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Many months ago, soon after I began wearing my “Sanders for President” t-shirt, the questions started coming—the same questions, over and over again: “Why are you supporting him? (He doesn’t stand a chance.) “Why aren’t you supporting Warren?” “What’s wrong with Hillary?”

Sanders Social Order

“It’s about principle.” I’d say. “I’d support Warren if she were running.” “I’m no Hillary fan.”

I don’t get questions these days—and for good reasons. used the words, "eye popping,” to describe the response to Bernie Sanders’ recent West Coast swing. And CNN reported that Bernie topped Hillary by 7 points in New Hampshire (Franklin Pierce U.-Boston Herald poll, Aug. 7-10).

Sanders isn’t talking about change via a policy here, a program there. He’s talking about re-scripting the social order.

There’s hope, at least, hope that people across the country (just like me) want the type of change Bernie stands for. “Type” is the critical word here. Sanders isn’t talking about change via a policy here, a program there. He’s talking about re-scripting the social order.

Yeah, that’s unconventional—and unconventional isn’t easy for lots of people to digest—but we’re at a point where conventional doesn’t cut it. We’ve been there. We’ve done that. It’s just not good enough.

Conventional approaches come in two ways—reforming what’s broken and launching new initiatives. Consider these examples: Eisenhower’s interstate highway system, JFK’s Peace Corps, Clinton’s AmeriCorps, and Obama’s Affordable Care Act. Each initiative is important, a product of political leadership, undertaken for the public good. But we need “something more,” something more comprehensive.

We’ve experienced that type of change three times in this country in the last 75+ years. FDR re-scripted the social order in the ‘30s by responding to economic crisis. LBJ re-scripted the social order in the ‘60s by responding to calls for social change. And Ronald Reagan re-scripted the social order in the ‘80s by initiating a series of policies that enabled the wealthy to rule this country.

Reagan is the reason we need another re-scripting. What he launched continues to this day—a 40+-year assault on Progressive gains of mid-20th Century America. From Social Security to Voting Rights to…you fill-in-the-blank...Reagan and his successors have worked hard to fashion a two-tier society, “The Rich and the Rest.”

The impact is infused in neoliberal programs and institutions that privilege the rich and afford them political influence—not just in Washington and in your state capital—but everywhere, including right in your hometown. They run your businesses; serve on your boards; have their names on the front of your buildings; and donate to your political campaigns.

How did Reagan do it? Taking full advantage of public unease with the Carter Administration, Reagan overhauled the U.S. tax code and lowered tax rates for the wealthy; he privileged corporate America through deregulation; he criticized “big government” as inefficient, wasteful and, in some instances, unnecessary; and he anointed the nonprofit sector as a major vehicle for social programs. Fundamental change in domestic policies as these, combined with an overhaul of foreign policies, became known as “The Reagan Revolution.”

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Reagan’s “hook”—and there had to be a hook to land the general public on his side—was lower taxes for all. Everybody would keep more of our money. Government would get less. Some analysts saw it as “really good” economic policy.

With tax reform and budget tightening in place, government had to recalibrate how much it could do and for what purpose. And that change positioned the wealthy to take charge. They became more prominent—vitally needed, in fact—to fill the gap.

It was a political scheme, plain and simple: put more money in the pockets of the rich and hamstring government. The rich would take charge, deciding how much they’d invest socially and for what purposes. They’d take more control because the public and nonprofit sectors needed their financial support. It mattered less how these people earned their wealth; the more important matter was that they’d spend a portion of their wealth on social purposes. It was perfect script for creating a plutocracy—downsize the impact of government, upsize the impact of the rich. Economic elites took charge.

But there’s more: many Americans—everyday people, too—began “thinking like rich people.” For example, “We built that,” a cry from Romney’s 2012 Presidential campaign, resonated with a lot of folks. And many everyday people still believe in the power of trickle-down (supply-side) economics, coined years ago as “Reaganomics.” The thinking goes like this: low tax rates lead to more business investment, which leads to more employment, which leads to higher wages.

But what’s our reality? Almost all income gains go into the hands of the richest Americans; political campaigns are fueled financially by the super-rich; devastated and racially segregated inner-cities are surrounded by affluent white enclaves; and we have a crumbling public infrastructure.

I could give more examples, but you live them each and every day. It's normal life in America today.

How do we fix all of that? Well, Americans can fool themselves into thinking reform here, innovation there, will suffice. I think it’s too late for either and both. The antidote is to see today’s normal as abnormal; to question business as usual; and to demand another way of engaging—for the public good.

None of this will come easily. That’s because many Americans believe in a script that reads: “What’s good for the wealthy is good for the Commonwealth.” How did that come to be? Ronald Reagan, the actor, was adept at making a script believable. And, as president, he turned a piece of fiction into America’s democratic challenge. Unfortunately, his script has become a long-running play. It's high time for the curtains to come down.

We need a new script in America today. We need a script that speaks truthfully and plainly to all Americans. Otherwise “The American Dream” will remain elusive, accessible to a few, not to the many.

Only Bernie Sanders speaks fundamentally and comprehensively to those matters. That’s why I wear his t-shirt. And the good news these days is ... nobody asks why.


Frank Fear