"What I'm not trying to do is just pass legislation. I'm trying to change the face of American politics."
Pull these words out of the context of "the news" and let them pulse like the heartbeat of the future.
The words are those of Bernie Sanders, of course -- engaged last week in a confrontational interview with Chris Matthews. Free college tuition? Matthews loosed his skepticism on the presidential candidate, who pushed back:
"You and I look at the world differently. You look at it inside the Beltway. I'm not an inside the Beltway person."
"But the people that vote on taxes are inside the Beltway," Matthews retorted.
"Those people are going to vote the right way when millions of people demand that they vote the right way on this issue. I have no doubt that as president of the Untied States I can rally young people and their parents on this issue. . . . As president of the United States, I would have the bully pulpit. What I'm not trying to do is just pass legislation. I'm trying to change the face of American politics."
I listen in disbelief and feel hope percolate as poll results come in. This week Sanders triumphed in my wounded home state of Michigan, confounding the media and political status quo yet again. Is this really a revolution emerging from a presidential race?
That's not supposed to happen. And I find myself skeptically embracing the possibility, spurred by the near total cynicism and intentional cluelessness of the mainstream media. For the past half century, the American media, in collaboration with the military-industrial corporatocracy -- the Beltway -- has delivered up issueless presidential campaigns to the American public. Business as usual, in all its manifestations, is not to be disrupted. Until now.
Something uncontrolled is happening in American politics. Trump supporters raise their hands in pledges of brand allegiance and the ghost of fascism smirks. America's racists, so marginalized all these years, converge at the edges of his campaign, knowing that his "disavowal" of the Klan is a wink-wink, nudge-nudge sort of thing. He's their man. Allegedly respectable Republicans convulse.
Among the Dems, Sanders is bringing democracy to the disaffected, calling not for slivers of social fairness but a full-blown re-emergence of the New Deal, in defiance of the Democrats' post-Reagan allegiance to compromised ideals. He's standing up for the sovereignty not of Beltway politics but of working-class America -- the people! -- reopening the door of participatory politics and declaring that the American government should not be for sale.
I'm so close to believing in the revolution -- in this reclamation of the United States of America.
At a recent debate, a woman in the audience asked Sanders: "Do you think God is relevant?"
He answered yes, to serious applause, explaining: "What we are talking about is what all religions hold dear, and that is to do unto others as you would like them to do unto you. . . . I believe morally and ethically we do not have a right to turn our backs on children in Flint, Mich., who are being poisoned or veterans who are sleeping out on the street. . . . I want you to worry about my grandchildren and I promise you I will worry about your family. We are in this together."
And the Golden Rule enters the presidential race and I stand in awe of the potency of this ethical imperative. It's the opposite of the spectator idiocy of "my guy is better than your guy," the state to which the media has reduced American democracy.
If the Golden Rule is not simply a personal but a political principle, we cannot wage war. And knowing this, I can't think about social fairness without feeling a shattering sense of despair . . .
"The United States launched a series of airstrikes on an al-Shabab training camp in Somalia on Saturday, killing more than 150 militants and averting what a Pentagon official described as an 'imminent threat' posed by the group to both U.S. and African Union troops stationed in the war-torn country."
As Glenn Greenwald put it, reflecting on this latest impersonal news about dead bad guys: "We need U.S. troops in Africa to launch drone strikes at groups that are trying to attack U.S. troops in Africa. It's the ultimate self-perpetuating circle of imperialism: We need to deploy troops to other countries in order to attack those who are trying to kill U.S. troops who are deployed there."
And here's the beginning of an open letter written by four former U.S. Air Force drone operators, which they sent last November to President Barack Obama, Defense Secretary Ashton Carter and CIA Chief John Brennan: "We are former Air Force service members. We joined the Air Force to protect American lives and to protect our Constitution. We came to the realization that the innocent civilians we were killing only fueled the feelings of hatred that ignited terrorism and groups like ISIS, while also serving as a fundamental recruitment tool similar to Guantanamo Bay. This administration and its predecessors have built a drone program that is one of the most devastating driving forces for terrorism and destabilization around the world.
"When the guilt of our roles in facilitating this systematic loss of innocent life became too much, all of us succumbed to PTSD. . . ."
Changing the face of American politics is a profound, unfathomably difficult undertaking, but it's nothing at all if it doesn't begin with the Golden Rule. And this rule cannot be selectively applied.
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Robert Koehler is an award-winning, Chicago-based journalist and nationally syndicated writer. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit his website at commonwonders.com.
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