Every generation needs a new revolution.’
Infrastructure. Not a very exciting word – and certainly not one to whip up the hysteria of the electorate in an election year. We have other words for that: immigration, terrorism, religious extremism, or Russian aggression. The usual suspects.
Yet, perhaps the word ‘infrastructure’ will become more exciting if we unpack it, learn what it is – and understand that it is not any external cause that most threatens America, but instead decades of negligence to the very ‘infrastructure’ of this nation. There is that word again: infrastructure. But, what does it mean?
A short list will suffice: water treatment, roads, bridges, public housing, passenger and freight rail, marine ports and inland waterways, national parks, broadband, the electric grid, schools, hospitals, government buildings, dams – in other words, to use a medical metaphor, the conditions for the healthy life of a nation.
Perhaps the people of Flint, Michigan and the increasing number of cities affected by the lead poisoning crisis know better than most the critical importance of the timely maintenance and transformation of our nation’s infrastructure.
On 27 January 2015, Senator Bernie Sanders introduced the “Rebuild America Act” which was meant to begin to tackle decades of neglect. At the time, Sanders explained the intentions of the bill: “For too many years, we’ve underfunded our nation’s physical infrastructure. We have to change that and that’s what the Rebuild America Act is all about. We must modernize our infrastructure and create millions of new jobs that will put people back to work and help the economy.”
However, Sanders bill did not, as he suggested at the time, only concern the long overdue task of rebuilding the necessary conditions for the life of a healthy nation. His bill, calling for a $1 trillion investment, would also create 13 million jobs in five years – good jobs – which would be exciting not only for the many unemployed and underemployed (for those living on starvation wages), but also for local, state and federal treasuries which would benefit from increased revenue, and for the many peripheral businesses, such as restaurants, retailers, and other small businesses which would benefit from the added purchasing power of working families across the nation. Such a targeted program would, in this way, provide the seeds for the multiplication of many millions of new jobs in all sectors.
Yet, Sanders’ bill was blocked by Senate Republicans whose filibuster talked the bill to death. To put the Rebuild America Act in perspective, we need only compare its ambitions with the numbers which Barack Obama touted in his own $50 billion Rebuild America Act of 2011. In the wake of the daunting challenges, his effort was merely a drop in the ocean.
Sanders, who is now running for president – and who has just won the New Hampshire primary against Hillary Clinton – has taken the ideas of his filibustered bill onto the campaign trail. If he wins, his presidency will work to eclipse the weak economic recovery under Obama with an FDR style public works project which will restore not only the health of the nation, but will also accelerate real economic growth through a people’s recovery.
Departing moreover from Obama’s 2011 infrastructure plan, which would have been financed by a gas tax, Sanders intends to fund his initiative through a tax on Wall Street financial speculation, which is, after all, the root of the failed economic strategies which caused the financial crisis of 2008.
Of course, there is much more to the Sanders’ agenda than only the infrastructure bill – but, in itself, such an initiative would not only be a very good start, but would also outshine all previous efforts in this direction since World War II. Sander’s plan for American renewal is moreover supported by the AFL-CIO, U.S. Chamber of Commerce, American Society of Civil Engineers, and by millions of American working families.
After decades of foreign adventures and war, America, in all its aspects, subsists in a state of decay within and would be unrecognizable to the Founders of our nation. Long ago, Benjamin Franklin’s maxim, ‘A stitch in time saves nine’ was left to the history books, along with its wisdom of timely action. Now, however, one stitch will no longer do – but nine, and these have been set forth in Sander’s program, not only for infrastructure, but also measures for working families, among which include jobs, healthcare, tax justice, criminal justice reform, climate change, civil liberties, and putting an end to banks which are “too big to fail.”
The presidential campaign of Bernie Sanders has identified the vast problems facing our nation, and is propelled and exclusively funded by an unprecedented grassroots movement promising a “political revolution.’ Most of us know these problems, for they affect the overwhelming majority of Americans in our daily lives: in the developed world, the highest inequality, highest child poverty, highest incarceration rates, highest rates of domestic gun violence outside of war zones, and the list goes on and on — all of this is truly exceptional.
From Jefferson’s dream of an agrarian democratic republic to our unacknowledged and costly global empire (over 1000 military bases around the world and a permanent war economy), we, the people, like the Romans before us, are threatened by an enemy within which has placed our democracy on the cusp of tyranny. The billionaire class sets behind it guarded walls, oblivious to the lives and struggles of ordinary citizens. Without the overt titles of princes and kings, we are on the verge of becoming exactly what our Founding Fathers had struggled to eliminate from the new revolutionary Republic.
Bernie Sanders and his supporters – and perhaps also his enemies – have recognized this greatest of all threats to our democracy – vast inequality – and have initiated the beginning of a political transformation which seeks to reclaim our democracy for the millions of hard working families who feel each day that they have been left behind by the age of greed.
This article was originally published in Salon on 21 February 2016.