My fifteen year old son introduced me to Bernie Sanders, and I’m guessing he had a good hunch that I would like his ideas about integrity, personal responsibility, the role of government, social justice and accountability of business leaders and government institutions. To be precise, my son showed me a video clip of Bernie on Late Night with Seth Meyers, in which he attempted to explain to the general public why “socialist” isn’t a dirty word. I didn’t need any convincing, as I have plenty of first hand life experience living in a country under a Socialist government (and for the most part, loving it!). Although I still have more research to do about Bernie, that video converted me, and I’m now a big fan of Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, and I would personally love for him to be our next president.
Having lived in France for nearly 18 years, I think I have a pretty good handle on what it is like to live under a socialist government…and it was great to see how young people were all so aware of social issues and how the news focused on social justice and not crime. I especially appreciated the universal healthcare system in France, which is particularly well run and efficient.
Just as an aside, I do have to add that I am not a political activist. I feel that if anything is to be learned from recent history, it is that no “isms” can solve humanity’s problems and apparent inability to live peacefully with one another and to share prosperity. My belief is that developing self-awareness, self-love, compassion for others, and personal responsibility are the only (not easy) way to our collectively and personally becoming more human and more humane as individuals and as cultures.
The other day, I was reading about how the black twitter community in the United States has been reacting to Bernie Sanders’ campaign, questioning his support of issues pertaining to black citizens and specifically targeting racial discrimination which leads to social inequality. So I started to think about what part of discrimination is caused by unfair politics and policies, and what part is due to cultural post-traumatic stress. The problems we experience in our society are so complex, and there is so much buried frustration and pain. I think Bernie Sanders wants to bring a new culture of government to our country, in which leaders accept full responsibility for their leadership and refuse to cater to manipulation by big business…in other words, a politic of social responsibility where everyone contributes to the greater good.
Many Americans don’t realize that our freedom as citizens is becoming threatened by huge corporate monopolies which are governing health care, the food industries, pharmaceuticals, education, banking, housing, our legal system (prisons) and other key areas of life. These huge conglomerates think only about profits and care nothing for our health or the environment, or about preserving jobs and quality of life for Americans. I saw a front page article in the Wall Street Journal just this morning detailing Anthem’s buyout of Cigna and how soon there will likely only be three health insurance giants offering policies to workers and their families. Less competition means less choice and less freedom for consumers, and more room for big business to control what options are available to us and at what price.
Government-run healthcare programs such as the system in France offer all people who work affordable medical care with a very wide array of choices in providers. They also offer great preventive care options, and the entire system is much more cost effective than ours. There is no insurance company to deal with and no hidden costs or surprise bills. As a patient and consumer, you pay in full up front and are then reimbursed the percentage assigned as covered by the social security system. At your own discretion, you can purchase complementary insurance policies at an affordable rate that will provide 100% coverage. In fact, even fifteen years ago, I had a smart card and reimbursements were directly deposited into my bank account! There are no corporate HMOs to inflate the costs of care, which is more affordable because doctors are not forced by lawyers and inflated malpractice insurance to overcharge for their services. As you can see, our lives in America are made precarious by a system which favors wealthy people who can afford to pay for the high cost of living here. And everyone else is subsidizing that high cost of living.
Of course, here in the United States, our culture, history, demographics, and values are so very different from those of the French and France. And while I broach the subject of discrimination, I want to add that I am the mom of a bi-racial child, but I am not African-American. I live in a fairly diverse but primarily African-American neighborhood in which there is a lot of poverty…but there is also a great community garden, small family-run businesses, and great places of worship. Homes built in the early 50’s with large lots are available at very low cost in this neighborhood, though probably for not much longer, as wealthier neighborhoods nearby are expanding.
I think it is interesting to see how Bernie Sanders will take specifically American issues out of the political and intellectual arenas to deal directly with his prospective constituents…and find out what is really important for all of us to move forward together.
I was just reading an article on-line (thedailybeast.com) discussing how Mr. Sanders is being received by the black twitter community. The critiques are basically focused on Mr. Sanders’ lack of focus on racial discrimination specifically. Comedian Roderick Morrow, whose Twitter handle is @rodimusprime has posted some playful comments that have a background in some serious criticisms of how Sanders has been handling of his campaign and how he has been dealing with issues that affect most Americans. Here is a quote from the article, the first paragraph being the words of Mr. Morrow himself on the subject:
“Every time race is brought up, he (Sanders) pivots to the economy, which obviously a lot of racial disparity comes via economic means, but some of it is just flat out racism and discrimination,” Morrow said. Sanders’s view that “if wehad more jobs in Ferguson, this wouldn’t have happened, I’m not sure that is valid. I mean, Mike Brown was on his way to college. It’s not just a jobs thing.”
The Sanders backlash could indicate friction and dissonance between two critical components of the Democratic base: white liberals and African-Americans. Many younger black activists are skeptical not just of Sanders but of the current Democratic field, who they believe have taken the solidly blue African-American vote for granted.
How can we undo so many hundreds of years of discrimination and hatred? I don’t think that politics and great leadership alone can correct these issues. I am heartened that people are speaking up against police brutality, against excessive and unfair incarceration of African-American men, of the lack of high standards in education in low-income neighborhoods. But the truth behind discrimination lies in the heart of the culture, and each of us has to accept responsibility for our own darkness if we want to create a society which strives for social justice and compassion for all.
Our country was founded on slave labor and it could not have “succeeded” on financial terms without this murderous trade in human lives and souls. The cost of these hundreds of years of commerce in human lives and suffering cannot be enumerated. And the legacy of slavery lives on in the hearts and minds of those who survived for generations to follow. All human cultures remain somewhat primitive with a scapegoating instinct until each and every human being makes a conscious decision to take full responsibility for all of the dark thoughts and fears that inhabit each of our psyches. This work has to be done on an individual and on a collective level, with full emotional commitment.
But it goes even farther than that. Over the last few days I have been reading a very excellent book called “Will I Ever Be Good Enough: healing the daughters of narcissistic mothers” by Karyl McBride, 2008. I’ll have to write a separate post on this subject, but it is relevant to the social stress and inequality that victims of discrimination, including African-Americans, Native Americans, and other immigrants have experienced. The child of a narcissistic parent does not receive love, validation, or encouragement by this parent. He or she is always made to feel as if she is no good, no matter how hard he or she strives. The result of growing up in such a family culture can result in either the child becoming a perfectionist and over-achiever, or by self-sabotaging him or herself and living in constant under-achievement and failure.
We, in America, live in a highly materialistic and narcissistic culture. There is little to no focus on who we are as human beings. Few people focus on virtue, wisdom, dignity, or empathy. American values are all about doing and having, celebrity, and accumulating money and symbols of external power. Children of this culture, and in particular those who have been living at the peripheries of society for so long…feel as if they can never be good enough. Some are over-achievers and focus too much on appearances and social and financial success, and others live perpetually at the bottom, stuck on welfare, drugs, and criminal behavior. How can this change?
The author of this book recommends that each daughter of a narcissistic mother become aware of her own mother’s limitations and inability to love. Can our minorities and victims of discrimination learn to love themselves in spite of not being validated by the culture at large? It is really hard to do, and some do succeed. I know how hard it is, because I grew up in a family culture in which there has never been any validation or support. It takes a lot of courage to develop oneself in the absence of love. To develop one’s heart and emotions, one’s inner life. That is the hardest part. The second step in validation is to feel the deep grief at this loss, to really feel it. The third step is to own those feelings, and to let go…not become a victim or continue to harbor resentment at the unloving mother. To transform our culture, we need to love and transform our own hearts…by accepting ourselves first…and by accepting to no longer blame or wish to be validated by those who hurt us so deeply.
I don’t think any government programs can teach people to love or to take full responsibility for themselves and their lives. The only way to happiness is through self love and service to others. There is much corruption in our society, much shadow projection and blame throwing. I do believe that a socialist government system can regulate private business to keep in check excess greed and to maintain social justice, especially if we do our duty as citizens to keep our government accountable by constant vigilance. We can encourage creativity and grow our economy by making sure that there is ample opportunity for all to have equal access to education, work, fairly priced housing and healthcare. We know from history that there will always be seekers of power and privilege, and there is no political system which can protect humanity from people trying to take advantage of other people. This is just human nature.
We just need to care every day about what is happening in our society. We have to stand up for ourselves and for one another when someone (individual or institution, public or private) is trying to remove the rights that we have worked hard to obtain. Being part of a democracy means that we all have to participate. As Gwen, a member of my community garden told me last Saturday, put it so well: “I don’t have any patience for people who complain but who don’t vote.” At every level, we all need to be responsible and accountable. And if we want to keep discrimination at bay and build a more fair society, we have to look into the shadowy areas of our own hearts every minute of the day, questioning our motives and learning to accept our own fears and not project them onto others.