Speaking to a sell-out crowd that obviously wanted to feel the Bern again, Bernie Sanders brought a message of hard work and hope to the Miami Book Fair Saturday evening, delivered in tones of tough love.
“I understand people are distressed,” Sanders said, referring to the election of showman billionaire Donald Trump to the White House last week. “But despair is not an option. This country is not just about you. You don’t have the moral right to give up.”
Ronald Goldfarb, a distinguished D.C. attorney and author in his own right, introduced Sanders by saying of the election, “A better storyline would be poor kid from Brooklyn whips rich kid from Queens.”
Shaking his head, Goldfarb spoke for millions when he added, “I’ve learned that bright and witty doesn’t work. We are entering a very frightening season.” Quoting Bob Dylan, he said, “It’s not dark yet but it’s getting there.”
Sanders, however, was pugnacious from the start of his remarks. Noting that Hillary Clinton got one and a-half million more popular votes than Donald Trump, he said Trump and the Republicans have no mandate.
What’s more, Sanders said, on virtually every major issue, from raising the minimum wage to pay equity for women to criminal justice reform, campaign finance reform, immigration reform, “the vast majority” of people are on our side.
“When someone tells you that Republicans have a mandate to cut Social Security or Medicaid, or for tax cuts for the rich or against climate change,” Sanders said, “You tell your friends they are dead wrong.”
Trump did so unexpectedly well in the election, Sanders said, because the pain suffered by Americans who feel neglected or left behind are not reported in the media or discussed in the halls of Congress.
“You have a lot of pain and suffering in this country that no one talks about,” Sanders said. “People say, ‘Who hears my pain? Who knows I’m alive? Who gives a damn about me?’”
Trump, he said, claimed to speak for those people.
“This is a man, before he was even a candidate, was the leader of the birther movement,” Sanders said. “That was a racist attack on the legitimacy of the first African-American president. You can disagree all you want with [Barack] Obama; that’s America. But you are not allowed to undermine his legitimacy.”
Sanders told of a campaign stop in McDowell, W.Va., a hamlet in coal country, where “working-class people are dying younger than their parents,” mostly from drug addiction, alcoholism, and suicide. The despair among people working 10 hours a day and still not making a enough to live on is too much to bear.
“I am going to do everything in my power to reform the Democratic Party,” he said, “because I want the Democratic Party to be the party that hears them.”
Sanders sounded much like he did while stumping for the Democratic nomination last spring, but he spoke, if anything, with more urgency. The United States, he said, is the only major developed country in the world that does not provide health care as a right, or free or affordable child care, or free education.
“Over the last 30 years, there has been a massive transfer of wealth from your pockets to the pockets of the 1 percent,” Sanders said. “If you work 40 hours a week, you should not live in poverty.”
Single moms can’t afford child care, Sanders said, because it costs $10,000-20,000 a year. Thousands of people who have insurance but can’t afford co-pays or deductibles die each year because they go to the doctor too late.
“We are the wealthiest country in history,” Sanders declared. “There is no excuse for 43 million people living in poverty, the highest rate of childhood poverty on earth. We are moving very rapidly into an oligarchic form of society. You have a small number of very wealthy people controlling economic and political life.”
Only six financial institutions rule Wall Street, Sanders said, six media companies control 90 percent of television networks and newspapers. “The function of the media is not to educate but to make as much money as it can,” Sanders said. “What we saw in the last campaign, it was political gossip, polling.”
One solution, Sanders said, is forcing “billionaires like Donald Trump and his friends to start paying their fair share of taxes. When you do that, suddenly you find you have enough money to make college tuition free and reduce the debt.”
Sanders talked of corporate money corrupting elections. He called for the repeal of Citizens United, a Supreme Court decision that allows unlimited secret money to go to political campaigns, in favor of publicly funded campaigns.
“We need to build a system in which billionaires do not buy elections,” Sanders said.
Another major issue, Sanders said, is immigration. “When you have 11 million undocumented immigrants, the time is long overdue for comprehensive immigration reform and a path to citizenship.”
Sanders lauded the country’s long struggle against discrimination, against slavery, sexism, homophobia. It’s the easiest thing in the world, he said, for a demagogue to pick on minorities. Trump not only disrespected African-Americans, Sanders said, but also Mexicans, Muslims, and women.
“It is the duty of the majority to stand with minorities,” Sanders said. “On this issue there cannot be compromise. We are going to defend human rights and civil rights and the rights of women. When people are hurting and in pain, it is very easy to see as your enemy some guy picking tomatoes here in Florida, or some little girl in a scarf or some African-American down the street.
“I say to Mr. Trump, ‘We have come a long ways and we are not turning back.’”
Although Sanders pledged to do all he can in Congress to oppose Trump, he said these battles will not be won in the halls of Congress, but in grass-roots America.
“What that means is that this is not rhetoric,” Sanders said. “Democracy is not a spectator sport. Every person in the room is powerful. And not just during an election year, but every day. (Care) a little less about football, pay a little more attention to issues about children, parents, families.
“I’m ready for a fight,” Sanders said. “I hope all of you are ready for a fight, too.”