Prior to the primary election, fellow Brooklynites Bernie Sanders and Spike Lee met, spoke, and posed for a cover story for The Hollywood Reporter. (Lee, who vocally supported the Vermont Senator in the primaries, also directed a campaign ad for Sanders.) In that initial discussion, they’d spoken about how Sanders might beat Hillary in the primaries based on a sudden surge in interest in dismantling establishment politics and putting checks on the U.S.’s late capitalist polarization of the super-wealthy and the impoverished. (Sanders also said, there, that “Donald Trump will not be the next President.”) But Sanders wasn’t elected, Hillary Clinton campaigned through the general elections, won the popular vote by more than 2 million (against a man whose own anti-establishment rhetoric was actually fundamentally oppositional to Sanders’, and mired in hateful rhetoric and hypocrisies), and I think we all know what happened next.
Now, after all that, Sanders and Spike Lee met again for another public talk — this time for the Guardian — and spoke about what the left needs to do next. As in the first interview, Lee agrees with Sanders on many issues but is also good at challenging him and pushing him elaborate, particularly when he repeats himself.
Lee begins by suggesting that the progress of Obama’s election in 2008 spurred a racist reaction that largely helped elect Trump. Sanders initially downplays racism a bit (as he sometimes does), but then elaborates on that and what he sees as a number of contributing factors. Lee offers a sports analogy for the way the days leading up to the election were treated on the part of the Clinton campaign:
I’ve seen it too many times, when a team thinks they’ve got it all won, just wrapped up, and you see players go down the sideline and start celebrating, and then they reach the goal line and fumble. The Clintons – and I’m not asking you for a comment; this is my opinion – thought they had it won. And what do the great coaches always say? Keep playing until there is no time on the clock! And it seems to me the Clintons were celebrating before the day was up…It was not Hillary Clinton’s birthright to be president of the United States of America! And Trump, he played it like he was going to keep going at this until the whistle blows, until time has run out.
Lee also asks Sanders whether he ever was asked to be Hillary’s potential Vice President — and Sanders confirms that he wasn’t, though he says he “probably” would have taken the position if he had been.
For Sanders’ part, a lot of the discussion centers around suggesting people continue to be vocal in protesting Trump’s policies, reiterating some of his earlier statements following the election (saying he’d fight him “tooth and nail” against any sexist/racist policy, but work with him in areas where — and if — he actually tries to help the middle class…though it seems absurdly apparent that his policies will do the opposite).
The vast majority of the American people do not think that Roe v Wade should be ended. Our job is to make it clear that if he goes forward in that direction, there is a price to pay. What politics is about is this: you may hold a point of view, but if I can rally massive opposition to your point of view, you may rethink that point of view. That’s where we’re at. I do not think the American people want to overturn Roe v Wade. I do not think that the American people want to be deporting millions of people. I don’t think the American people want to stop Muslim people coming into this country. But I do think the American people want an economic agenda that works for working people, not just billionaires. So the way you defeat or slow down your opponents is that you bring people together, and you show that he is on the wrong side of history. That’s the best we can do.
Sanders also emphasizes how important it is for people to pay attention to climate, particularly now that we have a President who predominantly denies climate change taking office. He stresses the need for reformation within the Democratic Party, focusing on the critique of their complacency in serving and speaking to the “liberal elite,” and takes a moment to endorse Minnesota Representative Keith Ellison — who Jeff Spross describes in The Week as the “one-two punch of social justice and economic populism the Democrats will need to rise again” — for DNC chair. (The position now needs to be filled following Debbie Wasserman Schultz’s ouster.). Sanders says:
The Democratic party has got to say we are on the side of the 99%. Our party is not about having fancy fundraisers, it’s about going into union halls, veterans’ halls, farm communities, the inner cities. It has to bring people together around the progressive agenda and make government work for all of us and not the 1%. That’s why I’m supporting Keith Ellison [as prospective chair of the DNC].