The hope and the hate in the US electoral race

Rally for Bernie Sanders in Los Angeles.

Vince Emanuele, a former Iraq veteran-turned-anti-war activist and journalist, spoke to Green Left Weekly's Pip Hinman about how Bernie Sanders' socialist campaign for the Democrats' presidential nomination -- an Donald Trump's hate-filled Republican campaign -- is shaking up politics across the United States. Emanuele is a presenter at The Progressive Radio Network and is a correspondent for Latin American news outlet TeleSUR.

The interview took place before the full outcome of the Super Tuesday races were known. Far-right Republican candidate Donald Trump and Democrat establishment figure Hillary Clinton both won seven out of 11 states. However, Sanders' wins in four states keeps him in the race — and his vote held up strongly among his key support base of young people and Latinos.

Trump's success has been hailed in the media, while Sanders has been written off. However, Trump won 35% of the votes cast in the Republican caucuses (in a five-way race) while Sanders won 38% of votes cast in the Democrat race (in a two-way race).

Sanders faces a tough, but not impossible task, while Trump, although clearly ahead, won just 28 more delegates than his closest rival Ted Cruz (237 to 209).

Below, Emanuele looks at the significance of Sanders' campaign, which has placed socialist ideas on the map, as well as Trump's, based on disturbingly far-right racism and bigotry.

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Bernie Sanders is shaking up politics in the US with his campaign piercing Wall Street and the 1% and calling for wealth redistribution — including a higher minimum wage. How is the Democratic Party machine responding?

The Democratic Party is responding in predictable fashion: the party infrastructure and establishment leaders are lashing out at Sanders and supporting the neoliberal establishment candidate, Hillary Clinton.

This was all quite predictable. The Democratic Party is actually much less democratic than the Republican Party.

If you read between the lines, you'll see that an insurgent candidate with virtually no support from his party's establishment — Donald Trump — has been able to garner more victories within the Republican machinery than Bernie has been able to within the Democrats.

The Democratic Party also has people who are called “super delegates” (party leaders). They account for 15% of the Democratic primary vote and can support whomever they please, regardless of how the people vote.

It remains to be seen whether or not the super delegates would throw their support behind Clinton in the unlikely event of a virtual tie, but that's not beyond the realm of possibility.

Here is the fundamental problem with electoral politics in the US — the two-party system. Both parties are corrupt to the bone. Both are capitalist-imperialist parties and both misuse state power and resources.

The US electoral system is one of the most convoluted systems in the world: its legal structures and internal mechanisms make it almost impossible for alternative parties to succeed.

The mainstream media has been focusing on Trump and the schisms within the Republican Party. But the Democrats are also in serious trouble.

Democrats are not showing up in overwhelming numbers this primary season and there are serious splits within the party — as Sanders' campaign has proven. In fact, the Republican Party is turning out significantly more voters than the Democrats during this year's primaries.

People are ready for something different. That much is clear. But what will it be? Neoliberalism? Fascism? Left alternatives?

After all, less than 60% of eligible voters are likely to bother showing up in November. And who could blame them, if they are given a choice between a neoliberal or a fascist?

Not only are people within the parties upset, at least 40% to 45% of people can't find a political party or individuals who express their concerns and desires, so they don't vote. These things tell you a lot about US society, culture and its political system.

Bernie Sanders is receiving a lot of support from young people and women. Can you explain why?

Younger voters in the US generally vote for more progressive candidates, so that's a natural constituency for Sanders. The same is true for women, particularly single women who overwhelmingly vote for more liberal candidates.

Some of Clinton's surrogates, including Gloria Steinem and Madeline Albright, have tried to use identity politics to shame younger women for supporting Sanders, but it hasn't worked. In fact, the backlash they received for doing so was quite severe.

There is a clear generational divide: younger women are supporting Sanders, while older women support Clinton. However, the class divide is even clearer: women who are making serious money overwhelmingly support Clinton, while those who are poor, working or middle-class support Sanders.

At the same time, Black women of all ages and income brackets overwhelmingly support Clinton. The racial and ethnic divides within the Democratic primaries illustrate larger divisions that exist on the broad left.

Our movements are fragmented and often operate in cultural, ethnic, racial and geographic silos. If the left hopes to be successful, this issue must be addressed and deliberately rectified.

There is a lot to discuss with regard to race and politics in the 2016 election, but suffice to say that race plays a fundamental role in everything that happens in the American political scene.

What is the attitude of union leaders towards Sanders? And is it different from the attitude from the ranks?

Unfortunately, the unions that have officially endorsed a candidate in the Democratic primary have overwhelmingly endorsed Clinton over Sanders. But this isn't surprising.

For the most part, unions have been playing the same failed game, and for decades: they choose the safe and moderate to right-wing candidate over the genuinely progressive candidate in the hope that by doing so, the safe candidate will grease the wheel.

This game is played almost to perfection in Chicago where unions routinely support neoliberal candidates. But there are cracks in the foundation. The rank-and-file union members in Chicago and around the US are becoming restless.

It's estimated that 20% of union members would be willing to support Trump over Clinton in the general election. Some of this is driven by racism and xenophobia — no doubt about it.
However, there are also those who support Trump because he's against sending working-class kids to useless wars. Trump is also opposed to the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP), otherwise referred to as NAFTA on steroids (as is Sanders).

Clinton supported the war in Iraq and flip-flops on trade deals. In fact, no one really knows where Clinton stands on any number of issues as her positions have constantly morphed over the years.

Hence, union members are flocking to Trump and, even more so, to Sanders.

Can you expand on the reasons Sanders is getting less support from the older African America communities than Clinton, but younger ones are supporting him.

I would argue that this problem is much bigger than Sanders' campaign. For instance, in the Chicago mayoral race, Mayor Rahm Emanuel, a neoliberal who served under both Bill Clinton and Barack Obama, was overwhelmingly endorsed and supported by not only the major unions in the city, but also by black alderman and women and Black clergy. This resulted in the majority of Black voters choosing Emanuel over his challenger Chuy Garcia.

The Democratic primary race is more complex and national in scale, but some of the same elements are in play.

Sanders represents a state, Vermont, which is 96% white. It's one of the whitest states in the entire US. He doesn't have many Black political leaders backing him, nor does he have many Black allies within the Democratic political establishment.

Thus he lacks the support needed to challenge the Clintons, who have decades of relationships with Black political leaders and communities.

However, there was also a calculation made early on by the Sanders campaign that they were going to target working-class whites in a way that Obama wasn't able to.

Interestingly, Sanders is garnering support from the very people — poor whites and working-class whites — who supported Clinton in 2008 in her failed primary race against Obama. Many of those who preferred Obama over Clinton in 2008 now support Clinton.

Yes, Sanders is making some connections with young Black voters. But overall, he still lacks significant support.

For example, here's the exit polling data for Black voters in the Democratic primary at the Super Tuesday elections: 18-29 years of age — 59% voted for Clinton; 30-59 years of age — 85% voted for Clinton; 60 and over — 93% voted for Clinton.

Can you explain how the movement for Bernie Sanders has derived from the Occupy Wall Street movement?

To me, there is a clear connection. The dominant narrative after the Great Financial Collapse of 2008 was austerity and deficits. The Tea Party astroturf movement was born in 2010 and the right-wing reactionaries gained even more power in US Congress.

Then, in February 2011, students occupied the Wisconsin State Capitol building in response to anti-union legislation that was being pushed by the Koch brothers and their lackey in the Badger State, Governor Scott Walker.

Those protests culminated in more than 120,000 people marching on the Capitol. Unfortunately, that movement moment was neutered by the unions and Democrats, who co-opted the uprisings and redirected that energy into a failed recall campaign. That pitted a useless conservative Democrat against the highly funded Tea Party Governor.

Again, this was another lesson for young activists: play with the Democratic Party and you will not only lose, your previous efforts will be squandered. The state of Wisconsin has yet to recover and Governor Scott Walker remains in office.

Seven months later, the Occupy Wall Street movement was born in New York City. The national conversation changed after the initial Occupy protests. Instead of focusing on deficits and austerity, it became income inequality and the broader economy and political system.

Without question, Sanders can thank Occupy for opening that door.

Interestingly, these anti-Wall Street sentiments are also shared by a good portion of Trump's supporters. In fact, a recent survey suggests that 20% of Trump's supporters and slightly less of Sanders' supporters would be willing to vote for either candidate if one of them gets the nomination.

What do you think Trump's support represents, or means for politics in the US?

It's nuanced. On the one hand, Trump appeals to our worst fears and prejudices. His racist, sexist and xenophobic comments are completely unacceptable, and many of his proposed policies with regard to immigration, China, Mexico and so forth, are utterly insane.

Importantly, the rise of Trump has also empowered the most radical right-wing groups — white supremacists and hyper-nationalist groups are on the rise and overwhelmingly support Trump.

On the other hand, Trump opposes the TPP; he opposed the war in Iraq; he wants friendly relations with Russia; he sees no reason to be in Afghanistan; he thinks the US should stop fuelling militaristic efforts in Syria; he's been critical of NATO's intervention in Libya; and he refused to name Israelis as the “good guys” and Palestinians as the “bad guys” when asked at the most recent Republican debate.

These phenomena are not unique to the US. Take France, for instance. The far-right National Front does well in former leftist enclaves: rust belt areas, manufacturing towns, rural farming regions and so on — areas where communists and socialists once thrived.

Today, the right-wing dominates the political landscape in those places. When the Left can't properly organise the working-class, fascist elements will always thrive.

After Super Tuesday, it's looking like Trump will be the Republican nominee, though we'll see if he can muster the votes needed. Many establishment Republicans are threatening to vote for Clinton.

If that's the case, it begs the question: do these establishment figures actually care about stability and society, or are they worried that Trump won't toe the party line?

If you're a Mexican immigrant, was it better to have George Bush in office or Barack Obama? After all, Obama deported more immigrants than Bush did during his tenure.

At the same time, Bush sent thousands of working-class Latino immigrants to fight and die in an illegal war.

Could it be that Clinton will actually cause more damage because she'll have the full support of the establishment? We'll see.

Sanders has talked about the limits of any election campaign in the US, but is also seeking to use his campaign to build social movements. Are his supporters getting more involved in grassroots campaigns?

Well, this is the predicament for Sanders and his supporters: Bernie's campaign is taking place under the umbrella of the Democratic Party, so it's very difficult to create long-lasting social movements within that framework. The same was true of Obama's 2008 campaign.

Yes, Sanders' basic message is more progressive than Obama's, but it also lacks a critical perspective on the US Empire. Sanders' foreign policy, in fact, isn't drastically different than Obama's foreign policy, though he has spoken critically about US “regime change” plans.

Yet, at the same time, Sanders encourages Saudi Arabia, one of the world's worst human rights violators, to “get their hands dirty” in the war against ISIS. He supports Israel and the war in Afghanistan.

One of the problems is that we don't have an anti-war movement in the US, so there's no pressure on Sanders to even change his rhetoric on these issues.

Yes, the war in Iraq is unpopular but the idea that the US Empire should be dismantled is not up for serious debate. Like most electoral campaigns, I think some people will remain engaged while others will go back to living non-political or apolitical lives.

But a lot of people first become involved with politics through campaigns. My first political act was to vote against George Bush while I was stationed in Iraq in 2004. At the time, I was 20 years old. From there, my political views became more radical. By 2008, I viewed Obama as a conservative candidate, so that gives you an idea of how fast people can change.

If Sanders' campaign can be useful in that way, great. In the end, Americans must remain engaged in non-election years. That's where the real action takes place. If half of the people who voted were engaged in political actions other than voting, we would be much better off than we are today.

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