In an interview with the New York Times for the newspaper’s 2020 Democratic presidential candidate endorsement, Sen. Bernie Sanders spoke about how President Donald Trump has weaponized racism to appeal to many Americans who sense that the political and media establishments have abandoned them in 2016 to win support.
After Sanders spoke at length about Trump’s efforts to “divide the American people up” and “demonize” undocumented immigrants, Times editorial board member Brent Staples asked Sanders why he thinks the president has the support of more than 40% of the public and questioned the senator’s assertion that political and economic inequality—not just Trump—must be defeated.
“What about [divisiveness] is that Trump is a symptom of a widespread problem?” asked Staples. “I mean, how do you address that? The problem exists whether Trump is president or not is what I’m saying.”
“How did Trump become president?” Sanders said. “I think it speaks to something that I talk about a lot and that is the fact that…tens and tens of millions of Americans feel that the political establishment, Republican and Democrat, have failed them. Maybe the New York Times has failed them, too.”
In a video the Times released containing an abridged version of the exchange, Sanders describes how Trump exploited the state of despair many Americans have fallen into over recent decades to convince voters that undocumented immigrants were to blame for unemployment, drug addiction, and economic struggles in many U.S. communities.
“When that condition arises, whether it was the 1930s in Germany, then people are susceptible to the blame game,” said Sanders. “To say that it is the undocumented people in this country who are the cause of all of our problems, and if we just throw 10 million people out of the country, you’re going to have a good job, and you’re going to have good health care, and you have good education, that’s all we got to do… Trump didn’t invent demagoguery. It’s an age-old weapon used by demagogues… And you take the despair and the anger and the frustration that people are feeling and you say, ‘That’s the cause of your problem.’”
As Common Dreams has reported, life expectancy in the U.S. is shorter for people who are not wealthy. Young adults today are less likely than their parents’ generation to afford home ownership, and nearly 80% percent of Americans live paycheck-to-paycheck without the ability to save up for an emergency.
On social media, some observers noted, despite those statistics, the Times editorial board appeared incredulous at Sanders’s explanation.
“Bernie Sanders teaches Demagoguery and Fascism 101 to a very skeptical New York Times editorial board,” wrote Columbia University neuroscience professor Ken Miller. “The looks of disdain as Bernie simply and lucidly explains are priceless.”
Others praised Sanders’s answer as “thoughtful” and “courageous,” and implored voters to consider Sanders’s message of solidarity to counter Trump’s divisiveness.
Sanders’s full comments on offering voters an alternative to Trump and the political establishment were left out of the Times‘s video:
Now, I think, you raised the question, let me take it a step further. You haven’t asked me, I suppose it’s somewhere on your list, why I think I’m the strongest candidate to beat Trump… And that is that there is a hard-core support for Trump, which I’m not going to be able to get through. You’re right. It is racist. It is sexist. I run into that. It’s hard to believe the attitude toward women in some parts of the country. You really would have a hard time to believe it. We’re back into the 18th century in some these places. It is homophobic. It is anti-immigrant. Do I think I’m going to win those people over? Nah, no way. But do I think we can get a sliver? I can’t tell you how much, 3%, 5%, 8%, of people who voted for Trump because he said, “I am a different type of Republican. I’m not going to cut Medicare and Medicaid and Social Security. I’m going to have trade policies that work for workers. We’re not going to be shutting down plants in America.”
“Do I think we can win some of those people? Yeah, I do,” Sanders added. “And I think we’re going to win because we are going to run a campaign of energy and excitement, which speaks to truths in people’s lives, which the political establishment does not often talk about.”