External Affairs

Why People Around the World are Rooting for Bernie Sanders

Bernie Sanders. Credit: Mark Nozell/Flickr CC 2.o

Bernie Sanders. Credit: Mark Nozell/Flickr CC 2.o

The United States is as good a democracy as any other in formal terms but there has been a great amount of despair about the actual control its citizens exercise over the country’s political institutions and policies. Between them, two political parties divide up the US political spectrum, creating a narrow zone of elite consensus within which politics is allowed to play. The stranglehold of big business over election finance, aided by some significant court decisions, helps fix the boundaries of this elite consensus.

But then democracy has a way of throwing up surprises. The 2016 presidential election is different from earlier contests because of the way in which this widely resented elite consensus is being challenged from left and right. In this sense, both Donald Trump, the by-now famous Republican hate-monger, and Bernie Sanders, the challenger to Hillary Clinton’s bid for the Democratic Party’s nomination, represent a similar political impulse. A huge public sentiment, in its primordial form, is trying to defy the limits that the elite consensus affords people – turning the primaries into a battle between elitism and populism.

Populists appeal directly to strongly felt hopes and fears. And it is here that the resemblance between Trump and Sanders ends abruptly. Trump is seeking to make capital of people’s deep fears and anxieties. Sanders, on the other hand, is appealing to what remains of the American people’s hopes of getting a fair and just deal in society.

Sanders presents a simple pitch based on three clear socio-economic issues, and a political one. He promises free healthcare, free higher education (primary education being already free) and a decent minimum wage, for all. He is unhesitant in saying that for achieving these he will indeed raise taxes, though the bulk of the money will come from taxing the top fraction of a percent. And he provides figures to back his proposals. The core political element of his programme is that he promises to ‘really’ clamp down on corporate influence over politics and political funding. The fact that he takes no funds from the big corporates makes his claim credible among voters.

What makes Sanders’ programme attractive to poor and middle class America is the growing inequality in the country. But the humanistic logic of his four key demands is winning him a following even among those who may not be the ‘biggest gainers’ of his proposed reforms – eg. white, college-educated, young men.

If the rest of the world is waiting eagerly for the results of the first Democratic Party primary in Iowa on Monday, it is because of this humanist and idealist content of Sanders’ campaign. The next primaries are in New Hampshire, where the polls show the ‘socialist’ Sanders leading Clinton. Although these are the only two states yet where Sanders is giving such a strong challenge to Clinton – and the latter stays comfortably ahead in country-wide  opinion polls – the results of these first two states have historically given an important boost to whoever wins them.

What Sanders means to the world

Apart from the economic and political influence that it exercises globally, the US has a strong ideological impact on the world too. American soft power has been especially devastating in terms of its export of neoliberal ideology, wherein corporates are the preferred vehicle for economic activity, even in the social sector, with the role of governments relegated to smaller and smaller niches.

If Bernie Sanders becomes the next president of the United States, free health, education, and a decent minimum wage – and a clear message to big business to rein in its economic greed and political aspirations – can be expected to become strong elements of US national policy. This will hit at the very heart of the neoliberal global establishment. It could significantly weaken this establishment’s ideological strength, which it currently packages so well that it has been able to sell it successfully to a very big part of the global population, especially the middle and aspirational classes.

Now, if a font of such an alternative discourse, as anchored by Sanders’s campaign, erupts from the very epicentre of the global neoliberal order, it could have a strong cascading effect. What Sanders demands may already be standard fare in many European countries but social services there are wilting under the pressure of austerity.  For developing countries, making free health and education and decent minimum wages for all the responsibility of the state can become the cornerstone of a new politics.

Of course, the fate of Sanders is not known and one ought not to give the possible result of the presidential election in the US any disproportionate or implausible weight in term of our political futures. Even if it comes to pass, such a favourable result will be the child of its times – with its complex social and political realities – and its possible global impact would also be tempered by that context. But we must remember that politics and history do not follow linear logics. Iowa on Monday may well open a new chapter in the global struggle for a more just and equal world.

Parminder Jeet Singh is with IT for Change, a Bengaluru based NGO

  • Michael Burns

    The author is in Bangalore and I’m in Mumbai. There’s a growing number of us here (Americans and Indians alike) who love Bernie for not only his policies, but what he represents. Obama moved the country in the correct direction but there’s so much further to go. Instead of teaching the world the perils of greed and the importance of nuclear weapons, true progressives (so not Hillary Clinton in other words) dream of a country that showcases fairness and equality as well as the importance of humility and sacrifice if the plaent is going to avoid military and environmental catastrophe.

    • Johnny Slade

      We are trying Micheal, keep the faith in us, and #FEELTHEBERN!

  • goteamben

    I’m a Brit and I’m rooting for Sanders. I find it staggering just how bad workers seem to have it in the USA (and Canada for that matter). The UK’s employment laws are not the most generous in Europe, but as a full-time employee I am guaranteed 25 days of paid annual leave per year, paid sick leave and currently our minimum wage is around $10.50 (and due to rise significantly over the next few years). I also still cannot believe there are millions of people without access to to healthcare in the States or how many of the American people are in prison.

    The USA is a country with unrivalled potential, and it is currently a country that works very well for the very rich (who seem to actually own your government, including Hilary Clinton) but it is not a country that works well for the poor. For the ‘American Dream’ to remain alive, working class people need some sort of basic standard of living as a platform to build on.

    With the support we’re seeing for Sanders (and even the support for Trump, although I think this is misguided) it is clear that large portions of the American people have had enough with the current state of affairs. For those who don’t think a change is needed, I would implore you to have a look at the rights (be they financial, employment-related or social) that other people in other countries around the world benefit from and what a bad deal Americans get by comparison in these areas. Then remember that you are the richest country in the world and it is well within your means to have the greatest society in the world also.

  • Doreen Ellen Bell-Dotan

    It hurts me so that this is not the sentiment in the Israeli
    establishment and every attempt is made to ignore him in the major press in Israel
    and to make Hillary out to be the inevitable contender.
    That says something about the State of Israel and what it says makes me very, very sad.

    • Johnny Slade

      They have to much to lose if they backed Sanders. they have an open check policy with us right now, why take the risk. #FEELTHEBERN

    • demetri

      America is doing the same thing in terms of the major media and press. The super rich and powerful are very scared.

  • Tired_of_poor_healthcare

    There is an awakening of human consciousness taking place worldwide. I believe it emanates from the hearts and minds of the majority of people. In this awakening the majority is realizing several truths: 1) We can achieve world peace, save the planet, and include all the people of the Earth equitably if we work together for fairness and equality for all. 2) Imperialism, oligarchy and sociopathic ideologies world-wide are an impediment to progress toward an equitable and sustainable planet. 3) #BernieSanders has given the awakened masses a place to congregate, share, work and hope. Get involved at BernieSanders.com/events

  • JamesHovland

    Peace is possible, we just have to elect leaders favorable to peace. America has Bernie. Unite for peace.

  • BeJebus

    lol most people around the world don’t even know who he is

    • Pamela Valemont

      They will.

  • VIVEK

    Are germans allowed to vote in US presidentail elections ?

  • Maryce Ramsey

    I’m not sure who this author means when he talks about “the world.” I live in Bangkok and not one person has mentioned Bernie. I don’t think anyone outside of the US (and very few inside) had heard of Bernie before he started running for President. Everyone wants to talk about Trump as in “has the US gone mad?” I work in international development and everywhere I go for work people, especially women, want to talk about Hillary. She traveled more than any Secretary of State and did more on global women’s issues than any one else. I was in PNG last week and the women I worked with there talked about when Hillsry came to PNG. So when the author talks about the “world” maybe he means educated elites like himself.

  • Thunderbuck

    I am Canadian and have been following Sanders’ campaign very enthusiastically. Agreed, the demand for an outsider has been fueled by decades of insider control in the US, and both Sanders and Trump are taking full advantage of that sentiment.

    The most fundamental difference between Trump and Sanders: Trump is running the most cynical, pandering campaign imaginable, while Bernie is running on principles he declared decades ago.

    If anyone’s discouraged by Bernie’s results in last Tuesday’s contests, don’t be. He actually performed ahead of projections, at least as they sat before his Michigan upset, and it’s likely that many of his Ohio supporters cast ballots for Republican John Kasich in an effort to stop Donald Trump. Bernie is actually in pretty good shape as the primaries move to states more favorable to him.

  • BeJebus

    bernie’s out, he just doesn’t have the common sense to lay down. DEAD MAN WALKING!

  • Julie Rafuse

    Canada still supports Bernie and we are not backing down <3