (not that my or Tomme Suab’s endorsement means anything…). I believe his candor and commitment to doing what he sees is right will eat away at the foundations of this oligarchy. Am I concerned about the areas in which I disagree with him? Of course.
But here’s the thing… right now, my voice doesn’t really mean much in light of the dominance of the oligarchy. Our government is now “by the oligarchy and for the oligarchy.” For my voice (and yours) to be heard, for the wishes and needs of most people, not just the elite in our society, to be addressed, we must dismantle the power of the oligarchy. Once we’ve made headway on that, then we can have more meaningful dialogue about other issues. Until then, in my opinion, we the voters need to rally behind leaders who will challenge the oligarchy. Hence, my support for Senator Sanders.
Government by the people and for the people. We can get there again, but it will take courage, resolve, and leaders who will demonstrate those same characteristics.