A wake-up moment for the American power establishment

February 23, 2020 Taking It Back: Your Sons and Your Daughters Are Beyond Your Command, by Abby Zimet, Further columnist

Onward from Nevada. Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty

The Bernie surge in Nevada and elsewhere has sparked talk of “a wake-up moment for the American power establishment,” from stunned Democratic leaders to freaked-out, Nazi-invoking media pundits “behaving like aristocrats in a dying regime.” It’s also exposed the deep hunger for change of those suffering under this unholy regime, and the need to see a way out of it. With her usual calm, lucid, judiciously hopeful perspective, historian Heather Cox Richardson offers it. Yes, she says, we have been here before, sort of, in the 1850s, 1890s, and 1920s. Three times, although only once was it this bad, corrupt oligarchs indifferent to the needs of its people took over the White House, Congress, the courts, the media. In each era, she writes, “Just when democracy seemed lost, regular Americans took it back” – by speaking up, showing up, fighting back.

Richardson outlines each dark period: In the 1850s, rich southern slaveholders took over the Democratic Party and insisted on the right to expand nationwide their economic system of big plantations worked by slaves. In the 1890s, industrialists and Republicans rigged the laws and packed the courts to protect their interests, move ever-more money upward, and destroy workers’ rights. (Does any of this sound familiar?) In the 1920s, a moneyed GOP attacked union and civil rights movements, bringing KKK membership to five million before the 1929 Crash ended it all. In each era, people stood up. “They started simply by complaining,” she notes; then they protested, organized, wrote letters to Congress, ran for office, and made sure people voted in elections. “The people in power cheated and the game was rigged,” she notes. “But the people defending American democracy still won.”

“Americans change politics first by changing minds,” she argues. “If this were not the case, Russia would not be swamping us with disinformation, and the right wing would not flood the country with talk radio and the Fox News Channel, which present fact-free stories designed to divert people from reality. And, of course, Trump would not bother spinning his own lies. People, and now bots, spreading those lies have been so assertive that a lot of folks who know they’re crap have stayed quiet, not wanting to start a fight. But speaking up to identify lies and to celebrate real American values is a crucial step toward changing the national narrative. If it weren’t, no one would be paying bots and trolls to shut us up.” Those in power wouldn’t be working so hard to silence us, she stresses, “if they thought our actions didn’t matter.”

Along with changing the narrative, it’s important now as then to “complain constantly” to those in power, even when they ignore us – thanks Susan Collins – and to support progressives in House and Senate races in this most critical of elections. In light of Bernie’s shocking-to-some rise, it’s also vital to resist mightily the left’s historic urge to form circular firing squads, and to embrace unity in the face of the horrors of Trump et al. If Bernie becomes the Democratic candidate despite panicked establishments, wildly hostile press and progressives who say they’re sick of an angry old white guy yelling at them, it will be thanks to the real strength of his #NotMeUs message, its unprecedented multi-racial, multi-faith, multi-economic alliance, and its key “youth firewall” – young people who support him not as a “political savior” but as the leader of a “movement (that) will change this country.” And for those discomfited that change may not come in precisely the package they’ve envisioned, Bob Zimmerman has big, still-germane news:  “Your old road is rapidly aging.”


By Senator Nina Turner

At a time of unprecedented income inequality and economic instability, Social Security has become a major flashpoint in the presidential election — and for good reason. After all, despite promises to the contrary during his 2016 campaign, President Donald Trump recently floated the idea of cuts to the program.

This is a major threat to all 64 million Social Security recipients — and particularly to communities of color. Almost three quarters ofAfrican American and Latino beneficiaries rely on Social Security for the majority of their income, and without Social Security, roughly half or more elderly Latinos and African Americans would be living in poverty.

Trump, however, is not the only reason we should be concerned about the future of Social Security: Bloomberg News’ congressional correspondent recently reported that Republican Senate leader Mitch McConnell “told me he hopes to work with the next Democratic president to trim Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid.”

All of this underscores an important reality: to both defeat Trump in this election and strengthen Social Security, we must choose Bernie Sanders as our Democratic nominee, because he has an unwavering record fighting against Social Security cuts — and fighting for an expansion of the program.

Unfortunately, not every candidate in this race has such a track record.

Former Vice President Joe Biden has pushed to cut benefits in the past. He delivered a Senate floor speech in 1995 boasting that he had tried four separate times to freeze funding for Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid and veterans benefits. And as recently as 2007, he said Social Security cuts should be on the table.

Former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg has an even more troubling record. He co-chaired a business group that pushed to cut Social Security. In that role, he appeared on national television to declare that President Obama should seek a deal with McConnell that featured “intelligent cuts.”

“There is a way to slowly decrease the benefits or raise the eligibility age for Medicare and for Social Security,” Bloomberg said. “There’s a way to have more co-pay on Medicaid which will do two things: one, the users of the service will pay a little more. But two, they’ll think twice before they use services.”

That is exactly the kind of record Trump would seize on in a general election — and it is the kind of deal McConnell wants from the next president.

Senator Sanders has a much different record — one that would not be susceptible to those Trump’s attacks, and one that would tell McConnell he will never get the cuts he so desperately wants.

Throughout his career, he has always fought to protect Social Security. During his first successful run for Congress, he campaigned against freezes or cuts to cost-of-living adjustments for Social Security recipients. Within weeks of being sworn in as a member of the U.S. House, he was one of just 27 House lawmakers to co-sponsor a bill to increase Social Security benefits for caregivers. He also co-sponsored legislation to block a cut in Social Security benefits for survivors — and he repeatedly opposed balanced budget amendments from Republicans and conservative Democrats that also would have cut Social Security.

As a U.S. Senator, he continued this advocacy. He worked with Democratic lawmakers to convince the Obama administration to oppose efforts to cut Social Security — and to instead support an expansion of Social Security.

Senator Sanders is the author of legislation to do just that.

Today, billionaires pay the same amount of money into Social Security as someone who makes $132,900 a year. Sanders’ legislation lifts that cap, and applies the payroll tax to all income over $250,000. The new revenue generated by that change would not only make Social Security solvent for the next 50 years, it also would allow us to expand benefits across the board, and increase cost-of-living adjustments to keep pace with inflation.

When President Franklin Roosevelt signed the original bill creating Social Security in 1935, he called it “a law that will take care of human needs and at the same time provide the United States an economic structure of vastly greater soundness.”

Eighty-five years later, we must now fortify that economic structure: we must defeat Trump and elect Bernie Sanders — whose record makes clear he will build on Roosevelt’s historic achievement.

Nina Turner is a former state senator from Ohio, and a co-chair of the Bernie Sanders campaign.