100 Years From Now…

Which Way?

The Long Future and the “In-Your-Face” Now: Playing Hide and Seek with Bernie Sanders

Recently I was standing in the kitchen with a group of old friends and blurted out something like, “When people look back a hundred years from now they will blame Bernie Sanders for playing a large role in the rise of fascism in the United States.” This was not just the doing of Donald Trump, Mike Pence, Paul Ryan, Steve Bannon and their “in-your-face” domestic white supremacist fans. This was progressive icon Bernie Sanders!

Bernie’s rallies were actually the first to attract vitriolic racist, misogynistic and xenophobic crowds and rants, and he seemed to do little or nothing to stop them. In some of the video footage from his campaign stops he even looks a bit afraid of his own supporters and what he had wrought through his public pronouncements about “millionaires and billionaires,” single payer healthcare, and the excesses of Wall Street. How his policy and structural statements about economic and social class morphed into xenophobia, misogyny, and racial epithets continued to baffle me to this day  until….

Enter Thomas “Tad” Devine

On July 27, 2018 MSNBC investigative journalist Rachel Maddow reported via BuzzFeed that the Mueller investigation is now communicating with one Thomas “Tad” Devine, Bernie Sanders’ chief campaign strategist for the 2016 election. Devine was a Harvard University Kennedy School Fellow in 2011 and worked as a policy advisor and lobbyist for several national and international political candidates for two decades, beginning in the 1980’s when Jimmy Carter ran for President. One of Devine’s international candidates was Viktor Yanukovych (also spelled Yanukovich), initially prime minister and subsequently president of Ukraine until Yanukovych’s ouster in 2014. Yanukovych’s hold on power in Ukraine was buttressed by none other than Vladimir Putin, a declared adversary of the United States. Furthermore, one of Devine’s American colleagues in the Ukraine consultancy was none other than Paul Manafort, chief strategist for the Trump campaign, who is now standing trial in the U.S. for tax fraud, money laundering, collusion, conspiracy, and perhaps ultimately even treason.

So chief campaign strategists on the right and also on the left were linked through Ukraine to the political agenda of Russian President Vladimir Putin. Of particular note was Manafort’s successful effort to modify the Republican platform at their 2016 national convention to be more favorable to Ukraine. While running candidate Trump’s presidential campaign, apparently Manafort was continuing to work as a paid or unpaid lobbyist for Ukraine.

It turns out that this formerly unknown and primarily under-the-radar Tad Devine, chief strategist for Bernie Sanders, has been perpetually involved in presidential campaigns in the U.S. since he began working on Jimmy Carter’s campaign in 1980. His online bio at the Kennedy School claims that he worked for Yanukovych either in 2006 and 2010 or from 2006 – 2010 and likely beyond. While he brags about the U.S. Senators and Congressmen he was successful in getting elected, all but one of his Democratic Party presidential candidates actually lost: Walter Mondale, Bob Kerrey from Nebraska, Al Gore, Joe Lieberman, John Kerry from Massachusetts, and John Edwards. Carter was the one exception and he lost his bid for a second term, ostensibly and partly for his mishandling of a sensitive issue with Iran, of all countries, in a series of events known generally as the Iran hostage crisis. I was a postdoctoral scholar at Harvard at the time and recall the scramble at the Kennedy School to devise a way to “Stop Carter!”

Recent news reports about alleged Russian spy Maria Butina have named the Kennedy School as a common entry point for foreign spies to gain a foothold and to develop political and business networks in the United States. (One other such avenue is the National Prayer Breakfast, organized and run by a secretive conservative Christian group called alternately the “Fellowship” or the “Family.”) While the Kennedy School was ultimately unsuccessful in the effort to stop Carter’s first term, I wonder if Tad Devine wanted those presidential candidates to lose in the service of Eastern European and Russian interests, or actually even helped them lose. But that sounds too much like conspiracy theory, so I’ll let it go at this point and imagine the best, not the worst. Frankly, it does not serve me or the country to become so cynical. On the other hand, it does not serve any of us to be ill informed or unaware.

One final note about Tad Devine before we get back to Bernie: Balletopedia, a self-described online nonpartisan election tool, quoted the culture and politics e-zine Salon in the following way: “Salon referred to Devine as “the Karl Rove to Bernie Sanders’ 2016 populist uprising.” https://ballotpedia.org/Tad_Devine

Here is a link to Devine’s bio at the Kennedy School if you are interested in more detail and wonder if I am making this all of this up in bleeding-edge-conspiracy-theory style: http://www.iop.harvard.edu/fellows/thomas-tad-devine. Now that Tad Devine is on the Mueller investigation radar I do not expect the Kennedy School version of his bio to remain unedited much longer, so I saved an original copy, just in case!

Back to Bernie

I confess to having been angry with Bernie Sanders for a long time, even though we share so much in terms of political and sociological analysis and policy recommendations. I resented that he apparently had no compunction about using Democratic Party resources and infrastructure to divide and decimate the very political party he was using for political gain. I was angry that he never really registered as a Democrat and that he returned to Washington DC after the election as an Independent, more popular and unscathed than ever after his loss to Hillary Clinton, where he continues to erode any semblance of Democratic Party unity.

Whatever his intent, Bernie’s actions are helping to cement President Trump’s and the Republican Party’s hold on the political process. Republicans now control all three branches of government for a time at least, and the legislative branch possibly for decades to come. Having one political party simultaneously control all three branches of government gives me cause for grave concern, regardless of party affiliation. The cornerstone argument for checks and balances goes out the window in such a scenario and we begin our slippery slide away from our country’s founding and amended ideals towards unthinking fanaticism and authoritarian rule.

Yes, I am still angry about the long-term political consequences of Bernie Sanders’ campaign and his actions, but I am also willing to hope that these events will ultimately make us better as a people and as a country. Our cultural sicknesses around race, class, gender and general “othering,” as authors Toni Morrison, Ta Nehisi Coates, and Barbara and Karen Fields would claim, are out there in the open for all to see, both here and abroad. Perhaps now we can truly drain our cultural swamp or, to use a different metaphor, lance the boil.

So Who’s on Third?

Following the release of the Tad Devine information, I wanted to believe that Bernie Sanders may indeed be an authentically well-intentioned individual who got “played” by nefarious special interests outside the country as well as within. I surmised that Sanders might not have been in charge of his own campaign which became distorted through foreign intervention. Only time will tell who the real Bernie Sanders is or was or will become.

While I have little solid proof and plenty of conjecture based on what I read and watch, I believe that a very thin veil covers Bernie Sanders’ social conservative leanings. On the other hand he may have an authentic concern about the oversized role of social class in American life. That dissonance between stated ideals and daily practice may have made him susceptible to manipulation and to becoming a potential political target for destabilizing our avowed democracy. He wanted to organize the poor and underserved who, he might have concluded, may not be able to organize themselves. Coming from Vermont he might share widely-held beliefs about an alleged innate lesser intellectual capacity among minorities and the poor, in addition to measurable evidence of environmental, medical, legal and educational constraints that limit access and mainstream achievement.

What Angela Davis calls the “prison industrial complex,” plus our still highly segregated school system, is real and carries real consequences for black, brown, indigenous, and some immigrant populations. That complex also carries real financial benefits for this administration’s wealthy supporters, especially private contractors who receive billions for building and maintaining prisons and now hundreds of millions diverted from public schools to private ones under Betsy DeVos’ Cabinet position in the Trump administration. She and her brother Erik Prince control at least two tines in that fork under the current administration. Bernie Sanders understands this and rightly rails against these systemic inequalities.

Bernie may be perfectly happy to hold rallies in other people’s cities and neighborhoods, but I wonder how he would feel if the poor and middle class he claims to represent at last gained the right and the means, through his vocal support, to move next door to him in largely pristine, largely racially homogeneous and notably iconoclastic Vermont! Perhaps this is an unfair charge on my part: I do not know Bernie Sanders personally and I certainly cannot get inside his head or determine his true intent. I will say, however, that the effect of such thinking has been reflected in his campaign and in his actions. His campaign is replete with followers who seem to believe that the ends justify the means and that I need to just get out of the way so they can save me. Such behavior I have witnessed first hand and cannot overlook.

So Bernie, if you happen to read this, pay attention and sort out your own deepest beliefs and priorities. I would love to believe you and to believe in you, but first I need to know if you truly believe what you say! Is it political calculation and old-time wisdom that keep you from endorsing Ocasio-Cortez, or is it something else? What kept you from taking the lead in your campaign to reign in your followers and denounce the personal hatred and vitriol aimed at your opponent, Hillary Clinton, and to permit the bashing to continue even after that primary was over and the mid-term elections are here a full two years later? Take a close look into your own heart and then decide what you want to, and must do next to reclaim your integrity and control of your message.

Footnote on 14 August 2018. Just as I was about to post this original piece a New York Times article came through on my news feed late afternoon Honolulu time that Bernie Sanders had easily won the Democratic Primary nomination in Vermont, but that he might decline that nomination and run instead as an Independent, which is his true affiliation. According to the Times article, his motive in running as a Democrat was apparently and allegedly to prevent the Democratic Party in his state from putting forth a liberal or more moderate Democratic candidate against him, thereby potentially splitting the liberal vote and opening the possibility for a Republican victory. After he easily won the Senate nomination in Vermont he could leave the party that is not his own and run unopposed for all practical purposes during the general election. He may call that saving Vermont Democrats from themselves. I call that behavior unethical.

So much for altruism. I am not sure what the Sanders campaigns will do in the long run for two-party politics or the potential for a strong national third party, perhaps as a retort to the ruling class, perhaps as self-aggrandizement. It seems Sanders’ fundamental intent is to create a viable third party, not so much to protect the middle class and the poor from those greedy “millionaires and billionaires.”

Bernie may feel that the end justifies the means and that we need a third party; I call his maneuvering a deep and worrisome lack of integrity that steps over the voting rights of the small and the many for some abstract goal he may feel will serve the country in the long run. At the very least he has embarked on an ethical slippery slope that threatens the very foundations of a democracy he claims to represent: disenfranchising the many and the “lesser” in the service of some grand socialist scheme. Perhaps he has even operated in the service of Vladimir Putin – wittingly or unwittingly – whose goal is ultimately to destabilize our democracy and divide our voting population, not to serve or represent our poor and disenfranchised. Was Bernie fully aware of who Tad Devine was when he named him chief strategist for his campaign? Was he unwittingly duped into serving Russian interests, given the relationship of Devine and Manafort? I certainly hope he was unaware, for him and for us. In the long run, however, in that long future, all will be revealed. But for now, you decide….

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