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Bernie Sanders Promise

Bernie Sanders supporters listen to their candidate speak during his rally at the University at Buffalo, New York. (Derek Gee/Buffalo News)

Although I am an older white male voter brought up in a working-class family, there is nothing appealing to me in the sexist, racist, and xenophobic rhetoric of Donald Trump. Rather, I am drawn to the campaign of Bernie Sanders and his analysis of the economic inequality that plagues our society. As I observe the enthusiasm that the Sanders candidacy has generated among young people, I find myself speculating about who votes for Trump. And after some thought, it occurred to me that my deceased parents might have been attracted to the Trump candidacy.

My father was semi-literate, having dropped out of primary school during the Great Depression. He was the hardest working person I have ever known, and he worked himself into an early grave. My mother earned a high school diploma, and was initially a stay-at-home mother caring for two children, but my father’s poor health forced her into the labor market. With the benefit of a G. I. Bill mortgage, they were able to purchase a modest home. Nevertheless, they lived in constant fear of losing their jobs, health care, and home. The pace of cultural and social change during the turbulent 1960s, and its impact upon their children, only increased their insecurity.

The Presidential campaign of Donald Trump is based upon the exploitation of such fears which have only been exacerbated in recent years by growing economic inequality, the out-sourcing of American jobs, military intervention in the Middle East that places the burden of service primarily upon the sons and daughters of the working class, the bail out of corrupt bankers in the aftermath of the 2008 Great Recession, and the increasing power of corporate wealth over the political process.

Trump, however, offers no fundamental reform of an economic system dominated by billionaires such as himself. Instead, he employs demagoguery to exploit the frustrations of his white working-class constituency against such scapegoats as Mexican immigrants, Muslims, women, and as he is often fond of saying “the blacks”—for Trump began his recent political career as a birther challenging the legitimacy of Barack Obama to occupy the White House.

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Similar to Moses, Sanders may not be able to make it to the Promised Land in 2016, but his campaign demonstrates that Americans of a younger generation, unlike my late parents, are open to fundamental restructuring of the system and moving beyond demagogic scapegoating.

Of course, Trump is a member of the very billionaire class that exemplifies the economic inequality plaguing the nation, but there appears to be a sense of deference for this wealthy man who was born into money and knows how to manipulate the system. My assumption is that a combination of fear, deference, and demagoguery might have attracted my parents to Trump.

Yet, as many pundits have noted, Bernie Sanders has appealed to many of the same disaffected white working-class voters. But the difference is that rather than focusing upon scapegoats, Sanders offers a fundamental class analysis of the American economic system and advocates a restricting of trade policies and the banking and tax policies that would tackle the stranglehold of big business upon the political process while expanding health care and college availability for all Americans.

Much of the agenda pursued by Sanders would likely have appealed to my parents, but my father was probably too much a product of Cold War America to get around the socialist label. Many young people, however, are less burdened by historical labels and are open to the type of systematic changes pursued by the Sanders campaign.

Similar to Moses, Sanders may not be able to make it to the Promised Land in 2016, but his campaign demonstrates that Americans of a younger generation, unlike my late parents, are open to fundamental restructuring of the system and moving beyond demagogic scapegoating.

Combining greater attention to issues of institutional racism and greater equality of opportunity for LGBTQ citizens to the class analysis of Sanders offers considerable hope for a better future that would address many of the insecurities which made life so difficult for my parents and other hard-working Americans.

ron briley

Ron Briley