Burn It Down! Sanders and the Politics of Illusion

La Prise de la Bastille (The Storming of the Bastille). Painting by Jean-Pierre-Louis-Laurent Houel, 1789.
La Prise de la Bastille (The Storming of the Bastille). Painting by Jean-Pierre-Louis-Laurent Houel, 1789.

At the core of the Bernie Sanders campaign is a politics of illusion bordering on nihilism.

To call it “dangerous” is a half-truth. Danger can be akin to chaos, the stage that precedes a tumultuous change. When transformation gives birth to a better, healthier state, then the danger falls away. It is redefined and seen as an essential part of the process that led to change.

The Sanders campaign presents an existential danger simply because it does not offer that “better” place. Instead, it calls for an illusionary destruction of the status quo without a viable system to take its place.


You Say You Want A Revolution

…we’ve got to remind ourselves that there is a much more important long-term battle going on here. Not merely to gut the Democratic Party as it is…

It was a week away from Super Tuesday II. The Democrats had voted or caucused in 21 states. Perhaps in anticipation of the rout that would befall the Sanders campaign on March 15, a letter was circulating among its digital enthusiasts. Written by “Corey Robin,” its message reminds the Sanders believers that the presidential election was an opportunity to “gut the Democratic Party,” while beating the drum of revolution.


The idea of political revolution is not new. The interminable struggle for women’s rights and for civil rights in this country are a series of revolutionary actions. These are ongoing, and they surfaced well after the American Revolution, a war instigated by white, male landowners and elites.

A scan of global history reveals that revolutions occur or are attempted from generation to generation. However, not every revolution brings benefits to the people (again, history is our guide).

When the Bolsheviks overthrew the czars, the end result was Stalin and the Great Purge. The Cultural Revolution of Mao Zedung threw that country into an oppressive regime of Red Guards, standardization and communism. The French Revolution, buoyed by its glorious slogan of Liberty, Equality and Brotherhood, deposed the monarchy, emptied the Bastille and realigned social classes. It also brought the Reign of Terror, massacres and destabilization for a decade.

The common motif in these revolutions and others is a call to the “people.” The common results are bloody purges, dramatic upheavals in every aspect of a society and long-lasting ramifications felt by neighboring countries.

He’s A Real Nowhere Man

Sen. Bernie Sanders

The call to a people’s revolution by Bernie Sanders echoes these historic shifts. However when the revolution ignores the oligarchical Republican Party, represented by a candidate that mimics Hitler, another that spouts zealous hatred and a Congress that ignores its Constitutional duty, and instead chooses to target the Democratic Party, then it loses any semblance of legitimacy.

When this same candidate has “not studied” the process for enacting his revolution, has no solid experience in a leadership position and lacks the support of his colleagues in Congress, then his entire candidacy is suspect. What is its raison d’être? There is only one answer – magical thinking, a surreal challenge to power with no leverage to back up the threat. This delusional thinking is exactly what Cory Robin  promotes.

Robin’s exhortation to “gut” the Democratic Party is unfiltered propaganda sure to delight the GOP. Robin and Sanders are Trojan horses leading a crusade that could knock down the restraints presently keeping the GOP from unfettered control of American governance. They may be acting knowingly. They may be witless. Regardless, the condemnation is eerily similar to the Norquist pledge and the collective obstruction of the Democratic President by Republicans.

We Can See Clearly Now

What makes the Robin letter most disturbing is its discouragement of thought.

There’s a group of leftists who think that the revolution lies in small conversations in socialist study groups and reading circles, that the way to radicalize is by “talking to people” — which really means talking at people — in the absence of some galvanizing question that brings those people to the table. Anyone who sells you that line is either out of touch or trying to sign you up for his classes. The faulty assumption here is to think you can just get people to think and argue and reflect in a vacuum, without some real taste of power in the here and now.

There is something – many things – very wrong with this approach. To deride analysis and thoughtful exchange is a sure way to develop an ignorant, unthinking cult. The obverse is true too.

I can speak from experience. The second wave of the women’s movement was built upon study. Hundreds of thousands of women gathered in one another’s home each week. We talked. We listened. We read. We compared. Our eyes were opened and have never since closed.

Grace Lee and James Boggs, Black Power revolutionaries from Detroit, founders of NOAR.

My activism with the civil rights movement was likewise based on reading. As a member of the only chapter of the National Organization for an American Revolution (NOAR) in the Southeast, I joined with five hand-picked friends to read the works of James and Grace Lee Boggs.

I didn’t agree with everything I read. But I had the opportunity to object. I disagreed and was met with a counterpoint. I read a chapter each week, took notes, reflected, got with the group, argued and learned.

One admonishment stays in my mind these many years later. It was the reminder that the revolutionary – the iconoclast – the change-maker – the misfit – that person cannot rely on the heat of an election to cry “Revolution!” Making change is unbelievably slow – one step forward, two steps back. The real revolutionary is steadfast, patient. She is there, questioning authority when the cameras leave and the headlines ignore her.

Corey Robin’s dismissal of those “study groups and reading circles” is a sure route to failure. His reliance on the “real taste for power” is nothing more than a call for bit actors to play their part in a sensationalized mega drama, choreographed and promoted by the Sanders team.

Corey Robin outright rejects critical thinking. He scoffs at the idea of studying and equates it with a dirty, materialistic pursuit. Think about this.

Robin’s entire approach is as empty as Bernie Sanders’ pledge to bring down the banks. Without critical thought how can their revolution endure? Answer: It cannot and it will not.

Paul Song, posing for a No H8 campaign, and speaker at a Sanders’ rally on 13 April in which he linked his denunciation of “corporate Democratic whores” to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

When Robin substitutes a brute lust for power over a thoughtful, well planned revolution, the results will not be civil dialogue, compromise or persuasion. The result will be the vulgar insults of the Bernie Bros; they will be sound bites and memes. This whole empty conflagration makes the hateful rhetoric of Dr. Paul Song appear legitimate.

When he calls for gutting the Democratic Party and lays no foundation for its alternative, Robin is writing a guide for disaster. He is assuring the death of Bernie’s so-called revolution.

Fortunately for those of us whose actions are based on reason, the disaster will be welcomed. This pseudo revolution is all maya. When it concludes, the bit players will stride away with their delusional venom and dream of another election, and another casting call.


11 thoughts on “Burn It Down! Sanders and the Politics of Illusion

  1. “However when the revolution ignores the oligarchical Republican Party, represented by a candidate that mimics Hitler, another that spouts zealous hatred and a Congress that ignores its Constitutional duty, and instead chooses to target the Democratic Party, then it loses any semblance of legitimacy.”

    Exactly. I saw the same thing with Nader supporters in 2000–far more bile was directed at Al Gore and the Democrats; barely anything was sent in the direction of the GOP. It also happened in 2010 and 2014 in terms of the Congressional elections too.

    And yes, it’s happening today with the more extreme Sanders supporters, especially those who declare that they would rather see Trump win the Presidency than vote for Hillary.

    Liked by 1 person

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