Bhaskar Sunkara and Paul Jay discuss the significance of Bernie Sanders remaining competitive in the Democratic Primary
PAUL JAY, SENIOR EDITOR, TRNN: Welcome to the Real News Network. I’m Paul Jay in Baltimore. Super Tuesday. Of course the one big headline is Trump and his jingoism have dominated the GOP field, and he seems on his way to the nomination. Unless, of course, he doesn’t win 50 percent of the vote by convention time, and there’s some kind of brokered convention that takes the nomination away from him, and we then see the split and destruction of the Republican party as we know it. All of this very possible. But at the moment, Trump triumphs. On the Democratic party side, and perhaps the real big story of the night, is Hillary Clinton wins the seven states that she was expected, certainly six of the seven, the Southern states. She, as they say, her black vote firewall holds. She also wins Massachusetts. We’ll get into some of the reasons for that. But Bernie Sanders, who wasn’t even supposed to still be around, and certainly today was supposed to receive a knockout punch by Hillary Clinton, actually wins four states and is very much still in the race. He wins Vermont, Oklahoma, Minnesota, and Colorado. And perhaps that’s the big story of the night, that Bernie Sanders has made big inroads into large sections of the white working class that traditionally would have, in many of these states, voted in a more, with the more centrist, traditional Democratic party candidate. And they have not, as they didn’t in New Hampshire. There are towns in New Hampshire that had been traditionally Clinton loyalists, have broken with that, and something new is happening in these places. To talk about all of this is Bhaskar Sunkara, who is from Jacobin magazine. Thanks very much for joining us, Bhaskar. BHASKAR SUNKARA: Thanks for having me, Paul. JAY: So let’s start with the Democrats, and then we’ll talk a bit about what Trump matters, although they’re very interconnected with each other. What do you make of the fact that Sanders has broken through in a way that certainly the Clinton campaign must be rather shocked about? SUNKARA: Well, it’s funny. Your account sounds pretty much right to me. But if I go on CNN.com or look at any of the other establishment media sources, you would think that Hillary Clinton just pulled some big upset. They’ve created this kind of David and Goliath tale in which somehow a virtually unknown a few months ago 74-year-old socialist is the Goliath, and you know, it’s really just funny to see how this spin has kind of turned this into a huge, huge triumph against the odds for Clinton. But I think one thing is certain: even though Clinton is in a better position than Sanders to win the Democratic nomination, you could tell that people aren’t particularly enthused to go vote for her. Turnout is lower than it was in 2008. She’s not really inspiring much passion in the campaign. The best case that people are making for her seems to be that she’d be in the best position to, you know, contest a Republican in the general election, which isn’t actually borne out by the polling, as we can see. So if I was a, you know, a regular Democrat I’d be very, very worried about the way things were shaping up, just because there isn’t a lot of enthusiasm on the Democratic side. And I think we’ve seen what happened, because the Democrats have been relying on this appeal for years, when the best thing that you have to pitch yourself to voters is that hey, I’m not the other guy, it’s a very hard way to actually inspire people to get out there, especially–. JAY: There’s an interesting mirroring going on in the two parties, in its own–Superman comics Bizarro World. It’s a bit of a Bizarro World going kind of in both parties. Trump clearly has shown that he can engage people, he can draw people into the Republican party who weren’t there before. He’s getting people to vote who haven’t even voted before. He’s making this argument, but–he’s proving the argument that the kind of turnouts he’s getting, the crowds he’s getting. But the Republican elite are terrified of this guy becoming their nominee. One, because I think there’s sections of them that he’s such a loose cannon they have no idea what he’s going to actually do. They lose control of the party. They’re afraid of getting decimated in the national election. But right now he really actually is their best bet. And the Democratic party, there’s something similar. Sanders is proving he’s doing better in the white working class, which is decisive, and in the, in the coming election, than Clinton is. But as much as Mitch McConnell wants to drop Trump like a hot rock if he wins, and they’re actually willing to actually throw in the towel on the White House rather than have Trump, the Mitch McConnell wing of the party, at any rate, I would say the Wall Street backers of the Democratic party are exactly the same way. There’s no way in a million years that they would want to see a Sanders nomination, even if he might do better against a Trump. SUNKARA: Yeah, I think that’s definitely at play. I think the one big difference is that the Republican establishment can plausibly point to Rubio being a better general election candidate than Trump just based on some matchups, whereas there’s really no case that can be made just based on the data that’s been pouring in, not just, you know, my hopes and wishes, that Clinton would be a better candidate than Sanders. But I think part of it is rooted in the fact they’re both speaking to people’s anger. And people are angry for, you know, very good reasons. You know, they’ve suffered from the economic crisis, they’ve suffered joblessness, many of them have lost their homes or came close to it. They’ve had personal relationships have been, you know, put under pressure because of this economic pressure. People are feeling all sorts of anxiety. And for years and years, establishment candidates on both the Democrat and Republican side of things have made these things personal problems, like oh, you didn’t do your best to compete in the new economy, you didn’t get re-skilled. You need to do this, you need to do this. It’s like a personalization of these problems. Now, what we’ve seen from someone like Bernie Sanders is this idea that, you know, these are social problems, not your personal problems, and there is someone to blame for this. And Trump is kind of doing this, too, except obviously Trump is blaming, you know, immigrants and all these other scapegoats, whereas Sanders is actually very plausibly, in my opinion, blaming the very small class of people that control the vast majority of this country and its economic activities. He’s blaming the billionaire class. He’s actually, you know, really naming names, and he’s allowing people this kind of outlet. And you know, I think that in many ways I know some, you know, some mainstream liberals that I know are concerned that Trump, that Sanders might have delivered a fatal blow to Clinton by having a very vigorous primary. But the way I see it, if Bernie Sanders wasn’t in this race a lot of these people would be flocking–if not to Trump, they would just be staying at home and they would be completely dejected and not engaged in the process at all. So you know, I really, I really do think there is something similar they’re channeling. I do think that in a certain way, and not just because I hope it to be true, I think the Sanders demographic, who’s actually turning out, like, a lot of disproportionately young people, I think they’re better positioned to influence the next 10-15 years of American politics than the Trump coalition. JAY: The sort of paradox here is the extent to which the Democratic corporate elite, from whether it’s Clinton or whether it’s President Obama, have failed to solve any of the big problems facing the ordinary American workers, and when you look at the situation of white workers, not only have their wages been stagnant, on the social, cultural front–you go to some areas, like in New Hampshire, the number one thing that ordinary people were talking about was heroin addiction. We see this just outside of Baltimore in white working class towns, where you go and you expect them, that the number one problem they might talk about is unemployment, and it is a problem. But actually, there too they talk about the decimation of their families from drug addiction. And the extent of suicide is very high in the white working class now. And these sections of the white workers that are getting decimated, they blame, and for good reason they blame the liberal Democrats, if the word is liberal. I don’t know if it’s the right, even, word to use. Corporate Democrats I suppose is better. The Clinton years and the Obama years. For good reason. Now, the Bush years, which should be even more to blame, somehow the Republican party has been able to do a magic act where they have nothing to do with those Bush years. You know, they wash their hands of them. They say they weren’t us, they disassociated themselves. And in many ways I think the conditions for that were also created by the corporate Democrats. Because President Obama never went after the Bush-Cheney team, certainly in terms of prosecuting them for war crimes, not just torture but waging an illegal war in Iraq. He spent so much time trying to conciliate with Republicans in the House and in the Senate. My colleagues, he talked about how we have to, you know, we fight with each other but we’re within the 40-yard lines. You would think that party, the Republican party should have been destroyed after eight years of George Bush. But not. And so the way that corporate Democrats create the conditions for the rise of a Trump, of a, you know, of a very dangerous maniacal clown. I said in another interview I quoted Karl Marx, you talk about figures in history repeat themselves, first as tragedy and then as farce. And you know, you have the rise of Reagan as the populist who sells globalization and really launches this massive attack on the living and work–living standards of American workers. And now you have the farce. You have Trump who is trying to take the intensity that American workers are attacked to a whole other level in the name of protecting them from, you know, from immigrants and, you know, Mexicans that are coming to steal their jobs. And that’s the great threat, they’re coming to steal our jobs, except they don’t want to answer the question, why is there a shortage of jobs? And of course, Trump’s very much in defense of that system that creates such high unemployment. We know the limitations of Sanders. You know, his foreign policy still has one foot in Cold War politics. He defends NATO, but is clearly far less an interventionist than Hillary Clinton. And we know his limitation even on economic matters. He doesn’t raise the issue of ownership and who has power. But within the scope of that, there is something going on here, and I think the significance of Super Tuesday is that Sanders is still alive and kicking. SUNKARA: Yeah, absolutely. I think one thing that it really shows, this whole Sanders moment, is that people actually want to be sold on a vision. They want someone who’s going to tell them not just in vague terms, you know, we want hope, we want change, we want this. You know, someone that actually says concretely, you know, we’re going to get you universal healthcare. We’re going to get you a jobs program. We’re going to get, make sure you have childcare to ease that burden off of you. Who actually has, you know, some sort of positive thing to present people. And what I fear is that if Clinton pulls away with the nomination, we’re going to be back in the situation where everyone on the left is corralled to support the lesser evil, where Clinton herself, her appeal is going to be hey, look at me, I’m not Donald Trump. I’m not, you know, a fascist, or whatever else that appeal is. And even if it’s enough to win one election it’s not going to build any sort of coalition, or any sort of possible groundswell that can change American politics in the long term. And I really think that’s a promise of Sanders. It’s not just one campaign, it’s the idea of a constituency inside and outside the Democratic party, kind of Sanders Democrats that are posed to push for these things for the long haul. And our fight, I think for the next couple months, needs to stay within, you know, we’re still supporting Bernie Sanders, we still think that he should be the Democratic nominee. But at the same time, I think people on the left and other progressives need to really get ready for the moment when this has to go–if not beyond Sanders, beyond kind of the prism of just the Democratic nominating process. Because if right now the fearmongering is so strong about, you know, supporting Hillary Clinton and going on this [inaud.] to avoid Trump, imagine the kind of pressure that Sanders would be under in May or June, if he’s getting pressure to endorse wholeheartedly Hillary Clinton. I think it might undo a lot of the good that’s been present in the campaign in the last couple months. JAY: Well, we’ve talked about this before on the Real News. But if Sanders does pick up more momentum, especially in states that are, you know, Hillary’s, you know, is able to play the Obama card amongst black voters, if where he starts hitting more states where that isn’t as significant, and he starts drawing closer in the delegate count, this convention’s going to be rather interesting, because the, will the Sanders voters stick with, as you say, the threat of Trump I guess is always in the wings there. But we might see a split in both parties. We might see a split in the Democratic party, and if you see the split in the Republican party, it may change what happens in the Democratic party. Because if Trump, if the nomination is stolen from Trump in a brokered convention, and the Republican party is in complete disarray, it changes the threat equation, in which case the Sanders people may not be so quick to run to Clinton. We’ve talked and interviewed quite a few Sanders supporters, and I would say it’s a small sampling, but of the people we’ve talked to I would say two-thirds of them, at least at this point, are not–say they won’t vote for Hillary under any condition. SUNKARA: Right. I mean, I think the difference is that, you know, Sanders is not a Trump. He still has, you know, things he wants to do in the Senate. I just, I don’t see him actually pushing this break in the Democratic party. JAY: No, I don’t think it’s, I agree, I don’t think it comes from him, unless they really pull a fast one on him. But the question is, a lot of the movement around Sanders is not because Sanders organized it, it came up quite spontaneously. SUNKARA: Right. Absolutely. And I think–my fear is that it would be more, at least in this cycle, these people not being motivated to vote and not actually being able to present some sort of alternative, electorally or otherwise. But I think, if anything, you know, that’s okay. You know, think about how far we’ve come in the past several months. I think what we’re seeing in the Democratic party isn’t, maybe, like, I don’t think it’s prone for a split or anything close to it right away. But I think we see some of the fissures and some of the tensions. And that’s our goal on the left, I think, to continue to bolster this kind of militant base of people who are voting in Democratic primaries. Some might consider themselves Democrats, some might not. And to really draw the divides between what they want, their wants and aspirations, and what the technocratic elite at the top of the Democratic party want. JAY: And I also don’t think you can underestimate how dangerous all three of the leading Republican candidates are. They really do represent a face of American fascism poised to take over the party, Republican party. I don’t think we’ve ever seen anything like it before. As dangerous as the Clinton militarism is, this face of fascism that you see in the Republican party is very threatening. SUNKARA: Right. But where I would disagree with you, Paul, is that I agree that the Republican party is, ideologically, has moved even further to the right. What I do worry about just the rhetoric of fascism is that I think that plays into the hands of the Clintonites and others that will have us kind of all rally behind Clinton to kind of forestall this kind of rise of, of this ultra-right. And I think in a certain way that discourse doesn’t play to our advantage. I do think there’s something distinctive about the way the Republican party is moving that we should take note of. I don’t think it necessarily resembles fascism. I do think it resembles various forms of right-wing populism that could be, you know, very destructive as well to progressive movements and people, of course. JAY: Well, I’m not worried about the discourse. I’m trying to worry about describing what I think is happening. And it’s an American form of–this kind of overt racism, this is, I think, what’s scaring the Republican elite. So Trump’s, Trump’s language is going beyond any kind of normal American conservatism. You know, the fact that his knee-jerk reaction is not to disavow himself from the Ku Klux Klan and such–. This is, you know, there’s no one type of fascisization. And you know, Hitler was a joke. Apparently they used to make fun of Hitler in the cabarets in Berlin in the late 1920s. So we don’t need to fight over whether we use the word or not, but there’s something specific about Trump is representing a kind of venting, an anger and a racism, overt racism that certainly no mainstream party has ever had before. SUNKARA: There’s definitely something, there’s definitely something brewing. And I do think that, that the path forward of the Democratic party as really a rational left-of-center party that was committed to just winning elections and galvanizing voters and so on, which they’re not, they’re, you know, a centrist party of capital, would be to kind of look at what’s working with Sanders and try to build actual programs and ideas and connect to voters, and present them with kind of a positive vision. JAY: Yeah, I mean, the main point I would make is that Sanders actually has the better, is in a better position with the white working class to fight Trump and this type of reactionary politics than Clinton is, because he can, he can condemn [Sanders] as a member of the billionaire class and go after him as a billionaire. It’s pretty disingenuous when Clinton does it. SUNKARA: Yeah, absolutely. I mean, I think without a doubt Sanders is the best matched up to, to be against any of these Republican candidates. And at the moment, though, I do think that Hillary Clinton would, would probably pull it out against, against Trump. But it wouldn’t be a very resounding victory, because the best, really, she has to offer is that she’s not Donald Trump. And that kind of lesser evil-ism doesn’t really inspire people the way that Sanders’ message has inspired people. JAY: All right. Thanks very much for joining us. SUNKARA: Thanks for having me. JAY: And thank you for joining us on the Real News Night–I was going to say Real News on Super Tuesday night. Thanks for joining us.
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