What is the saddest truth about democracy

"Don't stand aside: democracy is not a spectator sport!"

On May 31, US Senator Bernie Sanders, who narrowly defeated Hillary Clinton in the race for the democratic presidential candidacy, spoke to over a thousand enthusiastic students in Berlin. The Free University, the »ZEITmagazin« and the Ullstein publishing house, which has just published Sanders ‘new book» Our Revolution «, had invited. The editor-in-chief of "ZEITmagazin", Christoph Amend, took over the moderation. We are publishing Sanders ‘speech in a shortened and slightly edited version. The translation is by Steffen Vogel - D. Red.

Let me begin by saying something obvious, a view shared by the vast majority of the American people and a strong majority in the US Congress: Since the horrors of World War II, the relationship between the United States and Europe has been essential to conflict prevent and improve the standard of living for hundreds of millions of people. In my view, this relationship needs to last, not just for the sake of the people of the United States and Europe, but for greater stability around the world.

I also firmly believe that the United States' withdrawal from the Paris Agreement is foolish and dangerous. It's a terrible mistake. But the American people - and as I know you here in Germany and all over the world - understand, unlike President Trump, that climate change is not a hoax. It is a dangerous reality caused by human activity that is already causing great problems around the world. I want you to know: Many US states, including my own, are working hard to transform our energy system away from fossil fuels and towards energy efficiency and renewable energies. And if there is a clear example of the need for international cooperation, it is the climate crisis. That is why the Paris Agreement is so important. Germany alone will not stop the warming of this planet, not the increasing floods and droughts and heat waves and rising sea levels and the acidification of the oceans all over the world. Germany cannot do this alone. China can't. The United States can't. This crisis has extraordinary consequences and calls for strong international cooperation if we are to leave this planet in a healthy and habitable state for our children and grandchildren.

Therefore, you should know that whatever Trump believes or does, there are massive efforts all over our country to take on the powerful energy industry. The oil, gas, and coal companies care more about their short-term profits than about the future of this planet. All over the country, people are switching to solar, wind and geothermal energy. We invest billions of dollars in insulating our buildings. We are massively switching to electric cars. Whatever Trump may say or do, don't think that the people of the United States are turning their backs on this crisis.

When I got to Europe, a lot of people wanted to know what I thought of Donald Trump's presidency. Let me say a few words about it. It's no great secret that for many, many reasons - to put it mildly - I'm not a huge fan of President Donald Trump. Let me briefly mention some of these reasons.

First, as a Senator for the State of Vermont, I, like my constituents, are of course interested in its domestic politics. So we need to take a close look at the devastating budget that Trump has just presented to Congress. You should hear this because it tells you how removed Donald Trump is from the American people - on vital issues for the working people of America. At a time of massive income and wealth inequality in the United States, Trump's budget is an outrageous document. It is the most dire budget in recent US history. It provides nothing less than a massive redistribution from the working people, the elderly, children, sick and poor to the top one percent.

What I am telling you now will make you rub your eyes because it sounds so unlikely: Trump's budget would take 23 million Americans out of health insurance. The so-called Obama Care only recently expanded this protection, and even if this reform did not go far enough, it was a start. But if that budget passes, if the devastating Republican healthcare reform goes through, thousands of Americans will die unnecessarily from being unable to see a doctor. On top of that, the budget provides for massive cuts in nutrition programs. Now let's talk about the basic necessities of life. In America, millions of people are struggling to get food on the table. That is why there is a program that provides low-income pregnant women with food so that their pregnancy is successful and their children have a healthy start in life. Trump wants to cut this program massively. At the same time, Trump is providing the top one percent with tax breaks over three trillion dollars for ten years. Just imagine: we already have massive inequality in income and wealth. And Trump's budget is saving by cutting programs that children and working people desperately need. At the same time, we get tax breaks over three trillion dollars for the top one percent. During the election campaign, Trump said: I'm a different Republican. I will be on the side of the working people, on the side of the needy. But his politics as president turns his back on the working people; she is a tremendous support for the billionaire class.

An attack on American democracy

Second, I am deeply concerned about Donald Trump's disrespect for democracy, tolerance, and traditional American values. His unprecedented attacks on the media are nothing less than an attempt to intimidate potential critics and undermine respect for dissent and a free press. Look, I am a politician and I have problems with the media every day, like any politician in any country. But now the President of the United States is basically saying: The New York Times and the Washington Post, CBS, CNN and NBC are lying, everything they say is fake news, don't believe a word of them, and if you do want to hear the truth, you can only get it from me, from Donald Trump. That is nothing to laugh about. That is serious. This is a serious attack on American democracy.

I have colleagues in the Senate who are very, very conservative and with whom I do not agree on any question. But many of them believe what they say, they are honest. I respect that. Some of them are my friends. In President Trump, on the other hand, we see a man who keeps telling blatant lies and making outrageous claims that are not supported by facts. One of those lies is one he told with good reason: a few months ago he said that between three and five million people voted illegally in the presidential election. Well, it turns out that no electoral officer in the United States, whether he is a Democrat or a Republican, believes it. Then why did Trump say it? He did it because he supported the current attempts in many republican-dominated states to make it more difficult for the poor, people of color and the elderly to participate in elections. Whoever could vote against him should not be able to vote if possible. And if that doesn't undermine everything America stands for, then I don't know either.

The United States has always been a world leader in promoting democracy. We invest a lot of money to help developing countries on their way to democracy. This is our value system: We believe in people's right to determine their future. So I find it incomprehensible that we have a president today who is more comfortable with autocrats and authoritarian politicians than with top politicians in democratic countries. Frankly, many Americans are trying to figure out why Donald Trump seems to admire President Vladimir Putin so much. As you all know, Putin is a leader who massively suppresses democracy in his own country and who has interfered in free elections in the United States, France and other countries. Beware, Germany could be next. Putin has spent the last few years trying to destabilize democracy around the world. Americans also wonder why President Trump finds such kind words for Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte, who is radically undermining civil and civil rights in his country. And why he's so comfortable with the leaders of Saudi Arabia, a hereditary monarchy that treats women as third-class citizens and promotes Wahhabism, a radical and extreme form of Islam.

I am often asked in my country and around the world why Donald Trump won the election. One of the main reasons is that many millions of working class Americans, often in rural areas, are being left behind by the global economy and lack of education for the new high-tech jobs. In other words, the world is moving very, very fast, but when you visit cities in rural America, you come across rusting factories, cities that young people are moving out of and fewer and fewer children in their schools. The people there have been neglected and ignored for too long, by politicians in general and by Democrats in particular.

And these people ask: does anyone know that I can't live on nine dollars an hour? Does anyone know I don't have health insurance? Does anyone know that as a single mom, I can't afford to spend $ 10,000 a year on childcare when I make $ 30,000? That I can't afford to spend 40 to 50 percent of my income on rent? Does anyone know that thinking about my child's future makes me scared to death because they can't afford the high college fees and there aren't decent jobs in my community? Does anyone hear my pain? The sad truth is that in Washington we weren't listening. And the truth is too: in the past 40 years technology has advanced tremendously, workers have become more productive, and tremendous wealth has been created in the United States. But at the same time the middle class has shrunk. Forty-three million Americans today live in poverty, some in desperate poverty, while almost all of the newly created wealth has benefited the people at the top.

This is happening in many parts of the world. Multinational corporations and the richest people are doing phenomenally well everywhere. They like unrestricted free trade because in America that means you can shut down a factory where people get a decent wage and move it to China or Mexico, where people are paid a small fraction of American wages. In the United States and around the world, trillions of dollars in corporate profits are escaping taxation due to tax systems that allow the wealthy to move money with the click of a mouse and evade their tax obligations. In the United States - and around the world - there are corporations that make billions in profits annually but don't pay federal taxes because they hide their profits in the Cayman Islands, Bermuda, Luxembourg, Ireland, or wherever. This is another area where we need international cooperation, where we all need to work together. It is unacceptable for large profitable corporations to evade their fair share of tax revenues, be it in the United States, Germany, the United Kingdom or anywhere else.

On the way to the oligarchy?

My greatest fear is that the United States today is moving towards an oligarchy where a small number of billionaires control our economy and our political life. And by the way, when we talk about oligarchy and the power of the few over the many, please don't think that this is an American phenomenon. Globally, and it is hard to believe, the top one percent today is more wealthy than the remaining 99 percent of the world's population. The richest eight people in the world - eight people! - own more than the lower half of the world's population. Can you imagine that? In a world where children die because their parents cannot afford drugs for easily preventable diseases. In a world in which it is increasingly difficult for people to find clean drinking water or a decent apartment. In this world, eight of the richest people own more than the bottom half of the world's population. Our job is not to accept this shame. She is unacceptable!

You know, it's easy to read history books and think about the kings and queens and tsars, people who were extraordinarily rich when their people owned nothing. It's easy to look back in history. But what do you think is happening today? Today there are people who are worth 30, 40, 50 billion dollars, who own hundreds of cars, who own yachts and who couldn't spend all that money in a thousand lives. And on the other hand, we have children who die unnecessarily and people who cannot go to the doctor when they need one. It is our job, at this point in history that offers us such great opportunities for the betterment of life, to stand up together against this billionaire class worldwide and tell them that their greed and selfishness are no longer acceptable and that we can take them on become.

When we started the presidential campaign we had no money and no organization. Very few people knew me outside of the state of Vermont - which is one of the smallest states in the country, a beautiful state that hopefully when you get to the United States you will visit. Frankly, we had no idea how to run for the presidency of the United States. But we learned very quickly. The main point we came across at the beginning of our campaign was this: There was a hunger among working people and among young people not to mess up, but to mess up. There was a hunger for questions like these: Why is the United States the only major country in the world today that doesn't guarantee health care for all people? If Canada does, if Britain does, if Germany does, if France does, if every major country in the world has concluded that health care is a right and not a privilege - then why can't the United States? also do? And people said, yes, that's a good question, why not?

Or, another topic that you may not be very familiar with, we have young people graduating from college who are in debt of $ 50,000 or $ 80,000 in student loans, partly because of the high tuition fees. A few years ago I spoke to a young woman who provides primary health care in my town of Burlington, Vermont. After graduating from medical school, she owed $ 300,000. This is crazy. Then I met a young dentist in Iowa with $ 400,000 in debt. So we said: In times of fierce global competition, all of our young people around the world must receive the best possible education without going into deep debt. And that was very well received in the country, especially among young people and their parents.

Let me move on to another topic. The United States, the richest country in the history of the world, has more people in prison than any other country. A communist authoritarian country like China, four times the size of the United States, has fewer prison inmates than we do. California, for example, spends more money on prisons than on colleges and universities. And there are a disproportionate number of Afro-Americans among those detained. An African American man born today has a one in four risk of ending up in jail. This also applies to Latinos and Native Americans. So we said loudly and clearly: If youth unemployment in city centers and minority communities is between 20 and 40 percent, it makes more sense to invest in education and work than in prisons.

Let me conclude. These are difficult times, not just for the United States but for the whole world. Many people suffer and the demagogues scapegoat minorities, who often have no power, instead of tackling the real problems of the country.At this critical moment, as right-wing extremism rises in Europe and the United States, we cannot turn a blind eye to what is happening in the world, however convenient it may seem. I know people say, “I can't handle this, this is crazy, spare me from it. I focus on my life, my family, my career. ”I ask you not to take this path. I urge you: Have a vision of a world that could be very, very different from the one we are currently living in. It may not materialize next year, it may not materialize in my lifetime, maybe not even in yours. But right now, in the face of tremendous technological advances, we have the potential to create a fantastic world. We can have the best schools, extraordinary schools, anywhere in the world, with no fees. Yes, we can fight climate change. We have already made major breakthroughs. We can transform our energy system. And if we're smart, and if we work together, then maybe, just maybe, we could end the horrors of war and bring peace to this planet.

So, please, please, whether it's an environmental policy, or women's rights, or gay rights, or whatever - do what needs to be done. Don't stand aside and let bad things happen. In America we often say: Democracy is not a spectator sport. Football is a spectator sport, basketball is a spectator sport. Democracy, that's you. And if we stand together and don't allow the demagogues to split us because of our skin color, where we come from, or our religion, then we can have an extraordinary future. And worldwide, it is your generation who can help make this future come true. Thank you all very much.

Bringing people together

Christoph Amend: For most of your political career you were an outsider, a kind of underdog. How did you end up winning so often? Is there a secret?

Bernie Sanders: I think there are two secrets. The first is, you have to tell people honestly who you are - and more importantly, what their needs are. The second is: you have to bring people together. My presidential campaign was exactly the same as the campaign I ran for Burlington Mayor so many years ago. It consisted of coalition politics. Do you know what that is?

If we did really in-depth interviews with each of you, it would turn out that you would probably agree on 80 or 90 percent of the questions. For example, if we were to talk about women's rights, gay rights or climate change, the overwhelming majority in this room would probably agree. But then you dig a little deeper and find that people have different views. My wife and I have different opinions on certain subjects. But the following is important for the concept of coalition policy: I understand that you and I may not be 100 percent in agreement. But if we can agree 80 or 90 percent of the time, we stand together. So in my mayoral campaign we brought young environmentalists together with the Burlington Police Union. The policemen's concern was that they should be treated with respect, that they should be adequately paid and that they should work properly. So we brought the local unions together with young people who were concerned about the environment, with women who at the time basically had no access to the city administration, with low-wage earners who were disadvantaged in the housing market, and with students. I was afraid that if I put all these people in one room, there would be chaos. But the truth is: you can forge coalitions and bring people together even if they don't agree 100 percent. We did a similar thing with the presidential campaign.

Amend: In your book you mention that one of your political heroes is the Pope. You and your wife met him briefly in the Vatican and even slept in the same building. How was the meeting with him?

Sanders: You know, in a way that is an example of what I mean by coalition politics. Do I agree with everything the Pope stands for? The answer is no. Obviously, our views on women's rights, gay rights and other issues are very different. But if you see him as an international spokesman for justice and dignity, if you read some of his writings, like his encyclical on climate change, he says things about the economy that very, very few elected politicians in the world would say. He says that the economy should serve the people, not the money; he says that men and women are ruled by money rather than human dignity - that is very, very radical. And I very much appreciate his statements about youth unemployment, his statements about - as he says - the dispossessed that we forget, the old people who sit alone in their homes and cannot feed themselves adequately, young people without jobs, workers without employment. He talks about it all the time. So I think he is a true advocate of justice on many economic and environmental issues.

Amend: Have you already decided whether you will run in the next presidential election?

Sanders: I haven't made up my mind yet. The honest answer is that right now we are working day and night trying to thwart Trump's agenda and mobilize the American people. That is before me today and not worrying about an election in three years' time.

Let me end on a very serious note. I want you all to know this: There are millions and millions of wonderful people in the United States who work hard every day for economic and ethnic, environmental and social justice. Trump doesn't represent the values ​​of most Americans. And despite everything that has recently happened, we look forward to working with Germany and Europe. Our job is to bring the people of the world closer together and not to start unnecessary arguments.

[1] The term People of Color goes back to the US civil rights movement and refers to non-white people. - D. Red.