Let­ter to Sena­tor Ber­nie Sanders

Gepubliceerd op

— Geplaatst in brieven, proza

( 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.”

Sin­ce­rely yours,

Antony Oomen
Sun­day, 1 Novem­ber 2020


Foto – Josh Car­ter