Bean Counters or the Grumpy Guy
My initial reaction to Vox’s February 3, 2020 article, Why some conservatives think Sanders is Trump’s biggest threat, was irritation; it appeared to be another horse race hit piece on why Sanders can’t, or shouldn’t, win. And it is that. But on reflection, and especially given the strong showing Buttigieg and (to a lesser degree) Warren made in Iowa, a deeper, more alarming, and profoundly depressing thought occurred to me.
No, the alarm isn’t because I prefer Sanders to Buttigieg or Warren.
The alarming thought is this: American pundits and voters have not yet grasped the twin dangers we must confront in 2020. There is a vast difference between Sanders’ proposal of Medicare for All and the tinkering a Buttigieg or a Warren might do with Obamacare, but that difference is ghostly pale when held up to the fires of climate change and fascism.
Buttigieg and Warren are technocrats; they’ve been trained to find efficient solutions to bounded problems. We need people like them. But the fascism wrought by Trump and the Republican Party, and the climate change nurtured by generations of Democrats and Republicans, are not bounded problems. They aren’t amenable to efficient solutions.
They are, in fact, great, messy, dangerous issues of the fate civilization that require great, messy vision, experimentation, and perseverance. Democratic voters in Iowa (and the conservatives interviewed by Vox) apparently don’t understand that, so they’re lending support to men and women adept at little solutions, of changes in marginal costs and revenues displayed on PowerPoint slides at quarterly meetings.
Democrats and their conservative sympathizers, it seems, want a managed decline into servitude and death.
Of course, a managed decline is not what they’ll get. Trump’s reelection will trigger a painful slap of gloves-off fascism, and even mild-mannered technocrats will be threatened for their obvious lack of discernment of Trump’s finer qualities.
And climate change . . . Ah, climate change. Climate change is a civilization-defining, existential battle that will not be wrestled into submission by PowerPoint slides. Millions and millions of people will suffer and die. Health care, safe water, nutritious food, sanitation, basic security, and every other good and decent thing will become nothing more than a will-o’-wisp dispersed by a hurricane.
Technocrats may be useful in crafting solutions to discrete issues, but they are incapable of grasping the urgency and magnitude of the problem, much less rallying people to act. “Pardon me, but our leading indicator for carbon improvement is lagging by 7/8ths of a percent, so could you please use your dishwasher less for the next 3.5 days?”
Buttigieg and Warren seem like nice people; I’ve heard Warren speak twice, and she’s more than competent and impressive. I’d enjoy having either of them as neighbors or even legislators. But they are representatives of the technocratic class, which is not capable of vision (read their policy proposals) and bold action, any more than Bloomberg, who represents the billionaire class, is capable of slapping a 90 percent tax on wealth and income over $50 million.
Sanders is a different character. Although his policies have been compared to Roosevelt’s New Deal, Sanders himself is grouchy and unkempt and utterly lacking in FDR’s patrician elegance. And Sanders is decidedly not a traitor to his class. He’s far from perfect, especially on militarism and foreign policy, but he’s been fighting against the capitalist capture of state power his entire career, beginning with his participation in the Civil Rights Movement and continuing through his consistent fight against cuts to social welfare programs. He’s possessed by moral outrage, not Excel pivot tables. He instinctively grasps the dangers of climate change and fascism, and he’s not afraid to marshal the available evidence into urgent calls for action.
Assuming the social movement working to elect Sanders doesn’t collapse if he wins, he’s our best chance of getting immediate action on climate change and reversing Trump’s fascism before one or both overwhelms us.
But let’s not slip into Great Man worship: Sanders, as president, will accomplish much less than is required if left to his own devices. Events intervene. A crisis. Legislative roadblocks litter the highway. It truly is “Us, not me.” If “Bernie’s Army” goes home after the election, Sanders will not have the clout to overcome the resistance of the Democrats and Republicans in the House and Senate. He may be able to accomplish some things using the profoundly undemocratic Executive Order, but that contingency means progressives aren’t serious about confronting climate change, protecting and expanding democracy, reducing inequality, or any other Twitter meme of the moment.
If that is the case, or if someone like Buttigieg and Warren wins the presidency (much less if Trump is reelected with a Republican majority in the Senate), then the republic’s slide toward failure is irrevocable (it began on January 31, 2020). More horrifically, hundreds of millions of people will suffer and die from the effects of climate change.
But, of course, all is never lost. The Democratic bean counters will have all their beans in nice, reusable containers. Appallingly, the people who voted for them will be happy.