( Deze brief werd op 1 november 2020 gepubliceerd op Medium )
Open (Final) Letter to Senator Bernie Sanders
Dear Senator Sanders,
Two days before your country’s already nerve-wracking presidential election, the day that Americans face the road they take and the one they leave untaken; I feel the urge to address you personally. Call me superstitious, but I feel a need to clear the air between us, so to speak, before the shit may hit the fan. I hope this letter finds you well.
On various occasions in recent years I have expressed appreciation for your commitment to the most pressing socio-political issues of contemporary public discourse: climate and environment, social (in)justice, economic (in)equity, access to healthcare and education, gender equality.
The ways in which you accomplished an astounding mobilisation of young American voters – albeit temporarily but hopefully repeatable – and managed to run your campaigns against the odds of media coverage and largely funded by grassroots fundraising, will always deserve my admiration.
I’m well aware of my history of polemic interaction with your campaigns of 2016 and 2020. My aggressive, often sarcastic approach has put people off. I’ve learned a valuable lesson: admiration or love are not something a person can compete for, especially when living in separate, divided realities.
I happen to be a person who detests populism in all its forms, though I’d never hate you personally, for you were and are my friends’ political motivator and inspiration and I have come to believe that you come from a place of genuine concern. I have no doubt that you understand that like you, I was merely campaigning, just for the other side. I was With Her.
And if it’s any consolation to you, this whole ill-fated episode hurt me more than it hurt you. Literally. For everybody’s sake, let’s bury that hatchet. This letter is an attempt to do so. We’ve got urgent work to do.
But before I continue with these Sunday morning musings about present and future, for the sake of context we must briefly take a trip down memory lane.
I had to dig into my archives to remind myself of what exactly got my curiosity for you aroused, back in 2015. Ages ago! Actually, it was nothing more than a rather trivial clash of egos – hence the more unfortunate.
I had never heard mention of you, even after decades of yearly visits to family and friends in your beautiful homestate Vermont. Then I read an article by John Cassidy in the New Yorker and shared it on Facebook. Immediately a friend asked me what I was thinking, publishing “all that negative stuff about Bernie”.
The article had the title “Welcome to the 2016 Race, Bernie Sanders!” Its conclusion was that there was sufficient reason to “welcome Sanders to the race”. Cassidy ended: “If, in addition, he manages to expand the range of policy options that can be openly discussed and forces Clinton to move from generalities to specifics, he will have performed a real public service.” I didn’t recognise negative stuff at all.
Things went rapidly downhill from there. My friends insisting that your integrity was beyond dispute, that the only thing “they ever found” on you was “not returning some library books”, and yet another friend making the bizarre claim that you had integrity not only as a mindset but “in every cell of (your) body” encouraged me to do some research to challenge such nonsense.
When someone dear to me made the dismissive remark that she was “baffled by the trite and non-substantial stuff” I had been sharing lately on my Facebook-page, needless to say, it enflamed me, particularly because all those friends who supported you now explicitly disengaged from conversation – one even “unfriending” me. That is when and why I called your movement a cult. And to be entirely honest, I am convinced that devotion and aversion to critique were deliberate and substantial parts of your strategy.
I’ve used the word “cult” because none of your supporters ever wished to engage in conversation with outsiders. It’s true, I didn’t like your strategy, your ideology, your self-satisfied stump speech, but much more I disliked and feared the way my friends went all moony over you. And all of this divided us more and more deeply. (Even today it seems that wounds haven’t quite healed or at least left scars.)
And this is why I started my series of columns and essays on the Democratic primaries and later the general elections of 2016. Closely observing your campaign, the unwavering engagement of some of my friends, and other friends, persuaded by Hillary Clinton’s program, dropping out of your cultish following.
But all that is irrelevant history now, the only reason I bring it up is to illustrate my meagre understanding of America. Now, as water under the bridge has flooded us all together into the same camp – or should I say swamp -, we have one mission and the world cannot afford its failure.
In fact, since this election would be a personal litmus test for the effectiveness of your efforts, I often wonder: how confident are you?
Let me confess this Sunday morning that I’m not confident at all. But then, my understanding of your country has proven to be so much poorer and weaker than I presumed it was. I always believed in its institutional strength, its self-cleansing capacity, at least to a critical degree. Even after having witnessed disastrous electoral outcomes like Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan and – oh my god – George W. Bush, I still believed that a nightmarish pandemonium like the one at hand would never be possible other than fictitious, Hollywood porn level at best.
Here lies the colossal misapprehension by which standards I judged you and my friends, four years ago. For such ignorance, I should – and do – humbly apologise. I cede. History has proven me wrong by exaggerating my worst nightmare into an obsessed reality.
Four years only! Four years that feel like a lifetime. Now, I admire your stubborn perseverance as much as I regret mine. Often lately, I hear you say that “despair is not an option”, but do you never waver? I’m curious. Do you still have real confidence that (y)our ideas and ideals will ever be attainable? Do you think that your strategies would serve their advancement without throwing the whole country into disarray?
Though your support for Joe Biden and Kamala Harris sometimes still shilly-shallies, I am glad that you simply insist that Trump cannot be re-elected: “Not to understand what it would mean to this country, and to our children and to our grandchildren (…) and what it will mean to this planet in terms of climate change if Trump is re-elected is, to me, to miss the most important point that has to be made.”
You mentioned climate change, by far the most urgent crisis of our days. Personally, I believe that the global natural environment is beyond repair. I must agree with the essay that Jonathan Franzen published last year, “What if We Stopped Pretending?”
That doom should not tempt us to complacency, but instead turn us into activists, gardeners, caregivers, readers, teachers, artists, crafts- and sportsmen. Compassionate meditators.
Not only can our societies still move towards environmental justice, but we first need an overall restoration of justice in the United States, social justice, legal justice, racial justice. Political justice.
Instead, in the last four years the USA has evolved swiftly towards an authoritarian system. We all know what autocracy and tyranny have to offer: victorious idiocy, arrogance of power, violence against innocent people, police cruelty, life drenched in a ruthlessness that produces prisons and labour camps, humiliation of men, women and children, forced to live their lives based on lies and duplicity.
Thus, only days before the most critical elections in my lifetime, let me ask you one more time: is there any belief, in any ‘cell of your body’ and twist of your mind, that this week’s elections will bring us the much craved U‑turn, a return of the United States of America into the world of civilised democratic nations? I hope so!!!
In his famous “Letter to my Father”, Franz Kafka wrote: “I still believe my letter contains some truth, it takes us closer to the truth, and therefore it may allow us to live and die with a gentler and lighter spirit.” Of course, I don’t want to compare myself with the great Kafka, but our contemporary reality seems so Kafkaesque that it justifies ending my letter with his.
Indeed, in my final letter to you, I believe to have reached something so close to the truth, that it may calm ourselves a little bit and “make our living and our dying easier.”
Sunday, 1 November 2020
Foto – Josh Carter