His soul swooned softly as he heard the snow falling faintly through the universe and faintly falling, like the descent of their last end, upon all the living and the dead. -James Joyce
Rhode Island is a perfect microcosm of everything wrong with the Democratic Party and their spaghetti-spined pwogwessive caucus. The April 2016 primary was a massive sweep for Bernie Sanders despite the testimony by Democratic Party leadership days earlier that it was “Clinton Country”. For decades the state has been a solid blue Democratic machine edifice and, in the post-2008 era, it has begun to resemble Soviet Bulgaria circa 1983.
In this sense, Jeffrey St. Clair’s new volume Bernie and the Sandernistas is a book that was written for this landmass, a hilarious struggle session in print that might help the braver sorts grow up and get over their Never-Neverland delusions about Our Revolution™ in exchange for some real expropriating.
From the outset, the Sanders campaign was strangely reminiscent of a Catholic Church jubilee year that evangelizes to the fallen away, promising that THIS TIME IT WILL BE DIFFERENT! For those of you who did not survive parochial school as I did, the closest analogue comes from the Sanders-like GODFATHER PART III: “Just when I thought I was out, they pull me back in!” But due to my own radicalization by Occupy, my cynicism bred by decades living under the machine, and working with the poorest of the poor youth in Providence, along with a steady dose of the writings in this collection, I was able to pass through the Democratic gom jabbar and emerge on the other side.
Were there moments when I wanted Bernie Sanders to win?
I work in settings that are officially designated by the state of Rhode Island as toilets. Austerity has wracked Providence over the past decade and shown me the true depravity of the neoliberal Democratic Party. I have mild respect for those who are part of the Rhode Island Progressive Democrats, as much as I can for any East Side WASP (White Anti-Socialist Pwogs) enclave, but that mostly comes from how certain members are willing to make the Party leadership uncomfortable. But I have metric tons more respect for impoverished black and brown kids I work with daily, kids who have figured out how to laugh, joke, and smile despite being forced by the state to live in a trash bin. So, yes, I did want Sanders, who took on the guise of a rock star, to descend in all his Althusserian glory and make the lives of these kids better. Only a sadist would not want to end austerity by any means necessary.
But it was not to be. St. Clair, an amalgamation of Morpheus in THE MATRIX and Hunter Thompson circa 1972, kept on putting his gonzo red pills out weekly, serving as a bracing blast of arctic reality in the midst of a media-generated warm, moist utopia that was at just the right temperature one could contract a staph infection from. With pinpoint precision, he points out how “the senator from Ben and Jerry’s” carried on like a bloviating charlatan, failing to indict the war machine and manipulating his more ridiculous followers into saying ghastly things about people of color when instead he should have been offering mea culpas on his hands and knees in urban centers for participating in the Clinton rape and pillage of black and brown America.
The one piece in here that I treasured all year was St. Bernard and the Sandernistas. Written at the start of the whole affair, it was a political true north while navigating a year that seemed like a never-ending Gethsemane. As the Rhode Island Sanders phenomenon became a WASP carnival of naiveté combined with absurdity, loaded with regular local protesters making all sorts of ridiculous statements prompted by local Democratic power player Tad Devine, I would on a weekly basis pull up this piece. With a measured cadence and rhythm intrinsic to the art of muckraking, it was a compass in a pea soup-thick fog of idiocy and I thank him for it.
It really was awful to look up from my phone after reading that one and see that things were not going to be magicked better for the kids I work with. Scholars of Joyce will know what I refer to as the epiphany and understand how painful it is.
But the act of un-training oneself of white supremacy, teaching yourself to “abolish the white race” within yourself, to quote Noel Ignatiev, is about giving up fantasies and coming to grips with how awful this country actually has always been and, more importantly, how you as a Euro American help make it awful daily still. Bernie Sanders was a cheerleader for a foolish middle-class vision of America circa 1961. The nostalgia he invoked within Rhode Islanders was for a specific brand, John F. Kennedy’s Camelot. Noam Chomsky seemed to touch on this lightly in an interview with Abby Martin on Empire Files when he equated the candidate’s policies not with Trotsky but Eisenhower. The fact is that Eisenhower and Kennedy were both vicious white supremacists who were appalled by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Malcolm X. Rhode Islanders who invoke the memory of Jack Kennedy would do just as well to write a sonnet about Strom Thurmond.
There was irony to the Democratic Convention being held so close to Bastille Day 2016. While Sanders was merely a courtier to Marie Antionette, St. Clair was our Anacharsis Cloots. Bravo!