Bernie Sanders might not have won the Democratic nomination for the 2016 Presidential Election, but he won the support of millions of Americans in a campaign unlike any you’ve seen before. He joined Hay Festival to deliver the Eric Hobsbawm Lecture, with not only a full audience, but another tent on site filled to capacity watching it being livestreamed in.
“You cannot make public policy with alternative facts.”
“On virtually every issue, the vast majority of the American people do not agree with President Trump,” he begins as a reassurance, which was met with deafening cheers. “So I want you to go home and rest easier tonight with that knowledge.”
“We must not withdraw into our own worlds,” he warns, taking on the trends of the world. “We must not be America first, or UK first, or France first. We have got to be an international community.”
Before he goes much further, he gets through the formalities of being at a book festival. “Buy the book. It’s a good book,” he laughs. “Let’s talk about Trump.”
“You cannot make public policy with alternative facts,” says Bernie. He takes on Trump’s refusal to acknowledge science and climate change. His shaking up of the healthcare bill that will throw millions off it, while ensuring tax breaks for the top 1%. It’s a reverse Robin Hood, and Bernie and many others are working tirelessly to try stop it.
The USA will not be moved from its democratic values.
It’s no laughing matter that Donald Trump says he’s the only one who is telling the truth. It’s a scary and dangerous situation to discredit the free press, and critics. They’re trying to suppress voters by making it more difficult to vote, create a climate in which it’s an echo chamber all saying the same as Trump, and if they disagree, they are considered the enemy.
The attacks on the media, attacks on the judiciary, the effort to make it harder to vote – Trump is moving their country in an authoritarian direction. The situation that really gets Americans scratching their head is Trump’s fondness of Vladimir Putin, a leader who has violently suppressed democracy in his own country. It goes beyond him: he has such kind words for President Duterte of the Philippines, and the Royal Family of Saudi Arabia – he cannot relate to leaders of democratic countries, but instead is drawn to those with autocratic systems.
They may worry, but as a nation they will not let this regression take place. They have come to far to allow anyone to move the United States away from their democratic traditions and values.
But Trump won. He might not have won the popular vote, but he focused on an area that had been forgotten: a lot of working class, white people had been left behind within the global economy despite the lowering of unemployment and the deficit. They couldn’t afford health insurance, or to send their kids to college. They were worse off than they were decades before. Trump went to them when no one else would and said, “I see you. I hear you.”
“We were prepared to think big.”
Bernie was an outsider. He was never expected to get anywhere on a Presidential campaign, but he struck a nerve with people all over the country. Hundreds showed up, then thousands, then tens of thousands would come see him talk. Money started coming in from working class people, young people, people who don’t usually engage with politics – they raised hundreds of millions of dollars with the average donation being $23. He wasn’t funded by big business – he was funded by the people. And it was on a progressive agenda – “we were prepared to think big.”
He might not have won, but the Democratic party was prepared to accept 80-90% of the ideas they campaigned on, and as he speaks the house are offering legislation that he campaigned on, like raising the minimum wage, guaranteeing family and medical leave, making tuition free. They didn’t win the election, but these are the ideas that America are discussing now, which is a significant victory.
Michael Sheen takes over for questions, noting the parallels with the final stretch of the General Election in the UK. What are his thoughts? Young people, new people – they’ve all got to jump into politics and be involved, and he feels that Corbyn has taken that approach to engage people who have become disenchanted with politics, much like Bernie did. More so, he questions whether it’s appropriate for so few to have so much when so many are working day and night just to keep their heads above water, and admires that Corbyn is trying to redress this and make it a fairer society.
The political divide is where people’s rights lie, and where it’s something to be earned. Healthcare, education, home ownership – some would say it’s a dog eat dog world, and people need to worry about themselves; Bernie is of the belief that we are all human beings and have the same needs, and these needs should be met. “When your family hurts, my family hurts. We need to be there for each other. That’s what democratic, civilised society should be.”
Bernie praises the NHS, refuses to answer whether he’d run for President in 2020 as it’s too early and there’s much to be done today (though we can all hope), and continues to talk on a fairer society. He didn’t win the Democratic nomination, but seeing the reaction he garners wherever he talks, and the topics currently under discussion thanks to his tireless campaigning, instead he’s started a revolution.