By Paola Ugo
Apr 23, 2016
When I listen to people talking on the train, in the university, in bars, my ears are eager to hear two words- Bernie Sanders. Sadly, my ears remain unsatisfied. There is little talk about US presidential elections in Italy (I would venture to say Europe in general) and if there is, it is usually laughing at Trump or supporting Hillary Clinton. I am proud of being European when it comes to criticizing Trump’s crazy and absurd ideas and predicting how disastrous his victory would be. On the other hand, I am not so proud of European media celebrating Hillary’s victories nor I am proud of our public opinion in supporting her just because she’s a woman, and she’s pragmatic – but don’t try to ask them what her plans are for the American people, because they have no idea about it. Finally, what I am not proud of at all and what makes me most disappointed is the aura of complete ignorance around the name Bernie Sanders. He caught the media’s attention only during last weeks, but before his victories he was just “the old socialist guy”. And what makes me even more disappointed is that no one, literally no one, you ask in the street can answer what he thinks about Bernie. Instead of an opinion, they reply with another question: Who the hell is he?
I found very few people (to be exact, only four) who know and actively support Bernie Sanders. I have been a big fan of him since last July. I have a couple of friends living in America, so when Bernie’s name appeared on my Facebook wall, it awakened my interest. Needless to say, I liked what I read and started getting informed on his campaign. In September, I met one of my American friends and we had a little chat about Bernie’s campaign. I asked, “What about the elections? What about Trump? Who are you supporting?” When he answered “Bernie Sanders”, I felt relieved and happy. I guess exactly in that moment I passed from the “interested in this candidate” phase, to the next level: the “supporting this candidate” phase.
A legitimate question now is: “How can an Italian support an American candidate?” And even before this, the question should be: “Why would an Italian do it?”
If I am not an American citizen, if I can’t take part in the political process, if I won’t gent benefit from his election, then why am I still putting so much love and energy in supporting Bernie Sanders? I was asked this question many times by my friends or by strangers to whom I named Bernie, so I started asking it to myself too. I tried to look for a reason that went deeper than this kind of crush I have on him.
I am feeling the Bern because I am convinced his message goes beyond borders. Even though the situation he talks about is specific of one country, his words can get a universal meaning. In Europe we don’t have lobbies in politics, banks don’t have the control on everything and the gap between the top 1% and the rest of the population is not so huge. We already have free healthcare and public colleges have affordable tuition fees, if they’re not free. When Bernie talks against all this and calls for a change, he doesn’t directly talk to me, I have no interests to claim here - but still - he moves the inner part of me. People aren’t just individuals with no responsibility or communion with others, there is also a particular side of them who makes them the same: Immanuel Kant, in his Critique of Practical Reason, used to call it humanity. That is what makes us human, our reason, and it is the same in all of us. That’s why we should never use others as mere means, because they are humans. That’s why we owe respect to everyone, regardless who they are, where they are from, what they believe in: because the humanity we feel in them is exactly the same we feel in us. And that’s why I have tears in my eyes listening to Bernie Sanders’ speeches: he is not only talking to you, he is talking to me. He is calling me to action, he is asking me to participate a global revolution.
I know the moment is now or never and America has the great opportunity to choose if it really wants to deserve the title of “greatest democracy in the world”, or it prefers the status quo. We all like the status quo, it gives us security, it is something we know and accept, with all its good and its bad points. That’s why I understand the people who are voting Hillary, their behavior is perfectly human and not blameworthy. However, from another perspective, I call them cowards. Americans, if they really want to change their broken political system, need the kind of democratic revolution Bernie Sanders talks about. They have to stick to their original values, and make progress: a glance back, to the founding values and virtues of their country, and a glance forward, to the future, to the improvement of these value. In Europe we have some of the things Sanders wants to be in the U.S. too, and you know what, in them there’s nothing connected to the negative meaning of “revolutionary”. So stop fearing this word, together with “(democratic) socialist”, and go beyond it. Only like this you will clearly see what these words really mean, considering the contest in which they are used.
Just before talking about humanity, Kant briefly explained his concept of personality, which is intimately connected to it. Personality is our freedom, what makes us think and act independently from the sensible world and according to our moral law. Applying this concept to the particular case I am talking about, let’s say we have to make our decisions not based on interests, utility, or compromises. Of course all this exists, but it must come after. First of all, we have to choose based on our morality, and Sanders keeps talking about morality; he is asking whether his country’s political and economic system is moral or not. Moral questions touch everybody, and morality is the ultimate reason why I feel deeply involved in his campaign and wait for July and November with anxiety. The world will change, not only the United States.