Like the Man Said: the Only Thing We have to Fear is Fear Itself

Americans are really, truly hungry for deep, lasting change.

Over the last decade many of us have realized that America’s politico-economic system does not work for regular people any more. Things once easily within reach of the middle class — owning a house; getting a college education; access to affordable, effective healthcare and childcare — increasingly seem impossible to attain. Increasingly, the American system has rewarded the common man’s hard work and playing by the rules with the constant threat of financial ruin, and when we complain, the powers that be tell us that there’s nothing to be done about it.

While the great masses of ordinary Americans drown, the billionaire class loudly demands and regularly gets from our government trillions of dollars in tax cuts, business subsidies and other financial benefits, the supposedly deserved reward for being the nation’s “job creators.” Consequently, their share of America’s collective wealth has soared in recent decades to astonishing, undreamed-of heights, as has their control over the levers of government and the ease of breaking the law in pursuit of corporate profit.

So here we are: we have lost our democracy to a class of oligarchs, the Michael Bloombergs, Donald Trumps and Koch brothers of the world. They now rule our country, not we the voters.

People in the rest of the world have rioted in the streets over far less, but here in the world’s oldest democracy, we just shrug and go about muddling through as best we can, convinced that we are powerless.

Recent circumstances, though, have opened the door to a major upsetting of apple carts in America, and they may result in one of the most exhilarating seasons of change this country has seen since the 1930s.

The election of the brazenly corrupt Donald Trump has emboldened America’s oligarchs to loudly, proudly and openly declare for the first time their intentions to seize control of America, strip it bare and sell off the remains for parts. For the first time in living memory, a majority of Americans has come to clearly see our governing system’s filthy corruption and deliberately designed dysfunction. We finally can see that we are not at all the democracy we thought we were (something people of color have been trying to tell us for decades).

Luckily, a November election is swiftly approaching. This is our chance to fight back, not merely to nip this burgeoning oligarchic mafioso state in the bud, but to re-establish America as a truly liberal democracy with liberty and justice, for once and for all. To pull this off, we’ll need a program of reform and rebirth like the New Deal and a stable of committedly progressive leaders to guide it to fruition.

Thankfully, we do have progressive candidates who are chomping at the bit to bring about big change. At the presidential level, for instance, we have Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders, and as I write these words, election returns in the Democratic caucus in Nevada shows that Sanders is crushing it big-time. Sanders’ victories in the last three statewide primary contests have given him such tremendous forward momentum that some pundits believe this messenger of change has a really good shot at winning the nomination. There’s some bad news too, though: a large number of Democrats, even of Bernie fans, are too afraid to vote for him.

This is a serious mistake for so many reasons.

Let’s start with the fears about the messenger. Conventional wisdom holds that giving the nomination to the “socialist” candidate Bernie Sanders would scare off potential moderate Democratic votes in the general election. Lots of people think Bernie is not electable, and can’t beat Donald Trump in November, so many Democratic primary voters who favor Bernie have decided to vote for moderates instead.

This is maddening, because Sanders’ actual chances for winning the Democratic primary and the general election are good and getting better daily. Poll results by Real Clear Politics for general-election contests between Trump and each Democratic primary contender puts all six in the black, with Sanders in front. In The Atlantic, Peter Beinart wrote last week that in a recent Monmouth University poll, Sanders’ popularity among Democrats stood at 71%, higher than all of his primary opponents. The Quinnipiac poll organization recently said that Sanders’ popularity among moderate and conservative Democrats is 43%, higher than Joe Biden or Mike Bloomberg’s popularity among liberal Democrats.

But, but, but, people will protest, what about the “socialism” thing? Well, this is not an empty concern. We all have heard about opinion polls that show the strong American distaste for “socialism,” and we’ve all seen the hand-wringing social media memes foretelling empty story shelves, creeping police-statism and ignorant, dishonest nonsense like that. Other polling I see, though, show high support for policies many people label “socialist,” such as universal health care, universal basic income, paid maternity leave, etc. In my honest opinion, Americans may dislike “socialism” in the abstract, but they like “socialist” policies, sort of in the same way that people disliked “Obamacare” but approved of “the Affordable Care Act.”

Frankly, we’re all just quibbling over words, and considering that people dislike Bernie’s “socialist” label but support his “socalist” light policies, I wouldn’t even worry about this issue.

Now, about the substance of change itself.

Watch what establishment pols and pundits of both parties and in the media say about Bernie’s candidacy after each primary victory. These guardians of the status quo are clearly in a panic over discovering this fox in their henhouse, and they have shifted into hyperdrive to crush the revival of a just democracy in the cradle.

Every day, the squishy moderates and conservatives of both parties (including some of Bernie’s Democratic opponents and their followers) sow panic, cynicism and defeatism in Democratic ranks, and, sorry to say, they do so successfully.

Every day, they blast away at the goals for which so many of us hunger. We can’t get Medicare for All, they say. We can’t get an assault weapon ban. We can’t get paid maternity leave. We can’t elect true change candidates like Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren: they’re unelectable. Never mind that Trump has minority support below 50%, he’s got the Trump voodoo on us. We can’t get the non-voters to get up and fight. We can’t win. We won’t win.

No, we can’t! No, we can’t! No, we can’t!

But yet, Bernie Sanders is winning primary after primary. “Something is happening in America right now that does not fit our mental models,” said Time editor Anand Giridharadas on MSNBC Sunday morning. “You have someone talking about … genuine deeper democracy, popular movements, human equality … and winning elections in the United States of America … I think this is a wakeup moment for the American power establishment … Many of them are behaving … as they face the prospect of a Bernie Sanders nomination like out-of-touch aristocrats in a dying aristocracy.”

I think that progressives can and are winning this election, but standing in between us and real change is the fear, despair and cynicism in our own heads. When President Franklin Delano Roosevelt spoke to the nation in his first inaugural address in March 1933, he recognized this: “Let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself — nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance.” So it is with the America of 2020.

So, clear your heads. Stop listening to the naysayers and don’t be afraid. Be courageous, friends. Fashion your vision for a better America and work for it. Fight for it. Don’t settle for anything less, because as Franklin Delano Roosevelt said in his first inaugural speech in 1933, “This nation is asking for action and action now.”

So let’s get out there, people. Don’t be afraid. Just do it.

Research historian, published writer/author, copy editor, photographer, world traveler. Oh yeah … I’m an archaeology fan, too.

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