Monday, June 26, 2017

U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders on Threats to Democracy

By: Tiffany Monroy
Program Assistant, UNA-NCA

On June 22nd, the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace hosted a conversation with U.S. Senator and former Presidential candidate, Bernie Sanders. Sarah Chayes, a Senior Fellow in Carnegie’s Democracy and Rule of Law program, facilitated the discussion on threats to democracy.

Senator Sanders, having recently returned from a European tour, reflected on his experience abroad, discussing looming threats to democracy and the resulting implications of those threats. Authoritarianism emerged as the most central of these threats. He highlighted the troubling universal shift in an authoritarian direction, not just in the United States, but also abroad. He described a resurgence of a politics of bigotry and resentment, led by leaders who only serve to further the growing divide between people.

The distinction between partisanship and the threat of authoritarianism to our democracy is critical, the Senator from Vermont expressed. Disagreement is not of surprise to anyone. In fact, it is a fundamental and important aspect of democracy. Still, he argued, we should be prepared to listen and engage with disagreement. No matter our perspective, we must do everything in our power to promote the system that allows us the ability to hold opposing views. The President’s recent budget proposal serves as a perfect example. Debate over the proposal can and will be had, but it is in the ability to debate in the first place that the beauty of our system lies.

Authoritarianism poses a threat to the system we cherish. Our democracy faces the threat of a system in which opposing views are not only discouraged, but eliminated. The threats to our democracy are tangible. Blatant disregards towards the sanctity of the Judicial branch and a shift in affection towards once-scorned authoritarian leaders are merely latest examples. The threats are not solely domestic, though. Authoritarianism implies a disengagement with the international community. U.S. disengagement from issues abroad would create a vacuum, Senator Sanders explained, that would allow for a climate of terror to prevail. What are we saying to those abroad who fight each day to establish and preserve democracies, if the United States, the model of democracy, does not fight to preserve our own? We must oppose these threats. We must preserve our system and reject this shift towards intolerance and injustice. Simply put, we must oppose authoritarianism, not only for the sake of our democracy, but also for the sake of the democracies of our neighbors.

So, what is the way forward? Coming together. Senator Sanders called for each of us to come together, no matter our views, to raise the issue and talk about moving forward. “Our duty is to respect our constitution and democracy, we must come together to protect the country we love, improve democracy, and stand up against those who want to move us towards authoritarianism,” he explained.

Acknowledging our differences is merely the first step towards eliminating authoritarianism from our system. The world in which we live faces problems, and it is our job to come together, not as Democrats or Republicans, liberals or conservatives, left or right, but as Americans. We must recognize our disagreements, put them aside, and remind ourselves that democracy is the common denominator.