Poll after poll shows that the American people are united in their anger and frustration with the status quo. They sense, correctly, that the deck is stacked against them. While millions of people are working longer hours for lower wages, almost all new income is going to the top 1 percent. While people in the middle class pay their fair share of taxes, multi-national corporations avoid their tax responsibility by running abroad or taking advantage of loopholes. While young people study hard to get a college education, many of them leave school with crippling debts that severely impact their futures.
Over and over again the pundits and the media tell us how politically divided the American people are, and how we are drifting further and further apart into red and blue states. Frankly, I don’t believe it. Yes, there are significant divisions on a number of issues, but on many of the most important challenges facing our country progressives, moderates and conservatives are surprisingly united. We should build on that unity.
Real change comes about when large numbers of ordinary Americans speak, vote and get involved in the democratic process. If we stand together, we win. If we are divided, the big-money interests win. Over the years, when millions of people have stood and fought together we have made some pretty impressive progress: in workers’ rights, civil rights, women’s rights, gay rights, disability rights and in many other areas.
Despite the media’s insistence that the country is irreparably divided, let me give you a few examples of where the American people are largely united, not divided.
The overwhelming majority of Americans believe that our democracy is being undermined when billionaires can spend unlimited amounts of money to influence elections. Despite Supreme Court rulings to the contrary, people across the political spectrum understand that buying elections is not "freedom of speech." They understand that corporations are not people and that there should be strong limits on campaign spending.
The overwhelming majority of Americans believe that the middle class of this country is disappearing and that real unemployment is much too high. They very much want the federal government to play a strong role in creating decent-paying jobs by rebuilding our crumbling infrastructure (roads, bridges, rail, water systems, waste water plants, airports, etc.) and by making higher education much more affordable.
The overwhelming majority of Americans believe that the growing wealth and income inequality we are seeing poses a serious threat to the future of our country. They are deeply concerned that 95 percent of all new income generated in recent years has gone to the top 1 percent, and that the United States has, by far, the most unequal distribution of wealth and income of any major country. They very much support tax reform which asks the wealthy to start paying their fair share of taxes, and which eliminates huge tax loopholes enabling one out of four corporations to pay nothing in federal income taxes.
The overwhelming majority of Americans believe that the social safety net that has been established in this country over the last 80 years is vital to the well-being of working families, the elderly, the children, the sick and the poor. At a time when more Americans are living in poverty than ever before, they strongly oppose proposed cuts in Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, veterans’ benefits and federal aid to education.
A strong majority of Americans believe that global warming is real and poses a serious threat to our country and planet. They want the federal government to limit carbon emissions and to move forward aggressively in such areas as energy efficiency and sustainable energy.
Let’s be clear. What happens politically and in elections impacts the future of our country in a very big way. Elections have consequences and will determine whether the jobs in our country pay a living wage, whether women have pay equity, whether all Americans have health care, and whether we transform our energy system away from fossil fuels. The billionaire class fully understands what is at stake. That’s why a handful of them are pouring hundreds of millions of dollars into the current elections. Their goal is not to strengthen the middle class, but continue the trend in which the rich are getting richer at the expense of everyone else.
Let’s not be fooled. If we stand together and fight for the interests of ALL Americans, we win.
Bernie Sanders is a United States Senator for Vermont.