Canadian and US Federal Elections – 2015, 2016: A summary of the prospects and possible outcomes
Revolution, reform, stagnation – or worse?
It is sometimes difficult to say what would be best for a given nation at a given time in history. There are things that would be desirable, of course, or which seem desirable, and things that are quite clearly, urgently needed – but in what way they should best be brought about, can be very difficult to say. There are many unintended consequences in life, and sometimes, good things turn out badly, or terrible things end up generating good responses, and good results in the end – though no one would wish for it to have come about in the way that it did. Ethics and compassion should rule our actions and guide our choices, but predicting what, precisely, is the best course, is virtually impossible. We simply have to use our best judgement, and go with that. Some things are clear, some not so clear. But we can say a few things with reasonable certainty.
We should remember that everything is subject to change at all times, and open to change, but one thing that appears to be clear, at least for the moment, is that the Canadian federal election is, by all indications, a non-event, since the three major political parties have either lost their courage, or lost their integrity, or both, and are all on-board with a pro-pipeline, pro big oil, neo-liberal, pro “free trade” agenda of de facto corporate rule – and the only party with any integrity, vision or courage has such little support that they are unlikely win. At the federal level at least, things look pretty bleak at the moment for Canadian politics. Harper has to go, without question; but the alternatives look very uninspiring, to say the least.
I will vote my conscience anyway, as always; but the election seems very uninteresting, and is likely to change little. Big oil and big business will, in all likelihood, continue to run the nation – and run it into the ground, and off an ecological cliff – while the majority of the people remain passive and apathetic, as their rights, civil liberties, democracy, freedom, social programs, environment and country are slowly bled away, and bled dry.
“Not with a bang, but a whimper” – maybe this should be the new Canadian motto, or even the chorus for a new national anthem. Where are the likes of Tommy Douglas when you need them?
We stand on guard for what? Oh, right – Tim Horton’s, and the television remote control. Who says hockey is the nation’s favourite past-time? Clearly, that spot is reserved for a most devoted tradition of public apathy. The courage seems to have gone out of this nation some decades ago, and has yet to return.
The US is in a similar state to Canada and other “leading” industrial nations in some ways, but is far more unstable, and could go in one of several very different directions – and, unlike the up-coming Canadian federal election, the US federal election which approaches could be decisive, and of profound import, with far-reaching consequences, not just for the people of the United States, but also, for the world.
In the US, if Hillary Clinton wins, and becomes the next president, then the majority of the people of the United States are likely to think, “Well, we should give her a chance, and see if she does anything positive” – and then yawn, and collectively go back to sleep.
So that would be nothing short of a disaster, to my mind, if she wins – to say nothing of her unwavering loyalty to Wall Street and her eagerness to start a war with Iran – which, by the way, is positively insane, since Russia and China have economic and military alliances and agreements with Iran, and attacking Iran, as Russia has made clear, could very well trigger a nuclear confrontation between the great powers, and quite literally start WWIII.
So a win for Hillary “bomb-em-now” Clinton would mean stagnation and no real change, at best, when what we urgently need is major change, and now; and it could mean the worst imaginable scenario – something infinitely worse than mere stagnation and inaction in a time of great, and growing crisis. For these reasons, I would have to say that a Hillary Clinton Presidential win would be disastrous for the nation, and, quite possibly, disastrous for the world.
If Donald Trump, or another of the far-right lunatics from the Republican Party, somehow manages to win, then we could see, not only the further looting of Main Street by Wall Street, exactly as Hillary would preside over, and as George Bush and Barack Obama presided over, and aided and abetted; and it would not only mean a probable, and even eager launching of a war that could very well, and very easily, lead to WWIII – also, in lock-step with the Hillary agenda – but we could also see the nation explode into civil war, by the hatred and tensions that could quickly come to a boiling point, and overflow in mass chaos and violence.
So if Hillary means stagnation at best, and disaster at worst, a Republican win would mean, most likely, disaster, or worse disaster. Neither Clinton or the Republicans are acceptable to any sane person. Both Hillary and the Republican candidates must be rejected.
But, on the other hand, a far-right Republican government that pushes the US over the brink, and into civil war, by further fuelling and igniting racial, class and other tensions, might well explode itself into the very grounds that give birth to a revolution. Some would say this would be a good thing. We should wish, however, if we are at all sane, that revolution would come about in better, and more peaceful ways. I would not say that this is a course of history we should wish on anyone. So heaven forbid that either Hillary, or one of the Republican representatives for the billionaire class – as Hillary is as well – end up in the White House. Either one would spell very real and great danger for the nation.
That really leaves only one contender in the race, and that is, the independent, democratic socialist from Vermont, Senator Bernie Sanders. Senator Sanders is a grassroots populist – in reality, and not just in rhetoric and PR spin, unlike Hillary – and has fought consistently, for four decades, for the middle class and the poor, and for progressive politics that will benefit all the people, and not just Wall Street, the corporate elite and the super-rich.
Sanders is now the front runner in key primary states, and leading in the polls in Iowa and New Hampshire, 10 and 20 points respectively, ahead of the former front runner, Hillary Clinton. He is drawing the biggest crowds of any candidate. He is generating a wave of excitement across the nation – even in died-in-the-wool conservative states.
Bernie Sanders has raised more money than any candidate – despite having rejected the billionaires’ money. He has, so far, generated over a million individual donations, averaging $24. And he has raised a million donations faster than any other candidate in US history, again showing the massive groundswell of grassroots support that is rallying behind him.
And he has a message, a vision, and a policy platform, that resoundingly resonates with the great majority of the people of the United States: get money out of politics and make the government represent all the people, and not just the rich; make elections publicly funded, so that they are free and fair; make the richest 1% and the large corporations pay their fair share of taxes; make health care and education free for all – up to and including college and university; stop the wars, invest in America, and rebuild the nation – and with an emphasis on fairness and a decent life for all. As one astute commentator put it, Bernie Sanders is what Obama pretended to be in 2008. And that is why he is loved. And that is why he just might win.
If Bernie Sanders does win, what would happen? It certainly would not spell revolution, and in fact, it could forestall a revolution. Senator Sanders would help to heal a broken nation that is on the edge of fiscal insolvency and civil war, and take it in a bold, positive, new direction. But it would not spell revolution. It would be bold, powerful social change, in a direction that most people would consider very, very positive, and very inspiring and hopeful, but it would not be revolution.
I’m not a capitalist, and I think there are better ways to organize human society, such as those outlined by Chomsky, Kropotkin, Bookchin, Michael Albert, Rudolph Rocker and Bertrand Russell; and I also think that it is clear that capitalism is intrinsically anti-democratic, exploitative, oppressive, dehumanizing and degrading, and limiting of human potential, by its very nature. But if one insists on keeping a capitalist system, even for just the short term or the present, then at least it has to be regulated, and its worst injustices and brutalities kept in check, while its benefits are more equally shared. That is exactly what Bernie Sanders is proposing to do, and it is hardly radical – it is simply a matter of common sense, basic ethics, and basic sanity.
There is still a great deal of red scare ideology in the US – that is clear. But fortunately, it works only on an uninformed, and misinformed, and shrinking minority. Look at Denmark, Sweden or Finland – these are democratic socialist countries with capitalist markets, and they work quite well with their mixed economies, and are also free and democratic. (Denmark is home to the happiest people in the world, according to global polls – far above the US.)
In fact, these democratic socialist, mixed capitalist economy countries are much more democratic than the United States, which has descended into an oligarchy, as a recent Princeton study confirms, and is now ruled, not by the people, but by Wall Street.
Bernie would start to put a dent in that corporate oligarchy, and begin to bring the power back to the people, where it rightly belongs. And some people are afraid of that. Some are terrified of that thought – and these are the same business elites who now rule the nation.
Some are simply misinformed – others are working for the same corporate elite who don’t want their power or privileged position to be challenged. Ignorance, greed, egomania and power lust are the main sources of opposition to policies such as Bernie would bring in – and sooner or later, and hopefully sooner, these obstacles will be overcome, and defeated. At present, the majority of people in the US support the policy proposals Bernie Sanders is making. The minority who do not, seem to be living in an earlier era, namely, the McCarthy era.
The rest of the world no longer lives in 1955. It’s time for America to get with the program, and catch up with the rest of the world. Bernie will help the US to do just that.
The Founding Fathers of the United States were very alert, for their time, but they were not perfect, nor were they omniscient. In fact, as Chomsky has pointed out, the majority of them, with the exception of Thomas Jefferson, despised what most people today would consider democracy to mean. The majority of the Founding Fathers believed in what John Jay said, that, “The people who own the country ought to govern the country.” That is to say that, aside from Jefferson, the Founding Fathers believed that, “We the people,” meant, “We, the rich, white, male slave owners” ought to rule the land. So reverence for the Founding Fathers expresses a basic ignorance of history.
(I admire Thomas Jefferson, but even he was a slave owner, which, of course, is unconscionable, and showed even his great weaknesses and contradictions.)
Democracy has evolved a great deal since 1776, and that is a good thing. Bernie Sanders would simply carry that evolution of democracy a further step forward – principally, by challenging the ruling corporate oligarchy that has high-jacked democracy, exactly as Jefferson warned would happen, 200 years ago – and by returning the power to the people.
If power to the people is something to be feared, then we really are lost. This is not something that should be feared, but embraced. And the majority of people in the US are ready for it, and support exactly the kinds of policies that Bernie Sanders is proposing, and urging.
The time has come for real change. And Bernie Sanders may well prove to be one more major drivers of that change. All indications are that he is precisely that: a driver of powerful, positive social change. The majority are ready for that, even if the oligarchy and a shrill minority will scream, and do.
The basic structures of capitalism would remain intact under a Sanders presidency – the benefits and working conditions derived from and experienced within the capitalist economy would be more widely and more fairly shared, more humane and more tolerable, but the capitalist structure would remain in place. For some, this would be seen as a good thing, to preserve capitalism. Others do not see it that way. I would say that, while Senator Sanders might delay a much-needed revolution (for example, delaying a radical shift in the control or ownership of the means of production, such as decentralized, community-based, democratic worker ownership, through worker co-ops, on a nation-wide scale – something along the lines of what Noam Chomsky, Murray Bookchin, Bertrand Russell or Peter Kropotkin have recommended), Sanders would, most likely, set the country on a better track, and steer it away from the implosion and sheer disaster to which it is presently heading – and that would be a very good thing. It is probably better to steer the ship away from the approaching cliff, then to watch it go over (or push it over) and try to rebuild from the wreckage. Dr. Strangelove may disagree, but I think this is the saner path.
Revolutionary change can wait – maybe not for long, but for a little while – in order to bring about some healing and recovery for a nation that is rapidly spiralling toward self-destruction: economically, socially, environmentally, and possibly politically as well. Bernie could be the person who can bring stability to a nation that is currently set to implode. While this might not be as idyllic an outcome as some would like, it might be the best thing we can hope for at present – and it is certainly infinitely better than the immediate alternatives on hand, such as Hillary or one of the Republican zealots would bring.
In fact, if Bernie Sanders does win, he just might inspire and unite the people of the United States enough, that they can bring about, not just much-needed reforms, but in the end, a much-needed social, political and economic revolution as well.
Certainly, having a true populist democrat and progressive as the next President of the United States would not instantly change everything and right all wrongs, but it would be a start, and a very good start at that, I would say.
I believe it is possible that Bernie will win. I certainly hope so. And if he does, then yes, that is only the White House – but that is a powerful office, of course, and inroads could be made from there towards making real change.
If nothing else, Bernie could use the White House as the world’s most powerful podium, and from there, inspire the people, through popular movements, to create the changes that are needed on the ground, and to put the required pressure on Congress, and on Wall Street, to make further, bigger changes.
So the White House is a starting point for bigger things – and a powerful starting point. And I think he’s going to do it. I think he’s going to win.
In conclusion, I would have to say this. In the US, Bernie Sanders deserves support, and deserves to win. Certainly there are no other major candidates that are remotely supportable. It’s Bernie, or Wall Street candidate A, B, C or D. The choice should be clear.
In Canada, the situation is much less exciting, but the election is still extremely important. Harper has to go, and if that requires strategic voting – something that I normally am strongly opposed to – then I now think that this election warrants it. Harper’s assault on democracy is simply too grave for us not to use every peaceful means at our disposal to remove him from power. Do vote. And vote strategically – and get Harper out.
J. Todd Ring,
October 18, 2015
Election 2015 and Strategic Voting: Madness, Or Practical Necessity?
An economic and political analysis of Canada, neoliberalism, and the world