Politics and Prejudices: Primary sources 

In a very real way, Bernie Sanders is the only conservative in this race.

"There is something profoundly wrong when the top one-tenth of 1 percent owns almost as much wealth as the bottom 90 percent." — U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders

Remarkably, Donald Trump agrees with Bernie on this one, as do most of the other Republican presidential pretenders.

Except they think it is wrong because the one-tenth of 1 percent doesn't own more. America is in big-time trouble, comrades, as much so as during the Great Depression or the Civil War, maybe even more. Back during those crises, everybody in the nation knew we were in really, really deep shit.

Today, we are being destroyed, and the average Joe is mad as hell and doesn't have a clue why.

That's why Donald Trump and his lesser imitators are doing so well. Trump acts out every blue-collar cashier or factory rat's biggest fantasy: Tell your bosses to go to hell and fuck themselves on the way down.

That's what Trump's doing, with his baseball cap and newfound slob chic. You might think the average worker would recognize him for the phony he is, and want to whack him with a tire iron, but no. They think he knows something, since he has billions. He does indeed know something: He knows he wants even more money and power. So he tells us that our declining standard of living is not due to his own greed and that of his friends, but because of some filthy immigrants.

And too many of us go wild with applause.

Our window of opportunity to save this state and nation is being rolled up rapidly, and unless we do something soon, it may be slammed shut forever. We are becoming a plutocracy in which the rich buy elections, conceal their identities and the source of the money, and the courts find all that perfectly legal.

President Barack Obama wanted to do something to halt this, or at least talked as if he did. He did rally millions to his message of hope, and got legislation passed to give more Americans health care coverage than ever before, a huge achievement.

Yet he tried to play by the establishment's rules, only to discover that the game was rigged. Bernie Sanders thinks Obama made a mistake in not keeping the millions who rallied behind him united as an effective force for change.

That's likely right, though I suspect that Obama also really wanted to be accepted and belong to the ruling class, once he had battered his way onto center stage.

He wanted them to respect his achievement, and find a compromise to preserve most of their power and wealth and save the rest of us at the same time.

That might have been possible once, but not now. For one thing, too many hate Obama just because he is black.

For another, the reasonable moderates who used to run the GOP have died off or been driven out of Washington.

Today, irrationality rules the Republican Party, and the party rules Washington, all except the presidency, that is.

Meanwhile, while we listen to the candidates bray, the nation continues sliding down a drain from which there may be no escape. Contrary to what some think, this country really was the last best hope of mankind for many years.

Yes, we started with slavery and have been horribly racist and sexist and it never has been a level playing field. Yet it was possible for a smart poor kid, with enough pluck and determination, to make it and realize the American dream.

Plus, things really did get gradually better. Slavery was outlawed and women began to claim their rights. Even today, we are still seeing progress on some social issues.

Gays can marry and adopt and raise children. But the living standard of everyone not in the highest income strata is being slowly strangled to death. Consider this: I started as a freshman at Michigan State University in the fall of 1969.

Tuition then was a mere $15 a credit hour! Now, when you adjust that for inflation, it is more like $97 in today's money. Know what tuition is at MSU now? For freshmen and sophomores, $452.90; for upperclassmen, $503.50.

That works out to more than $102,000 for a four-year bachelor's degree, which usually isn't enough to enter any well-paying profession; you need graduate school after that.

Who can afford that? Nobody except the rich. The rest drop out or come out owing vast amounts in student loans.

Money they realistically will never be able to pay back. Hell, they aren't even allowed to renegotiate the interest rate.

We are committing suicide as a democracy, and ceasing to be a nation that cares about its own people.

Alone among the candidates, Bernie Sanders seems to get that. Now, a prudent disclaimer: However inspiring he may be, he is still a politician — and H.L. Mencken famously said the only way a journalist should look at a politician was down his nose. More than one reporter has fallen in love with a politician and then ended up feeling burned and horribly betrayed. Were he to make it to the White House, he'd be far older — 75 — than any new president has ever been. Given the stress level, that's something that normally ought to worry a responsible voter.

But here's the bottom line. This country has gotten badly off the track, and gets further away from fairness every day. Bernie Sanders is the only one talking honestly about real issues with real programs designed to restore America.

In fact, in a very real way, he is the only conservative in this race; he wants to bring back a nation where the average person can make a living wage and hope to send her kids to school. Sanders, by the way, wants college tuition to be free.

Given our educational and infrastructure needs, that would be the best investment our society could make, one that would cost us far less than the trillions spent on the stupid little wars that have done our nation far more harm than good.

Nearly half a century ago, a candidate who was as young as Bernie is old challenged this nation to do better. He had the guts to tell the rich they would need to pay more; told us all that the United States could afford to walk away from a losing war, but couldn't afford to turn our backs on our poor children.

His name was Robert Francis Kennedy, and he might well have been president and we have taken a very different path, had he not caught a bullet in the head on June 5, 1968.

Now we have an old guy who calls himself a "socialist," by which he means he'd force capitalism to have a human face, and do awful things like provide sick leave and vacation pay.

By the way, Bernie's biggest mistake is probably not abandoning the "socialist" label; as the late great Tony Judt said, thanks to the Soviet horrors, that word is sadly too tainted in the public mind to be easily redeemed.

But do yourself a favor. Go to Bernie Sanders' website and read where he stands on the issues — all of them.

Then go see The Big Short, possibly the most socially important movie made in the last 10 years.

After that, if you still think Hillary Clinton is the answer, cheers. This system may outlast me. I got to experience the last best years of America. But if present trends continue, your kids won't have a chance. Think about that.

More by Jack Lessenberry

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