Sen. Bernie Sanders at the Democratic primary debate in Charleston, S.C., February 25, 2020. (Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)
David Brooks’s account of Senator Bernie Sanders and his campaign cuts deep, because it is true, and obviously true.
Populists like Sanders speak as if the whole system is irredeemably corrupt. Sanders was a useless House member and has been a marginal senator because he doesn’t operate within this system or believe in this theory of change.
He believes in revolutionary mass mobilization and, once an election has been won, rule by majoritarian domination. This is how populists of left and right are ruling all over the world, and it is exactly what our founders feared most and tried hard to prevent.
Brooks’s colleagues often write that the problem with the country is that it is too divided, and that it requires someone to “unite” us as a whole or in subsections. But saying that the country is “divided” is only a way of acknowledging that there are two parties representing two organic political tendencies and two broad American social tribes that disagree about many of the basic things. The call for “unity” often is the call for “majoritarian domination,” for getting one side to submit to the mastery of the other.
This is a current theme of Democratic partisanship in the New York Times mode. Jamelle Bouie, for example, writes that the first thing that’s needed from a Democratic presidential nominee is “unifying the party, and Sanders can do that,” and that the socialist from Vermont from Brooklyn “is the only candidate who can plausibly unite the anti-Trump majority of the electorate.” Frank Bruni, arguing for Pete Buttigieg instead, insists that “fragmentation” is “the greatest problem that America faces,” and that Buttigieg can reduce that fragmentation and hence make “progress on all of those other fronts possible.” David Leonhardt, too, worries about division, and makes the case that Democrats instead should rally behind Senator Klobuchar and “de-emphasize cultural issues—on which voters are much more divided,” describing a purely strategic approach. Michelle Goldberg, arguing for Elizabeth Warren, lays out a model for that “majoritarian domination” that Brooks warns of: “Even if a Democrat wins the presidency in November, Democrats won’t be able to pass significant legislation unless they both take the Senate and eliminate the filibuster. That will make Warren’s mastery of the levers of executive power particularly important.”
Mastery and power!
Brooks is right about Senator Sanders. But it is no less the case that Warren and the rest of that gang have very little interest in anything other than ruling, majoritarian domination, mastery and power—whatever you want to call it. Consider, for perspective, the upcoming Supreme Court trial on Philadelphia’s jihad against Catholic Social Services, which does invaluable work for children in the foster-care system but, in accordance with its religious beliefs, declines to place children in the care of homosexual couples. There are a million foster-care agencies (and adoption agencies, too) that are not Catholic, that serve homosexual couples, that toe whatever political line the corrupt and inept municipal powers of Philadelphia insist on—and one that does not. One deviation is too many. The Left will not have a live-and-let-live solution here, no more than in the matter of adoptions in Massachusetts.
They speak of “unity.” They mean “submission.”
Until we are able to conduct ourselves with genuine respect for the fact that there are real differences in our society, and that those differences involve things that people on both sides of the great divide believe to be morally important, we will not have a politics of the liberal toleration Brooks longs for. We will have majoritarian tyranny and a merciless fight for mastery and power.
And we will have two parties with two standard-bearers who truly deserve one another.
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