Sen. Bernie Sanders

Why shouldn’t Bernie Sanders debate Donald Trump?

The Democratic Party establishment has worked tirelessly in recent months to rid of the Bernie Sanders campaign. While the delegate system has made a Bernie Sanders nomination unlikely, many liberal publications have chosen not to focus on the injustice of the electoral charade in the US and instead on the need for Sanders to bow out of the race entirely. Sanders has other plans.

Donald Trump’s recent proposal for a national debate with Sanders ended with Sanders accepting the challenge only to have Donald Trump bow out shortly thereafter. However, this bold move indicated to the Democratic Party that Sanders doesn’t plan to concede victory to Hillary Clinton any time soon. Grassroots radicals and progressives should encourage a debate between Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump in order to intensify the growing chasms within Washington’s two-party corporate duopoly.

Washington is a corporate duopoly because its apparatus possesses zero room to oppose the rule of either the Democratic or Republican Parties. The 2016 elections have dented the two-party corporate duopoly’s once secure armor of legitimacy. Hillary Clinton has been unable to escape sharp criticisms of her historical record, in part because she is under federal investigation. Donald Trump has virtually secured the Republican nomination despite much of the GOP being opposed to his unpredictable policy positions regarding war and the economy. Bernie Sanders has staked out political territory to the left of Hillary Clinton and has brought most of the younger Democratic Party supporters with him. The 2016 elections have not gone according to plan for both parties and a debate between the Trump and Sanders would only help further this process along.

What would be special about a Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump debate? For one, it would burst asunder any idea that Hillary Clinton is somehow more electable than Bernie Sanders. Numerous polls have indicated that in a general election between Sanders and Trump, Sanders would come out victorious. Recent polls have Hillary Clinton falling into a virtual tie with Trump and in some instances losing to him. Yet the Democratic Party machine continues to back Hillary Clinton in part because she helped to create its modern infrastructure. The current Chair of the Democratic National Committee, Debbie Wasserman Shultz, served as national co-chair of Hillary Clinton’s 2008 Presidential campaign.

A debate between Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders would thus be a direct challenge to Hillary Clinton’s status as the selected candidate of the establishment. Both Trump and Sanders would be compelled to use the platform to weaken what is the number one perceived challenge to the success of their campaigns. Hillary Clinton has been deemed the virtual winner of the Democratic Party nomination by party operatives and the corporate media alike. It would thus be of great benefit for Sanders and Trump to expose Clinton’s pro-corporate domestic and foreign policy record on a national stage which, as Trump correctly noted, would draw in millions of viewers.

Furthermore, a confrontation between Sanders and Trump would also mean a confrontation between their supporters. Sanders and Trump supporters have been the most active and politically charged constituencies in this election, albeit from different sides of the political spectrum. Left leaning Sanders supporters and right-wing, mostly white nationalist Trump voters would be forced to put their politics to the test. The Sanders contingent would have to decide rather quickly whether opposing the Donald Trump at all costs is the correct move for Sanders, as such a move would only benefit Clinton. The Trump contingent, while having less to prove, would have to come face to face with a diverse constituency that advocates for a very similar economic program to Trump. This could help differentiate the Ku Klux Klan and Klan like elements in the Trump camp from those who have supported his rhetorical opposition to joblessness and US foreign policy.

Of course, the outcome of a debate between Sanders and Trump cannot be fully predicted. The virulent racism of Trump supporters could very well cloud their judgment and lead them to scapegoat the Sanders camp. Sanders supporters, on the other hand, may channel their energy entirely toward opposing Trump for the sake of ensuring that he never becomes President. These are very real possibilities if principled left analysts, activists, and organizers sit back and watch the battle of ideas being waged in the 2016 elections. It is the duty of a grassroots, left political force to provide direction to this struggle.

The Sanders groundswell and the Trump phenomena must be seen in its larger context. This context is reflected in the primary demands of both candidates. Trump’s racist and sexist comments throughout the election cycle have been complimented by very real appeals to a defeated white working class male population that has seen its death rate go up more than any other sector of the US population. Sanders has appealed to a different segment of the population. His campaign has resonated most with union workers andyouth who have seen their standard of living decline under the auspices of the Democratic Party over the last four decades.

What has to be acknowledged by the left in the US is that these two segments of the population will play a decisive role, one way or another, in the political trajectory of the US. The problems they speak to are not going away anytime soon. Poverty rose in every year of the Obama Administration and a 600 billion USD military budget is in the works in Washington. Neither party is willing to relieve students from mounting student debt or fact that workers are spendingmore hours at work for less pay than ever before. These conditions have precipitated an internal revolt within the two corporate parties that cannot be allowed to end with this election cycle.

The goal for the left should be to turn this internal revolt into an external one by helping to create the conditions for mass opposition to the two-party corporate duopoly in Washington. Washington’s own internal contradictions in this election cycle have already set the process into motion. Sanders and Trump, the “outsider” candidates, have spoken to real grievances that should be incorporated into a grassroots, radical left movement. The Democratic and Republican Party conventions are fast approaching and it is certain that many left forces will be organizing people to attend. These same left forces should also demand the proposal for a debate between Trump and Sanders become a reality. This debate has the potential to hasten the collapse of the two-party corporate duopoly, and that is cause for celebration.

This article was written by Danny Haiphong for American Herald Tribune on June 1, 2016. Danny Haiphong is a activist and radical journalist in the Boston Area.