In a political landscape ruled by good faith, Bernie Sanders’ almost adorably earnest political messaging would draw MAGA freaks to him like a tractor beam.
Sanders, after running the two most important presidential campaigns in American history, is still the only major political figure (politely) raging against our brutal, soulless oligarchs and corporate looters with their fangs sunk so deep into the working and middle classes, we don’t even know they’re there. Just as Bernie’s unfailingly good-faith politics was excellent for exposing the emptiness and utter vacuousness of the Democratic Party in all its carefully-calculated centrism, his continued good faith in calling out the oligarchical plundering of the United States in this, our late-stage capitalist hellscape, has exposed the glaring bad faith of the Trumpist right.
Sanders last week gave an interview with Fox News castoff Chris Wallace in which he said, in no uncertain terms, that no American should be permitted to have a billion dollars. Our plutocrats would have to learn how to get by on $999,999,999, as Sanders told Wallace when Wallace pushed back on the idea that every dollar over one billion would go directly to the federal government, which has been systemically starved of money by a series of criminally irresponsible Republican tax cuts over the past two decades. How can someone create jobs if they do not have a billion dollars, Wallace asked Sanders with a straight face.
Hawking his latest book, It’s OK To Be Angry About Capitalism, Bernie has pushed the concept that billionaires should not exist in the only way he knows how: With the good faith of a child who has not learned to lie, with a straightforward and plainspoken manner designed to appeal not just to upper-middle class liberal latte-sippers, but salt-of-the-earth working class folks who have given up on politics as a mean of improving their lives in the richest nation in human history.
The disastrous effects of class dealignment – perhaps the most important and disturbing political phenomenon of the 21st century – has given Republicans a chance to cosplay as working class heroes, fighting the elitist libs and the woke corporations in defense of the working man, the forgotten man, the man who wants to guzzle his after-work Bud Light knowing no trans person is doing the same. And naturally, bad-faith leftists have joined the choir. They outright dismissed the Democratic Party after generations of failing working people and looked to the GOP to take up the mantle. They never considered, for whatever reason, that both major political parties are hopelessly beholden to capital.
In the aftermath of Donald Trump’s 2016 victory over the decaying corpse of the Democratic Party, the Republican Party was trumpeted as a Workers Party; the GOP was seen in some respectable political circles as the future of working-class politics just because millions of extremely racist poor folks had backed Trump. Never in the history of human civilization has the faith been so bad. The most ferocious defenders of capital’s supremacy suddenly started talking like avowed socialists emerging from the jungle, cigars in mouths and guns in hand, bent on toppling the economic order. Because poor voters freaked out by Democrats’ support of queer people flocked to Trump, Republicans got to bathe in the bad faith of working class politics. It was perhaps the most disingenuous moment in my political life.
As if you, a Bad Faith Times reader, needed proof that Republicans-as-working-class-defenders was indeed some bullshit bad-faith posturing, consider the party’s first action after seizing the White House (in what may or may not have been a free and fair election) and retaining both chambers of Congress (through laser-guided gerrymandering): Passing an eye-watering, butt-clenching tax cut for their wealthy buddies, just as they did in 2001 after George W. Bush was appointed president by Sandra Day O’Connor.
In what was perhaps the most overtly corrupt bill ever sent to the president’s desk, Republicans in the House and Senate slashed tax rates for the richest of the rich, ensuring America’s wealthiest families never have to give a dime to the government. Through a change in the estate tax – given the bad-faith moniker of the “death tax” by plutocratic monsters in the Republican Party – the GOP tax cut eliminated a key tool in redistributing wealth (just a little bit) in our increasingly unequal society. The average American taxpayer in the top 0.1 percent would net about $200,000 a year in tax breaks, thanks to the Republican giveaway. The average American family, meanwhile, would see less than $1,000 in tax savings.
Bernie, among other left-wing lawmakers and activists, has long been vexed by Democrats' unwillingness to talk about the GOP's criminal tax cuts.
Right now [there are] elderly people who are really struggling, they’re struggling to keep their homes warm in the winter, to buy prescription drugs…very important issues for senior citizens. And yet you’ve got a Republican Party that wants to repeal the estate tax; give a trillion dollars in tax breaks for the top one tenth of the 1%. That’s what they want to do. Give massive tax breaks to the very, very richest people. And then they think we can’t afford to maintain decent policies on Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid. Now why aren’t Democrats talking about it? Go out and ask them. I don’t know. I think that’s insane not to be talking about it.
The $1.5 trillion tax bill, via tweaks to the child tax credit, Affordable Care Act policy, and mortgage interest deduction, was an abject disaster for working and middle class families, many of whom lined up to vote for Trump to stick it to the libs. The 2017 Republican tax cut for Jeff Bezos and Elon Musk were the opposite of what an actual workers party would do once in power, and worse, Musk still can’t find a t-shirt that fits even with the extra cash. It’s all so tragic.
When The Faith Was Nightmarishly Bad
Take it from me, a disillusioned Obama-bro-turned-Bernie-bro: It was terribly difficult in the run-up to the 2016 election to explain your typical Trump-Bernie voter to a Hillary Clinton dead ender. How could someone be torn between a fascist strongman who spoke glowingly of neo-nazis and a socialist Jew who wanted to nationalize the healthcare industry and send tax rates for the rich into the stratosphere? How could someone – anyone – consider casting a vote for Donald fucking Trump or Bernie Sanders?
It always made sense to me: Folks disenchanted with the designed unresponsiveness of the U.S. political system wanted only to shove a stick of dynamite down the throat of said system. These voters did not care what else Bernie or Trump stood for; they simply wanted someone from “outside the system” (this is arguable for both men) to implode the system and start anew. They wanted an end to the openly corrupt status quo that had made their lives and the lives of their children much worse over the decades. Through destruction of the system they hated, there could be renewal, a necessary reset in a time of upheaval. If Trump wanted to imprison children at the border and play footsies with nazi Proud Boys and appoint judges programmed to roll back the 20th century, so be it.
The existence of the Bernie-Trump voter in 2016 was toxic for socialism’s brand in the United States. After vanishing during the heady days of neoliberal consensus – personified by the figures of George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton – socialism had emerged once again as a (somewhat) viable alternative to the crushing misery of late-stage capitalism, which, by 2016, had created a hollowed-out society in which most Americans were living a precarious life, one missed paycheck away from financial catastrophe. This precariousness, of course, has only accelerated in the interim.
Against all odds, Bernie in 2015 and 2016 had shoehorned democratic socialism into the national discourse. Polling showed young folks with an increasingly positive view of socialism – hardly a stunner after capitalism had failed them at every turn. It was all very new for liberals of a certain age, and seeing dudes – and yes, they were mostly dudes – agonizing over Trump or Bernie tragically came to define socialism for these centrists. Bernie talked a big game about universal health care and free college and beefing up Social Security. Trump, knowing what working-class racists want, talked a decent populist game too. That made them the same in the eyes of millions of well-meaning liberals.
Taking Trump’s lead, Republicans have been forced to adopt the language of a so-called workers party because their good-faith talking points steeped in the ludicrous notion of meritocracy and unfettered capitalism and rugged individualism no longer holds sway over their political base as it did in the 80s and 90s and early 2000s.
The Reaganite horseshit of yesteryear was rejected by voters – failing to excite the right-wing base – in 2008 with John McCain as the party’s begrudging presidential candidate and in 2012 with Mitt Romney as the party’s leader. And it’s once again being spat out in Ron DeSantis’ old-school run for president. Meatball Ron is touting cuts to Medicare and Medicaid and Social Security as if it’s the turn of the century; he's speaking to an electorate that no longer exists. Rank-and-file Republicans don't have the stomach for conservative good-faith austerity politics. They want it all: A robust social safety net for them (and only them) and a government that will persecute marginalized groups and empower citizens to terrorize these groups until they do not exist or are too afraid to operate in public view.
DeSantis only understands the latter (more accurately, his billionaire puppet masters pay him to understand the latter). Trump understands the former. That’s why DeSantis is going to get his skull beat in during next year’s Republican debates.
Bernie’s messaging should appeal to anyone who trades their labor for money. And it should draw working-class Republicans if they’re serious about the federal government taking real steps in creating dignified lives for them and their loved ones. Anyone serious about restoring some semblance of upward mobility in the United States should support socialist politicians, for there is no other way to balancing the scales. If right-wing populism had even a droplet of good faith, it would gravitate to Bernie Sanders and his politics of economic struggle and hope.
The right's populism is not in any way real, however. Any sort of pro-worker babble from Republican lawmakers is merely pretext for achieving a fascist vision of society in the 21st century: One defined by fear and paranoia, one in which you work or die, one in which the worst living humans reap the spoils of late-stage capitalism and all its deadly inequalities, one that has no place for Bernie Sanders' good faith.
Follow Denny Carter on Twitter at @CDCarter13.