Filmmaker Michael Moore predicted Donald Trump would beat Hillary Clinton. He predicted this based on voter anger and a hunger for a candidate who wasn’t just another run-of-the-mill political establishment hack. He said a Trump victory would be a veritable middle finger to the establishment, and he was right. When Bernie Sanders sat on stage Monday night in Kenosha, Wisconsin, we saw people who had voted for Trump not based on his policies, but on their hunger for something different.
Kenosha is, for all intents and purposes, a typical Midwestern city. The city encapsulates the highly contested election that occurred between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump. And on Monday night, Bernie Sanders held his own among Trump supporters during an MSNBC forum. His presence, and his ability to find common ground even among the most fervent anti-socialist voters, gave viewers a hint of what could have been had the DNC nominated Bernie instead of Hillary Clinton.
Bernie highlighted exactly what the Democratic Party missed out on, turned a blind eye to, and incredibly ignored: voter anger and anti-establishment sentiments. Although the forum helped show where Trump voters diverged with Bernie’s vision, Vox author Jeff Stein remains skeptical that Bernie’s brand of political revolution can appeal to the wider masses. I disagree because I watched Bernie closely during the primaries. And while there are people who will never agree with him, he is able to get people to see things differently, to see things for how they could be.
While one woman named Mary Magdalen Moser seemed stubbornly opposed to Bernie’s call for free college tuition, others seemed to be more amenable to the idea of it. They just hadn’t heard exactly how he’d pay for it all and expressed wonder at how the United States could possibly provide free education through college. During the primaries, I discussed exactly how Bernie planned to pay for his college tuition program. Part of his plan was imposing a tax on Wall Street banks that included taxing speculative investments and derivative fees.
The skepticism about how Bernie’s plan could work is typical in those who have never heard his message in full before, and the Vermont senator is used to hearing these questions. He’s adept at explaining how he would implement things like a single payer health care system, and how he could, theoretically, fund college tuition (including trade schools) so those who want to go to school beyond high school can attend without wondering how much debt they’ll incur.
First, Bernie finds common ground with those who initially express skepticism. “We can agree on …,” is a phrase he often uses to preface a conversation during which he knows he’ll have to convince people to his side. He then reminds people of how the Middle Class has shrunken, with the wealth floating to the top. He reminds us of how the Middle Class used to be successful, with job security, and how families could often make a comfortable life with just one income. And then he throws down the truth bomb: Average Americans are paying in taxes what the wealthy used to — and should be — paying.
If corporations and the very wealthy pay their fair share of taxes (another phrase Bernie is fond of), we could fund tuition-free college and trade schools. We could afford a single payer health care system instead of being forced to buy into a clunky, confusing, and often unusable healthcare apparatus that leaves more people frustrated than relieved.
Bernie himself described the reasons why Trump won in a conversation with Chris Hayes during the town hall forum.
“There’s a lot of pain in this country … For the last 40 years, the Middle Class in this country has been disappearing. We have massive levels of income and wealth inequality. Companies shut down, moved to China, move to Mexico, paying people a fraction of the wage they pay in this country. There are enormous economic problems facing the middle class in this country, and the media doesn’t talk about them, most politicians don’t talk about them.”
When Hayes asked Bernie how it was that Obama and Clinton both won Kenosha and the who state of Wisconsin twice even though both men supported free trade deals, Bernie said that voters had had enough.
“So many people are struggling economically, why people can’t afford health care or child care … Trump comes along and says ‘I’m a multibillionaire. I don’t pay any taxes, I have companies in Turkey and China and Mexico, but I’m going to stand up to the economic establishment, the political establishment, I’m going to take them all on,’ and a lot of people responded, ‘Okay, we’re going to give this guy a shot.'”
While critics of Bernie’s political leanings inflexibly question whether his policies are what the Democratic Party needs (they are), they are missing an important point: Bernie Sanders is an expert at reaching across the aisle, finding common ground, and working for a beneficial solution for everyone, not just one side.
It is this trait that made so many people switch parties so that they could vote for him during the primaries. It is this reason why he was able to win over even the most obstinate Republicans. It is why Bernie was able to generate enthusiastic applause and support during his speech at evangelical Christian school Liberty University. They saw him as an honest candidate who genuinely cared.
Even those who voted for Trump say they do not agree with the president-elect on many of his policies. As Bernie sat in the middle of several Trump voters on stage, they all rationalized that they aren’t racists. They aren’t misogynists. They aren’t isolationists. They just hated the globalization of industry, they are tired of politics as usual. They want government accountability instead of crony capitalism. And Trump talked a very convincing talk. Had Bernie been the nominee instead of Clinton, there’s a good chance that his message of anger at the 1 percent and his love of humanity would have beaten Trump resoundingly.
And as Michael Moore said in October as he promoted his new film “Michael Moore in Trumpland,” voters had the opportunity to blow up the system.
“On November 8, you Joe blow, Steve Blow, Bob Blow, Billy Blow, all the Blows get to go and blow up the whole godd*mn system because it’s your right! Trump’s election is going to be the biggest ‘f*** you’ ever recorded in human history. And it will feel good.”
This is exactly what happened, and no amount of gnashing of teeth and wailing about Russia will change it. Americans were already angry. The Democratic party had a golden opportunity to take that anger and channel it into something productive by nominating Bernie Sanders. Instead, they chose Hillary It’s-My-Turn Clinton with disastrous results. And instead of getting a productive, healing antidote to the anger and suffering of the American voter, we got Trump, a man who seems more interested in remaining a producer on his “Celebrity Apprentice” program than in attending intelligence briefings.
Bernie’s appearance on the forum is a bitter reminder of what could have been, but rest assured. Even if he is not the President, he is still in the Senate. Bernie will hold Donald Trump accountable for his campaign promises and for his actions, which will make for a dramatic and interesting four years.
[Featured Image by Susan Walsh/AP Images]