There is a major war over a question right now in the 2020 presidential race:
What is the best way to enact change? Is it to trust it to exclusive rooms, with politicians and experts? Or is it to inspire the masses, getting them to vote and protest and demand change?
The danger of trusting change to exclusive rooms is that the room’s occupants may not have the interests of the masses at heart. Yes, it takes experts to figure out the best paths forward for the good of the masses, but experts are human, as well. They can be corrupted by money from corporations that are very interested in controlling the direction in which they think. Experts can be useful tools for those who have money, and not necessarily people interested in doing what is best for anyone outside themselves and those they love most. Politicians, likewise, are often knighted by wealthy donors, and however idealistic they might once have been, they often need to keep those donors happy if they wish to keep their jobs. Like everyone else, they have a mortgage to pay.
The masses, on the other hand, can be easily manipulated and are especially prone to us-vs.-them dichotomies. It’s not necessarily that they are bad (though they can be) – it is that they do not have knowledge – nor the time to acquire the knowledge – that experts have. They also often have surrounding culture in which your political views can have very strong consequences for where you work, who will and won’t decide to associate with you, and what your reputation in your community is. Simple messages – especially contentious ones – are likely to stick. Oftentimes this is not their fault. Most people don’t have time to be experts. They have mouths to feed, friends to bond with, families to enrich, lives to actually live. Many cases, they’re doing the best they can. Like everyone else, they have a mortgage to pay.
It’s a tough choice. But I think there is also further nuance here when you look at Trump and Sanders.
Sanders’s biggest criticism of Trump was Trump’s declaration, “Only I can fix it.” I think this is the difference between Trump and Sanders.
Trump tells his followers that they don’t have to worry about fixing things. They can be complacent and trust him. He’s easy. He’s got it taken care of. He’ll take care of the experts. He talks very simply, in ways that don’t require much action from his base. All they have to do is vote. His message is focused on protecting the masses that choose to be in his circle. And they can pay their mortgage, put the check-mark beside Trump, and laugh at the experts who object. They are protected from the intimidating experts. Trump, in their minds, has them insulated.
Sanders is not the same way. Sanders tells his base that they have to work. They cannot be complacent, because complacency doesn’t get things done. It’s not about trusting him; it’s about trusting principles.
And he does this in a way that appeals to the masses, with short, easy phrases that are hard to forget. The simplicity is frightening, in a sense, because it shows that the masses can be easily manipulated. There are many who would prefer to encourage the masses to engage in additional nuance.
I think, however, that much of the nuance the masses are supposedly ignorant of are not elements that are necessary to the situation; they are details about a power structure. For example, in the present setup it seems impossible to push a Medicare-for-All agenda. The insurance companies are too powerful, we’re fighting really hard just to keep the ACA, and the political makeup of the Senate is against it. Those actually in the situation in Washington can’t, presently, find a way to make it work.If you give that message to the masses, my fear is that you’ll be perpetuating the problem. You’ll be reinforcing the barriers that prevent the situation from working by insisting that they are there and introduce unimpeachable “nuance” to needs and demands that would actually bring them to the polls for transformative change. Plus, you’ll be making the situation more complicated, so that fewer people vote…which, arguably, is what the powers that introduce policy-stopping “nuance” want.
There is a divide here. But I think, firmly, that the masses can change the political parameters in the United States, if there are enough of them. Up to a certain point, the masses don’t really matter. But there is a tipping point of size and intensity where the masses can bulldoze over the nuances and actually create change. This is what has happened throughout the history of civil rights in the United States – against the urging of those who would like more “nuanced” responses.
And so I am, currently, in favor of the masses enacting large-scale change. But I realize that this is dangerous. The same mallet that can build can also destroy, in this case. Mobilizing the masses and creating public campaigns can create a group that may be dangerous after they take power. People who have power tend to want to keep it, and they are often willing to disenfranchise others to do so.
In spite of this danger, I want change now. I do not want change forty years from now. I want it in the next five-six years. In my mind, the US is in a state of emergency.
I need someone with short, simple phrases that will instigate mass involvement in progressive reforms.
I need someone who can mobilize the masses — who appeals to voters to pressure unforeseen change instead of bowing to self-fulfilling insistences on “nuance” that perpetuates current power structures.
And if Elizabeth Warren can do this, then I’m with her. But I have doubts. She says that the fight will be hard, but she doesn’t talk nearly as much about getting the masses involved as Sanders.
I don’t think sufficiently major changes will be made in closed-door meetings with experts influenced by lobbyists who are discussing the “political realities” they face from wealthy campaign contributors.
If major changes are going to be made, they will be made in more accessible meetings because the politicians are scared of losing support from the masses, who are demanding change, and they feel forced to be as open and accessible as possible.
The power structures that exist will not be dethroned unless the masses mobilize and demand change.
And this is why I am considering voting for Sanders, again. Most politicians say they can fix it, or to join them in fixing it, or to pay attention to political realities that are localized to the National Mall. Sanders seems to focus on the interest of the masses, on mobilizing them, on actually encouraging them to fundamentally change the power structure of politics in the US.
Whether I vote for him or not, I believe this is an important reality.