The Zen of Bernie Sanders: Even in Politics,
You Can Be in the Now
by Holly LeCraw
There is a reason that today is not tomorrow.
That’s not a quote from a political operative. It’s from Brother Curtis Almquist, who is the former superior of the Society of St. John the Evangelist, the Anglican-Episcopal monastery in Cambridge. He’s a monk. I don’t know whether he spends much time thinking about politics, and he certainly didn’t say that in any political context.
But I keep thinking of it in the context of this presidential campaign, especially lately, when the media seems to be constantly asking the question of whether Bernie Sanders supporters would vote for Hillary Clinton in November if she were the nominee. There are more freakouts every day. Susan Sarandon, who, in a recent interview, was noncommittal about voting for either Hillary or Trump, has nevertheless become the poster child for a perceived Bernie-or-Bust selfish idealism.
I take a deep breath. I want to scream it to the world, but instead I say it calmly to myself, again.
It’s April, and we don’t have nominees on either side. You can have your opinions on who they’ll be (I think Trump probably won’t be the nominee; I believe Bernie has a far better chance than anyone in the media is willing to grant him), but they are only opinions. Unless this election is fixed—which would be a completely different story—no one knows for sure. Enormous states like Wisconsin, New York, and California haven’t even voted. We don’t know yet. We don’t know yet.
There is a reason that today is not tomorrow.
I’m a co-founder of Writers for Bernie and the day after we published our endorsement (eighty writers had signed then; we’re up to 150, and growing), we got a plaintive tweet: “Wishing Writers for Bernie had been Writers against Trump.” I heard in that tweet the familiar, condescending narrative that Berners just don’t understand reality, and, moreover, that in seemingly ignoring the looming threat of Trump, we had picked a lesser cause.
But a cause for is always more important than a cause against.
It’s the difference between negative and positive energy. It’s the difference between looking backward and trying to stop something that’s already begun, and looking ahead and envisioning something new. It’s the difference between destroying and building.
Like literally millions of people in this country, I’m astonished by Bernie Sanders. For the first time, we don’t feel like we’re settling. We’re not picking the lesser of evils. We don’t feel we’re compromising our own principles, and we’re confident he won’t compromise his. The sense of energy and empowerment in the Bernie Sanders movement is palpable. And although we get angry when he and we are mischaracterized, the overwhelming mood in a group of Sanders supporters is one of joy and possibility.
We are in this moment, today, and are having a vital conversation about political values within the Democratic party, and in the country as a whole. We are talking about what we want government to do, who we want to be to each other, who we want to be in the world. There are deep, fundamental differences between Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders, and we need to talk about those, rather than creating a false crisis about nominees who do not yet exist.
A narrative in this election, and in our politics generally, blames the dreamers. And yet, clearly, we want so badly to dream. “I want you to think about what this great country can be,” Bernie says. The self-styled grownups in this debate who say Bernie will never get all he’s asking for are missing the point entirely—of course he, and we, won’t. We know that; we’re not stupid. But not to ask? Not to try? To advocate merely to hold the line? To cast our vote for stasis, and call it hope? Not interested.
It’s not a responsibility of adulthood to be cynical. One can be idealistic and realistic at the same time. How else has Bernie Sanders sustained himself for 35 years in public life, tirelessly advocating for the same large things, settling for the small ones? And yet he keeps on. To call Bernie naïve, or selfish, is ludicrous. He himself has said, many times, “Change takes place because people struggle.” That’s not someone talking about overnight transformation.
If Hillary becomes the Democratic nominee, there will be plenty of time to talk about holding the line. Plenty of time to decide whether or not to compromise, and what that would mean for ourselves and the country. And Trump? If he’s the nominee, don’t worry, you won’t have missed anything. He’ll still be a reckless, ignorant narcissist.
And Bernie will still be speaking truth to power and to the people. He will still be talking about all we can do, not all we can’t. In November, you might be looking at his name on the ballot—because millions of people believe in him, and are voting for him again and again.
But for now, let it be now. Let it be April. Let’s have this conversation. Let’s come together. Let’s be for something, and fight for it with all we’ve got.