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The High Cost of Ignoring Bernie Sanders' Policies: Racial Divisiveness and Worse

By       Message Veena Trehan     Permalink
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Last week brought near-universal condemnation of Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump for calling for a "total and complete" ban on Muslims entering the United States. From Prime Minister David Cameron to Actor George Takei, from President Obama to House Speaker Paul Ryan, leaders condemned vitriolic Trump speech (later somewhat qualified.)

Yet hidden in the near-universal criticism of the right-wing demagogue is both the role the media has played in his rise, and its cost to American leadership. The media has enjoyed the ratings buzz of covering his misogynistic, racist trumpeting of hate. The lackluster businessman was, until recently, best known politically for questioning President Obama's US citizenship as a leader of the harebrained "birther" movement (no disrespect intended to those fuzzy animals). As a candidate, the media breathlessly covered: Trump implying supporters who targeted a Hispanic homeless man for a beating were "passionate," his brutal imagery of a bloodied Fox anchor Megyn Kelly after her probing debate questions, his calling Vietnam war veteran Sen. John McCain a "loser," and his statement that a #blacklivesmatter protestor at his rally who was punched and kicked "should [maybe] have been roughed up." His hate-filled pronouncements have attracted a media frenzy, with Huffington Post even putting him on their "Entertainment" page, although 75 percent of his statements are false.

More recently, he has incited hatred against Muslims by describing fake 9-11 celebrations of thousands in New Jersey, said he wasn't sure if he would have interned Japanese-Americans during World War II, and called for a database of Muslims.

Now, channeling Captain Renault, the media "is shocked--shocked" to find that Trump has been outspokenly xenophobic!" (Corporation: "Your advertising dollars." Media: "Oh, thank you very much.")

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They are similarly puzzled by his rise. But, to misquote President Obama, "You built that."

From flickr.com/photos/88876166@N00/21581179719/: Bernie Sanders for President
Bernie Sanders for President
(Image by Phil Roeder)
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A recent study of ABC, CBS, and NBC news programs found 234 minutes dedicated to Trump vs. just 10 for Bernie Sanders, with a comparable 81 minutes to 20 seconds on ABC's "World News Tonight." This happened despite the two's often similar polling results, and the fact Sanders outranks leading Republican candidates.

For Bernie it has seemed like a case study of Mahatma Gandhi's famous quote, "First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win." The news has mostly focused on ignoring him, albeit rarely mocking him for not kissing enough babies or living relatively cheaply.

And that has shaped our national descent into hate- and violence-filled debate. Last week when Trump spoke of the amoral, unlawful abrogation of Muslims' rights, former Japanese-American internment camp resident George Takei responded. He recited the results of a Congressional study that found that the internment happened in the context of three things: racial prejudice, war hysteria, and lack of political leadership.

Bernie's alternate and compelling "political leadership" has drawn overflow crowds, record donors, major endorsements, and heavy millennia support. Yet a message that could trump the Trump is virtually muted by the for-profit media.

In Bernie's quest to "Make America Great Again" (although he'd never adopt as trite a motto), he implicitly targets the actions of a specific demographic, like Trump. The decisions of powerful white males in legislative and corporate positions have led to a massive deterioration of financial security and dignity for many Americans. Sanders also advocates returning, in some ways, to an earlier era.

At the center of the Vermont senator's campaign is reversing income and wealth inequality. The top 1/10th of 1 percent holds almost as much wealth as the bottom 90 percent of America, as he frequently says. (Those richest have about three times more the share of wealth than they did in the late 1970s.) He supports reinstating the Glass-Steagall Act, whose repeal played a key role in the financial implosion that is costing America $6 to $36 trillion. He supports a living wage of $15 per hour to boost stagnating salaries, and the public funding of higher education that has skyrocketed in price. He advocates an end to austerity and the TPP. He has a comprehensive plan to address racial justice. He supports divestment of fossil fuels, promotes what he calls "real family values," and endorses affordable health care. These are policies consistent with decades of his Congressional leadership prioritizing the American people over the corporations whose money he doesn't accept.

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Listening to his blisteringly accurate analysis is revelatory. At his September Prince William County, Va., rally a friend turned to me and said, "This is why they don't let him on TV."

Over the last few months, he has expanded the scope of his bold proposals addressing key challenges.

Sanders introduced bills in Congress to reduce carbon pollution by 80 percent by 2050 through a carbon fee (a mechanism backed by climate leader James Hansen,) and a similarly aggressive climate plan. He visited Freddie Gray's neighborhood, comparing it to an impoverished part of a Third World country. He added environmental violence to his platform to end racial justice. He has called for resignations of those officials who delayed the release of the video of Chicago teenager Laquan McDonald's brutal death and for an end to exploitative for-profit prisons.

The narratives of other Republican presidential candidates, who cumulatively totaled about half of Trump's coverage, have been weak and often false. The exception is on foreign policy in which their violent statements feed ISIS propaganda and likely violate international law.

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Veena Trehan is a DC-based journalist and activist. She has written for NPR, Reuters, Bloomberg News, and local papers.

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