Bernie Sanders may have lost the Democratic presidential primary to Hillary Clinton, but in the wake of the election of Republican Donald Trump the Vermont senator is looking pretty prescient. A self-described Democratic Socialist, Sanders ran for the Democratic nomination on a platform specifically geared toward the working class and those who feel they’ve been left behind as economic changes have disproportionately benefited the wealthy and privileged.
Trump won, in part, because he was able to convince many of those voters that he was on their side, and according to Sanders that means it’s time for a thorough overhaul of the Democratic Party and its message.
With a new book called Our Revolution just out, Sanders is making the rounds of radio and television outlets promoting his vision. But he is also taking action by wading into the ongoing discussion about the future of the party -- specifically by supporting young, new leadership at the Democratic National Committee.
“Over the years, the Democratic Party has become a party more concerned with raising money from wealthy individuals than they have been about bringing working people into the party and taking on the billionaire class, taking on Wall Street, taking on the drug companies or the insurance companies,” Sanders said in an interview with the BBC.
“And the Democratic Party has not been strong in standing up for the needs of working families and I think people are saying well, Democrats haven’t done it for us let me try this guy Trump and we’ll see how he does. I am working right now to find and support new leadership for the Democratic Party and an entire new process by which we welcome working people and young people into the party.”
Sanders’ push for change comes at a time when Democratic lawmakers, who will be virtually powerless in Congress next year, have shown little interest in changing their own leadership. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, of California, is expected to retain her post, and New York Sen. Chuck Schumer, long expected to succeed retiring Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, appears set to do just that.
But Sanders is focusing on a major shake-up of the party’s organizing committee by backing Minnesota Rep. Keith Ellison to chair the DNC -- an organization that, hacked emails last summer revealed, had covertly put its thumb on the scales during the primary, to the benefit of Hillary Clinton. An African American and a Muslim with a very liberal political orientation, Ellison would be a dramatic departure from the type of centrist typically elected to the post.
“I think it's time for a fundamental reassessment,” Sanders said in a separate interview with National Public Radio. “I think what that reassessment has got to entail is to understand that we cannot have a party that will win, if we continue to become dependent on big money interests and campaign fundraisers all over this country.”
At the same time that the Democrats are reorienting themselves with the electorate, Sanders said, they need to be diligent in opposition to many of the policies Trump has proposed, even as they remain willing to work with him on others.
“What we will hold him accountable for is that he went to the American people and he said, ‘You know what? I am going to be a champion of the American working class. I’m worried that your wages are too low, that you don’t have enough jobs, that unemployment in minorities’ communities is too high,’” Sanders told the BBC.
“Well, we’re going to hold him accountable and we are going to develop policies, that I hope he will support, which address the fact that the middle class in this country is in decline, that we have massive levels of income and wealth inequality, that, in fact, youth unemployment in minority communities is outrageously high. So, I look forward to working with him if he is going to be honest and consistent with his campaign rhetoric on improving the economy for working families, we’re going to oppose him vigorously in terms of his bigotry.”
On Trump’s other priorities, he said, “We have got to rally millions of people to stand together to say that we’re not going to be deporting millions of Latinos from this country, people who have in some cases lived here for years. Ain’t going to happen. We’re not going to allow it to happen.
“We’re not going to allow women to be insulted and attacked and have their rights taken away from them, rights they have fought for. The right to choose, the right to control their own bodies. We’re not going to allow Trump and his friends to take those rights away that women have struggled for literally for centuries.”
When it was pointed out that Democrats will have little leverage in those fights -- Trump has the White House, Republicans hold both houses of Congress, and Trump’s next selection for the Supreme Court will likely tip the majority to the court’s conservative wing -- Sanders said he recognized that it would not be easy.
“The only way that we can stop it is to bring millions of people together to make it clear to Trump and his allies that they will pay a very, very heavy political price if they go forward in policies that the American people don’t want. Our job is to oppose him vigorously.”