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Bernie Sanders Can Beat Trump

I had the pleasure of being Ed Wilde’s neighbor in the ‘90s, when we were both downtown entrepreneurs. He owned Jackson Street Books, and I owned Frontier, which was then down the hill from his charming store. I always enjoyed running into him and his wife, Sue, and respect their thoughtful and worldly perspectives. But I sorely disagree with Ed’s assessment (in the Apr. 13 Flagpole) of how Bernie Sanders would fare in the general election should he prevail in the primaries.

I would rather be torn apart by wild animals than cast my lot with any Republican, so I will certainly support Clinton should she be the Democratic nominee. That said, I can’t let Ed’s arguments against Sanders go unanswered.

Ed dismisses polls showing Sanders’ advantage over Clinton against any Republican nominee by suggesting that the eventual discovery by voters that he’s an old socialist Jew would work against him.

Age? Sanders is only five years older than Clinton and Trump, and can tirelessly command crowds of thousands and crisscross the country (and the globe) like a man half his age.

Faith? Well, there was a time that Kennedy’s Catholicism was considered a liability, and I don’t think the reason Romney lost to Obama in 2012 was that he’s a Mormon. (And it was just the blink of an eye ago that we were discussing the viability of a candidate who wasn’t white. That barrier was broken decisively and twice.)

Ed sees Sanders’ Judaism as a liability, and while I applaud the candidate for thus far leaving religion where it should be left—far away from the campaign trail—I see Sanders’ background as an asset. Who could be a better foil to fascistic Trump or theocratic Cruz than Sanders, who lost much of his family to the Nazis? When Trump talks about registering Muslims, Sanders can speak to the yellow stars that Jews like him were forced to wear and to the pink triangles that designated citizens as gay. He can ask Trump straight up what symbol he’ll use to identify Muslims and how he plans to “register” them, and he can speak with personal, humble authority about the parallels between Hitler’s xenophobia and Trump’s horrific vision for our country. Perhaps it takes a descendant of Holocaust victims to link the Jews, gays, Romas and Catholics slaughtered by Hitler to the Mexicans and Muslims being singled out for persecution today.

We need a leader to enlighten, not cave into and exploit the ignorance of a populace unable to distinguish between communism, social democracy, fascism, plutocracy and theocracy.

Regarding the dreaded label “socialist,” Sanders will inform voters that their grandma’s Social Security check is a form of socialism, that their mentally disabled sister’s disability check is a form of socialism, that the roads they drive on every day and the parks they camp in are products of socialism.

As for “Paul Ryan eating Bernie alive”: All Sanders has to do is remind the voters that a teenage Ryan was all too happy to accept the Social Security benefits that helped him pay for college after his father died at 55. Sanders won’t shy from highlighting that Ryan’s hypocrisy is typical of Republicans, who excel at pulling up the ladder once they’ve climbed it. I think Sanders’ forthright, no-nonsense manner might finally get the message across to people who inexplicably vote for the party that’s spirited away all those desperately needed ladders.

Ed’s right that Clinton’s been thoroughly vetted, which explains her high unfavorables. Rightly or wrongly, she’s despised by Republicans and distrusted by both independents and many Democrats. When the examination of Sanders’ past begins, and Trump calls him a commie for the “crime” of visiting Daniel Ortega, Sanders can point out the hypocrisy of Trump railing against the Iran nuclear deal when it was Republican saint Reagan who sold weapons to Iranian mullahs so he could fund the Contras who raged in Nicaragua. When Trump brings up Cuba, Sanders can point out that while our country’s health and education systems are disasters, not only do the Cuban people have access to health care, but that Cuba provides more medical personnel to the developing world than all the G8 countries combined, and that it was Cuban medical personnel who led the fight against Ebola in West Africa.

Sanders has been derided as ill-equipped to handle foreign affairs, but he’s been prescient about the disastrous effects of American intervention for decades. Not long ago he was mocked for a debate answer that highlighted North Korea as a threat; recent missile launches have proven him prescient once again.

Trump rightly thinks the Iraq war was a colossal blunder (and pretends to have had that insight all along). You can be sure he’ll relentlessly vilify Clinton over her vote to support Bush’s invasion and on her failure to learn from the catastrophe when it came to advising Obama on the overthrow of Libya’s Gadhafi. Trump stands to gain points on that front, but he’s stripped of that opportunity with Sanders, who, like Obama, had the foresight to vote no on the Bush-Cheney debacle that killed millions of innocents and gave our world ISIS.

And while Sanders took the high road and gave Clinton a pass on the matter of the FBI and her email server, you can also be sure that Trump will gnaw at the issue like an OCD dog slobbering over a stripped-bare bone.

Ed cites the elections of 1968, 1972 and 1980 as evidence that progressives don’t stand a chance. He cites the third-party run of Nader as reason to accept the superiority of Clinton’s candidacy. But it is precisely because of the heartbreaking, world-shattering consequences of the 2000 election that Sanders chose to run as a Democrat and not as a third-party candidate. And it is unfair to equate the national mood of today, a mood which has catapulted both Sanders and Trump to the forefront of this race, with races that took place half a century ago.

In 1980, America still had a middle class, college students didn’t graduate saddled with a lifetime of debt, we weren’t deploying our poorest and most vulnerable children to fight endless religious civil wars across the Middle East, and our police weren’t militarized. Our homes and jobs hadn’t been pulled out from under us by bankers who gave themselves bonuses, and we hadn’t had our noses rubbed in our naivety by coke-snorting, hooker-hiring hedge fund managers. And although our planet’s survival should have been an issue then, it sadly wasn’t. Sanders speaks to a different time.

Ed says that we “can’t blame Wall Street and lobbyists and political money for keeping progressive policies from being adopted.” We can’t? Who, then, is to blame? The 95-year-old woman who won’t be voting for her candidate this go ’round because the Supreme Court’s undermined the Voting Rights Act? The family who’s been sickened by water fouled by fracking while, thanks to lobbyists, the oil and gas industry isn’t required to disclose the chemicals they use in the process? The mother frantic to finally get that lump checked out, or the insurance industry lobbyists who, come hell or high water, are gonna keep their CEO’s obscene compensation package intact?

If the desire to earn a livable wage for a week’s hard work, to become educated without becoming impoverished, to leave our children a habitable planet, to see a doctor even if broke, to develop clean energy instead of waging yet another filthy war for Halliburton’s benefit, are “liberal” causes, I’d venture to say a majority of Americans are liberal. But since six corporations control so much of the media, and since gerrymandering has allowed career politicians to choose their voters as opposed to allowing the voters to choose their representatives, it’s hard to be sure that’s true. But true or not, I find it extremely simplistic (and offensive) to blame a regressive bunch of Americans rather than a bought-and-paid-for Congress, a reckless, greed-fueled Wall Street and Citizens United for the crises facing our country today.

This is Bernie Sanders’ message, and I believe that independents and Republicans desperate for an alternative to Trump will hear it. Even Trump’s disaffected followers might be grateful for an out. Sanders will tell them it’s not the Mexicans crossing the border they need to fear, but hypocrites like Trump who himself hires “illegals” when he’s not outsourcing his own manufacturing. Sanders will tell them they have a chance to educate themselves, not at a sham school designed to make an egomaniacal billionaire even richer, but at tuition-free colleges funded by a tax on speculation, on money “earned” through “instruments” devised and traded in air-conditioned towers according to rules written by those who stand to benefit.

Sanders will remind voters that while he “Fights for 15,” they’ve been suckered by a freak who lives in a three-story version of Versailles in the sky, by the fortunate son of a slumlord with the audacity to say that in this country wages are too high. (And though Clinton could surely say the same, the perversity won’t resonate nearly as much coming from someone who made more from a one-hour speech on Wall Street than Sanders did in 2014.)

Does anyone really think that the misogynists who sneer along with infantile Trump over Clinton’s “disgusting” bathroom break are going to be open to her ideas? To them, she’s just part of the establishment they blame for their predicament. (As for Cruz, his only advantage over anyone is relative youth, but that advantage is undercut not just by the repellant ideas he espouses but by his repulsive persona.)

The contrast between Trump and Sanders is profound and undeniable, but their followers share a revulsion for the status quo and a legitimate fear of the future. In my optimistic opinion, Sanders is far more likely than Clinton to coax independents and Republicans into solidarity with progressives. He’s proven himself to be a formidable opponent who, through integrity and intelligence, can excite a broad swathe of voters to stand against the 1 percent. Sanders offers everyone a better future, while Trump offers nothing but his psychologically disordered, petulant self. No contest.