A Socialist Emperor’s New Clothes

Call me old-fashioned, but I still think that when you say you want a revolution, it means you intend to actually do something. It means you plan to work, to organize, to get together with other people to make things happen. You organize in the workplace, in the neighborhood, in the city. You build coalitions, you form alliances, you spend time and effort and bring forth concrete proposals and plans. You build from the ground up. Yes, I’m old-fashioned, and that’s how they did it in the old days. It’s how the trade unions started, and how we ended up with weekends and benefits and child labor laws. The civil rights act of 1965 did not happen because people voted for Lyndon Johnson. Lyndon Johnson all on his own was never going to do a thing like that. Ah, the old days.

It’s different today. All we have to do now is vote for Bernie Sanders and he will make it all happen. He will break up the banks and take all the billionaires’ money and give everybody free unlimited health care and education. It’s double rainbow wonderful and all we have to do is vote. And tell our friends to vote and #feelthebern. Never mind that Bernie Sanders has NO effective allies in government anywhere, that he has never done a damn thing for any other Democrat, that there is no chance in hell that anything he’s proposing would ever get anywhere in the real world. Oh no, he’s got a political revolution in the making, a political revolution that will be made exactly like a viral video or a number one single – it’ll just happen! It’ll be like Adele, it’ll be viewed a billion times on YouTube, it’ll be tweeted and re-tweeted and liked on Facebook and just like that – a revolution!

Wouldn’t it be nice? But where is the innocent child to point out that this socialist would-be emperor has no clothes? You might say, well, look at Donald Trump, this year anything can happen, it’s not like any other year, but a Republican controlled congress actually exists right now and could really do terrible things with a president of their own, and right when they seem on the verge of self-destruction with a parade of horrible loser candidates, do we really need the Democrats to rush in and get there first, all because they’ve fallen under the spell of an enchanter shouting out a string of magic words?

It’s a pretty cloth, a lovely garment, a finely tailored cloak he weaves, but it’s nothing underneath. Voting for this guy is nothing more than following Taylor Swift on Instagram, and in this day and age when three hundred million users is just not good enough (eh, Twitter?) it doesn’t matter how much you like the sound of the words, because it’s just another hit single, and we’ll move on after that to the next big thing. America loves a winner. What it doesn’t love is getting off its fat ass and making shit happen.

(In the past generation the closest thing to a revolution in America has been from the right, which has organized and won elections on the local and state level and proceeded to roll back women’s rights, undermine workers and do away with health and safety regulations, leading directly to crises like lead poisoning, while the left, to be fair, did manage to camp out for a few weeks one summer on Wall Street)


7 thoughts on “A Socialist Emperor’s New Clothes

  1. Given the unlikelihood of Sanders implementing the policies that he preaches, is there another, more plausible way in which this sort of leftist ‘revolution’ could happen?


    • I really believe that it’s always the long way, always the hard way, and you never get all the way there. I’m reminded today of all the excitement in Egypt during the so-called Arab Spring, and how utterly and thoroughly demolished and betrayed that optimism was, or the Green Revolution in Iran a few years before that, or reaching back to my own youth, when I campaigned enthusiastically for George McGovern in New Hampshire (today being the primary there, no less, with Bernie running away with it). The struggle for civil rights, for women’s rights, for LGBT rights, for human rights everywhere, continues to be a long way and a hard way. Voting for one person doesn’t make it magically happen. It never has and never will. To get what leftists want, whether it’s single-payer or cheap college or breaking up the banks or gun sanity or protecting women’s health care, will have to take one step at a time, from the local to the regional to the national level, from the bottom up, not the top down. Of course, I could be completely wrong! It wouldn’t be the first time.


      • Of course, it’s always possible that thirty or forty million lefties will emerge out of non-voting hibernation and sweep into a super-majority in Congress, winning even in the highly gerrymandered Tea Party districts, in which case Bernie can get stuff done, jack up everybody’s taxes and do good things with the money, maybe even divest the billionaires of their property and convince the multinational corporations to retrieve their off-shore trillions and pitch in for the good of the commons. It could happen! But yeah, I don’t see it.


  2. We have a similar kind of thing going on here in the UK with the surprise new Labour party leader Jeremy Corbyn (makes Bernie Sanders look like a Republican). Lots of vague waffle about “honest, straight-talking politics”, but not much evidence of policies that might stand half a chance of actually being implemented in the real world that the rest of us live in…


    • I wonder how often (in the historical long-term) the populations of nations lose their minds and go completely off the rails. It would make for a curiously punctuated line chart, with such crazy spikes every now and then. We certainly seem to have lost ours this year.


      • It’s possible we may have one of those moments of collective madness later this year, when we are likely to get a vote on whether the UK should remain in the EU. It’s going to be hard to have a rational debate about it – just as it seems to be proving hard to have a rational debate about the candidates in the US presidential election. I personally think we would be crazy to leave – whilst I’ll happily admit that the EU has faults aplenty, for me it’s a question of whether, overall, “in” is better than “out” (despite all the imperfections of “in”). For a lot of people though, it seems that “out” is simply assumed to be preferable purely because of the imperfections of “in” – and if you start highlighting the possible problems with “out,” you just get accused of scaremongering.


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