by Kevin D. Annett
The worst thing to come out of all this is that Bernie Saunders threw away the best chance in the last century to launch a progressive third party in America. We still need to do that, with or without him. -Saunders delegate to the Democratic National Convention, July 27, 2016
I do not want you to follow me or anyone else; if you are looking for a Moses to lead you out of this capitalist wilderness, you will stay right where you are. I would not lead you into the promised land if I could, because if I led you in, some one else would lead you out. You must use your heads as well as your hands, and get yourself out of your present condition. - Eugene Debs, Socialist Party of America Presidential Candidate, 1908
Pundits high and low have already whipped out their political scalpels to dissect the perhaps not unexpected collapse of Senator Bernie Saunders and his more naïve followers into the entrails of the Democratic Party. Such an operation is not only premature but misdiagnosed, for it dwells on a figurehead and not a phenomena.
Forget about Bernie Saunders. What compelled him to betray the hopes of thirteen million progressive Americans is anybody’s guess, and no doubt will be critiqued to death for years by internet commentators who would rather talk than act. What matters to us is what those thirteen million men and women represent, and the future they may embody.
Nothing like those millions has emerged in America since the Populist movement of the early 20th century, when farmers and laborers directly challenged the two big money parties and the financial oligarchs that run them. One of the peoples’ champions of that time, a railway worker from Indiana named Eugene Debs, declared that their movement embodied a fight for the very soul of America. Today’s progressive movement is of the same revolutionary promise because of its potential to unite all marginalized Americans in a massive cross-party force to wrest the nation back from a war-making corporate elite, and to redefine America in the process.
Understand that we are not talking about a new electoral machine but a revolutionary movement to not only reclaim America but transform its very spirit and substance into the free egalitarian society envisioned by the Founders. And like all true revolutions, this one has already been born first in the hearts and minds of the people, to paraphrase John Adams. It has arisen from out of the depths of a great misery and discontent that is sweeping the nation.
The corporate oligarchy’s two political arms – the Democratic and Republican parties – are doing their best to capture that discontent and define it in terms that will serve the Corporatocracy that has replaced the American Republic. It can be argued that Bernie Saunders performed precisely such a service by capturing and channeling some of that popular outrage back into the Democrats.
Regardless, no amount of back room political intrigue can derail a discontent so huge, provided that it finds its own mind, voice and leadership. And therein lies the challenge.
As that keen observer of Americans, Alexis de Tocqueville, observed in his work Democracy in America,
“Americans are constantly excited by two conflicting passions; they want to be led, and they wish to remain free: they strive to satisfy them both at once. They devise a sole, tutelary, and all-powerful form of government, but elected by the people. They combine the principle of centralization and that of popular sovereignty, and console themselves for being in bondage by the reflection that they have chosen their own guardians. By this system the American people shake off their state of dependence just long enough to select their master, and then relapse into it again. Yet he who consents to obey others, who submits his will, and even his thoughts, to their control, how can he pretend that he wishes to be free?”
A people reared to look to authority figures, to live and think vicariously through political “leaders” who are controlled invisibly and beyond their reach, are functional slaves. Regardless of the militancy of their words or program, they are unable to acquire their own outlook and power short of a profound shock that snaps their umbilical chord to the system. Bernie Saunders’ abject surrender to the Democratic Establishment provided such a shock to at least some of his followers, who are searching now for a third party alternative. And yet most of the millions who looked to Saunders to usher in a new America still seem like a gaggle of confused and directionless chickens, if their public remarks mean anything.
Growing up is never an easy thing to do, especially in a culture like ours that instills fear and infantile dependency into all of us from day one. And yet the unquenchable discontent of many Americans remains, and yearns to find its own mature power and expression not defined by the nation’s stale unipolar politics. To do so, their new American revolution must seek out and drink from the source of its vitality: that heart which Alexis de Tocqueville described in 1832:
“I sought for the greatness and genius of America in her commodious harbors and her ample rivers – and it was not there . . . in her rich mines and her vast world commerce – and it was not there . . . in her democratic Congress and her matchless Constitution – and it was not there. Not until I went into the churches of America and heard her pulpits aflame with righteousness did I understand the secret of her genius and power. America is great because she is good, and if America ever ceases to be good, she will cease to be great.”
Rarely is personal and civic virtue a topic in mainstream political discourse, nor is it seen as a necessary preliminary to liberty, as John Adams and other Founders continually stressed. But the truth is that without a moral awakening and the recovery of goodness within and among us, broader social change, let alone revolution, is unimaginable. It was such a revival known as the evangelical Great Awakening of the 1740′s and ’50′s that formed the hearts of the people who made the American Revolution. Then or now, against the brutality of a system gone mad with greed and violence, the sons and daughters of liberty are armed first and foremost by their capacity for goodness: for compassion, a love of what is true, and a refusal to dwell alongside evil and allow oppression and wrong to strike at any one of us.
These virtues form the basis of the program of our new American Revolution, which is rooted in the Natural Law and its three great maxims: No-one is subject to another, no-one has any right to more than another, and none shall do harm to another. When translated politically, these maxims give rise to three corresponding aims of Liberty, Equality and Peace.
By Liberty, we mean nothing less than the restoration of the constitutional Republic of the United States of America and the common law upon which it rests: a Republic in which every man and woman is sovereign and subject to nothing but the common law. To reclaim the Republic, we must disestablish the rule-by-fiat corporate tyranny that runs the government and the courts behind the mask of an American flag.
By Equality, we mean the de-corporatizing of America and an end to the rule of the “one percent”. The financial oligarchy who rule the nation must be as thoroughly dethroned as was King George III, and the wealth of the nation returned to all the people.
And by Peace, we mean the de-militarizing of America and the returning of power to the people through their own citizen militias and courts. An end, in short, to the military-industrial complex and its distortion of America into a permanent war economy and society.
A movement that pursues these goals to the end will win the allegiance of that great unspoken mass of discontented and sidelined Americans, and wrench a broad swath of poor and working people away from the clutches of Republicans and Democrats alike. Such a new alignment around a truly revolutionary third party in America will begin to break the corporate stranglehold and ignite the same flame that defeated the biggest Empire in the world in 1783.
For those who doubt this dream and call it an unwinnable battle, I draw their memories back to 1776 and a remnant few hundred patriot soldiers at Valley Forge, Pennsylvania, caught in a winter as deep as our own. Amidst their own defeatism and despair, a poor immigrant named Thomas Paine proclaimed to them these words that carried forward their spirits and the American revolution to final victory:
“Where others see now only risk, I see opportunity. But those who expect to reap the blessings of freedom must undergo the labor of supporting it. I love the man that can smile in trouble, gather strength from distress, and grow brave from endurance. ‘Tis the business of small minds to shrink from conflict, but he whose heart is firm, whose conscience approves his conduct, will pursue his principles unto death. We have it in our power to begin the world over again.”
Let us search for America in the virtue that rests in the hearts of its people, and the liberty that reaches out from there to claim back the nation that was stolen. Let us begin.