With Bernie Sanders now in a statistical dead heat in Iowa with Hillary Clinton, and trending significantly above her in New Hampshire, we should begin to accept the likelihood that Sanders will be the Democratic Nominee for President, and that he will face Donald Trump in the general election. Should this happen, as I believe it will, we shall see a rare glimpse into our recent history, and a chance to replay the historic choices of our past. It is a moment filled with both fear and excitement, one that could give us all we seek to gain if chosen wisely, and a profound moment of moral loss if chosen poorly.
Some 75-odd years ago, we similarly had a world reeling from economic upheaval, teeming with a disaffected working class that felt left out, left behind, and betrayed. In Germany, the body politic responded with Hitler; In America, with Roosevelt. The choices of each respective nation made all the difference in terms of who won and who lost, and who emerged from their lost economy with any sense of real success or moral purpose.
This year, regardless of significantly better conditions than in the 1930s, this election will be a replay of the same sort of disaffection in the same sort of world, and once again the biggest question facing us as voters will be which solution we’ll pick – the German solution, or the Roosevelt solution.
Trump embodies the German solution, solidifying the grievances of the working class – some of them legitimate – into a new hard-right xenophobic facism. In combining this with leftward economic tendencies on trade with China and higher taxes on Wall Street elites, Trump is flirting with elements of an American brand of National Socialism. If history teaches us anything, it’s that this solution does not turn out well. Trump’s recent rhetoric on Mexicans and Muslims must give us pause – is it disingenuous pandering? History shows us that we have no choice but to take his words seriously, and already we are seeing the dire consequences of such rhetoric.
Sanders represents the Roosevelt solution, a truly Democratic socialism. It is because of Roosevelt’s willingness to use the Democratic process to legitimately address grievances that America did not descend into the same pit of fascism and subsequent tyranny that so many European nations succumbed to. Unlike Clinton, Sanders recognizes the grievances fueling Trump voters. He has declared his willingness to court those voters and to channel them constructively in a way that, like the New Deal, does not require othering or xenophobia to fuel itself.
Which solution will America choose? Needless to say, it is imperative that we work tirelessly to sway voters towards the Roosevelt solution. Everything depends on our ability to channel grievance in a way that produces the Hoover Dam and the WPA, and not the horrific alternatives that might otherwise be possible. Let us not give in to temptation – may our clear knowledge of history in hard times help us to not have to re-fight the terrible wars that we will have to win, both physically and intellectually, should the German solution win the day.