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Senator Sanders to Spike Lee: "There are a whole lot of other people who are just really, really hurting. They're working two or three jobs, they're worried about their kids, they can't afford to send them to childcare or to college. And Trump comes along and says, 'I'm a champion of the working class.' And he's a good showman and a good entertainer, and people believed him."

Senator Bernie Sanders and Spike Lee. (photo: Christopher Lane/Guardian UK)
Senator Bernie Sanders and Spike Lee. (photo: Christopher Lane/Guardian UK)

Bernie Sanders With Spike Lee: 'Where Do We Go? Where Is the Hope?'

By Emma Brockes, Guardian UK

27 November 16


The senator and the film-maker discuss Trump, where Clinton went wrong – and how to make a difference in 2017

ernie Sanders charges head-first into a hotel room in midtown Manhattan, a man with no time to waste. This is not the campaign-era Bernie, the Bernie of memes and ice-cream flavours and jokey, Feel The Bern fun. All that has been swept away and replaced with something harder, more urgent, a sense that, with Clinton vanquished, cometh the hour, cometh the man, so that even to call him Bernie at this point feels wrong. In this guise, Senator Sanders, an outsider throughout the campaign, shows himself to be a politician of 40 years’ standing, with a desire to fight politics with politics and no tolerance for weeping, kvetching or the need for catharsis. The only noticeable hangover of his formerly whimsical style is his habit of saying everything twice. Sanders makes “Yup, yup” sound like the gravest assessment in the world.

Spike Lee, on the other hand, is emotional. He campaigned for Sanders and wants a hug from him, reassurance that things will be OK and an acknowledgment that the world has gone mad, appeals towards which the senator shows some understanding and also undisguised irritation. The two men occupy different positions on the same side, one representing the political opposition to Trump, the other the cultural opposition. Lee wants direction from Sanders on how that opposition might work, but he also wants recognition that conciliation with Trump, the politician’s instinct, is not at the expense of core values.

In this, they differ. Lee, like so many of us, might be said to have the luxury of total opposition, of total rejection of Trump and vilification of his supporters. Sanders, somewhat surprisingly given his reputation as uncompromising, takes a more strategic line even than colleagues such as Harry Reid, the senate minority leader, who earlier this month issued a strong repudiation of Trump when he described him as “a sexual predator who lost the popular vote and fuelled his campaign with bigotry and hate”.

Sanders condemns those aspects of Trump, but is reluctant to characterise millions of white, working-class voters as racists, through what I suspect is political pragmatism and deep sentiment, given his own background is white working class. Lee is not so ready to give Trump voters the benefit of the doubt. It is a fascinating exchange.

Bernie Sanders Hey, Spike, how are you?

Spike Lee I feel terrible, Senator.

BS I understand that. I understand that.

SL I want to thank you, though. Because what you did is great. And reading this stuff that’s coming out – the revelations about Wasserman [Debbie Wasserman Schultz, former chair of the Democratic National Committee, who during the campaign leaked emails shown to be biased against Sanders in favour of Clinton] and Donna Brazile [interim DNC chair, who gave Clinton a heads-up on questions in advance of a CNN debate], whom I know. Cheating goes both ways, huh? [Laughs.]

BS Well, you know. We took on the entire establishment and that’s what happens. But we have some enormously difficult times now. We gotta go forward, and I look forward to working with you to make that happen.

SL Well, anything I can do to help. But look at these [Trump] appointees – who’s this guy, Bannon? Brannon?

BS Bannon.

SL Whoooo!

BS He’s going to be policy adviser or something.

SL Hahahahahahahahaha!

BS Yup.

SL You know what Malcolm X said? It was a famous quote that got him into trouble, but that comes to mind. He said, “Chickens come home to roost.” And it seems to me, all this stuff today was a reaction to day one, when Obama put his right hand on Lincoln’s bible. I think things started on the day a black man became president of the United States. This all happened eight years ago.

BS Well, I think, Spike, that’s part of it. I don’t think it’s the whole thing, though.

SL But I think it’s a large part of it.

BS Well, I think a number of people who voted for Obama once, or twice, voted for Trump. And I think the issue is that there are millions of people in this country who voted for Trump but do not accept… I’m not going to deny for a second that there’s a lot of racism and xenophobia and sexism out there; there certainly is. But there are a whole lot of other people who are just really, really hurting. They’re working two or three jobs, they’re worried about their kids, they can’t afford to send them to childcare or to college. And Trump comes along and says, “I’m a champion of the working class.” And he’s a good showman and a good entertainer, and people believed him.

But our job now, it seems to me, is in three areas. Number one: to fight him tooth and nail in any movement toward racism, xenophobia, sexism, trying to divide our country up. And number two: if he is at all sincere – and we will see if he is – in developing programmes to create jobs and raise wages, I think we should work with him. But I’ll tell you what also concerns me, not just for this country but the planet, is this guy thinks that climate change is a hoax. Well, let me tell you, it ain’t a hoax. Climate change is real, and if we don’t transform our energy system, the planet we leave for our kids and grandchildren may not be a pretty place.

SL What also is troublesome, which I’ve tossed and turned over at night: the man has the nuclear codes.

BS Yup, yup.

SL [Laughs incredulously.] The man has the nuclear codes.

BS I agree.

SL Excuse me, if I may, sir; you know I love sports. 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.

BS [Mirthlessly.] Ha.

SL 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.

BS Right. You’re right. Now, no one can deny that Trump was holding three or four rallies a day, he was running all over this country, working 20 hours a day. And that’s the truth. But I think that speaks to, Spike, something that goes beyond Hillary Clinton. It really goes to the very nature of the Democratic party.


BS That’s right. And it calls for the transformation of the Democratic party, and making it clear it’s going to be a party that brings together blacks and whites and Latinos and women and gays, and everyone else. But it’s also going to be a party…

SL Would you say that it’s a shambles, now, Senator – the DNC?

BS Yes. Yes. And I am supporting…

SL There’s a whole lot of finger-pointing going on.

BS Yes. I think we need a house-cleaning. I think the DNC needs an entirely new direction. I think it needs leadership, and I think it needs to be very clear about the fact that it stands with working families and is prepared to take on the billionaire class and Wall Street, and corporate America, and the drug companies and the insurance companies. People are hurting. And we need a programme that stands with working families and brings people together.

SL Were you ever offered the VP position, sir?

BS No. Absolutely not.

SL Would you have taken it?

BS Er. Probably, yes. But that’s again looking through the rear-view mirror.

SL I mean, we’re all looking upon the debris and trying to say, excuse my language, what the f? I mean, when I woke up that morning, the world is different. It’s a different world.

BS It is a very different world. And it’s a very frightening world. [Brusquely.] But we gotta get beyond that.

SL The man has the nuclear codes.

BS Yup.

SL Let me ask you another question. How can you tell another country that they’ve got to pay for a wall? Or fences? How does that work?

BS Well, Spike, I think what you are going to find is that a lot of the hyperbole, a lot of the rhetoric that Mr Trump used in his campaign, ends up not being terribly relevant to the real world.

SL So you think his voters are not going to hold him to the outrageous stuff he said he’d do?

BS Well, I think in some ways they may not. I think what we’ve got to do is hold him accountable for the statements he made about raising wages and creating jobs, and I think we gotta fight him tooth and nail on the outrageous…

SL But how do we do that if they [the Republicans] have the House and the Senate? How do we do that?

BS Well, we do it because it turns out that, on every major issue facing the American people, our view is the popular view, the view supported by the American people, and Mr Trump’s is not. For example: we are going to work hard to raise the minimum wage to a living wage. The vast majority of Democrats and, actually, Republicans believe in that. We’re going to fight to rebuild the infrastructure and create millions of jobs, making public colleges and universities tuition-free, dealing with student debt, childcare – all of these issues have the support of the American people. We have got to put him on the defensive, and that speaks to a need where you can play a great role – you and other people who know how to do media – which is to bring people together around the progressive agenda.

SL All right, but doesn’t the president of the United States appoint the Supreme Court justices?

BS Oh, he sure does. All right, look. That’s the reality, Spike; you’re talking about reality. Yes, he’s going to be the president. That’s the fact. Our job is to determine what we can do in opposition to him. That’s where we are right now. And we have to be very, very smart about that.

SL We’re going to need your leadership, sir.

BS Well, Spike, here’s the story, to the degree that my leadership means anything. It means we bring people together. You know what? 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.

SL What are your comments, Senator, on the uprising we’ve seen across the United States after the results?

BS Well, as you just indicated, you and I woke up that morning very disturbed and upset, and people are taking to the streets to express their disappointment and their anger. Our job is to convert that anger into a constructive effort to stop Trump’s worst policies and to force him to do something that’s relevant to the American people.

SL Haven’t there been several studies done that show you would have defeated Donald Trump?

BS Yes. There have been several polls that suggested that.

SL [Long silence.] Hmmm. This is a rhetorical question, but I just want readers to understand this, very clearly. Where do we go? Where is the hope?

BS OK, here is where the hope is. The hope is to understand that the Democratic party has stumbled very significantly in the last number of decades. It’s not just this election, Spike, as disastrous as it has been. It is the fact that the Republican party controls the Senate, controls the US House, controls something like two-thirds of the governor seats in this country, and that the Democrats have lost over 900 state legislature seats in the last eight years. What that tells me is that the Democratic party has got to very fundamentally rethink who it is and where it goes. It has to shed the current situation where it’s a party of the liberal elite, a party of wealthy people who give substantial sums – we can use that money, that’s fine, but it must reidentify itself as a party of working people. Whether you’re black, white, Latino, there are millions of people today who are working longer hours for lower wages, and they’re seeing almost all new income and wealth going to the top 1%. 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].

SL Who?

BS Keith Ellison. Of Minnesota.

SL Oh, yes. He’s the Muslim brother, right?

BS Yes. He’s a very good guy, and he’s the co-chair of the house progressive caucus. Very progressive guy. And I think Keith understands that the future of the Democratic party is a grassroots party. So I’m going to be supporting him and shaking up the Democratic party.

SL Let me ask you another question. The coalition that Obama got, that put him in office – did the Clinton campaign think it would automatically win [those people] without having to work? I don’t understand it. Because I did not feel the energy there was for Obama – even for you – for Hillary Clinton. I respect the woman, but the enthusiasm wasn’t there.

BS I think nobody would argue with you on that. What we have seen is that in 2008 Obama ran a historical campaign where the turnout was extraordinarily high: enthusiasm in the minority community, strong support in the white working class, and that carried over in 2012. But in 2016, what we saw – I think your point is quite right – it would be hard to suggest that the people of this country were enthusiastic about the Clinton campaign. There was not the energy we have seen in the Obama campaign, and what ended up happening was voter turnout was low. She won the black community overwhelmingly, but turnout was low. She lost a lot of white, working-class people. That’s just the fact.

SL I’m still trying to figure something out.

BS How she lost white women?

SL Yeah.

BS I’ll tell you how. A, Hillary Clinton got more popular votes than Donald Trump. Let’s not forget that. B, Every poll I saw showed Donald Trump was enormously unpopular. C, A lot of people who voted for Donald Trump did not vote for his racist statements, his statements on immigration, on women. They didn’t support that. But what Trump tapped into is a lot of economic angst and anger and frustration.

SL You think people can separate the racist and sexist comments he made from his policies?

BS Yes. I think what they are saying is, “I need a job, my kid needs to go to college, Mr Trump is promising that. I think he will probably not carry through on his racist, sexist policies. Let’s vote for the economic issues.” That’s what I think happened. So you had a lot of white, working-class women who did not appreciate his sexist remarks, but who do want to see an improvement in the economy.

I gotta run now, Spike, but let’s get together in the not too distant future. your social media marketing partner


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+45 # Wally2007 2016-11-27 10:31
GREAT conversation!!! Bernie Is The Real Deal and of course Spike is right on course of Where Do We Go From Here. I certainly feel that the recount is going to reveal some dirty tricks, either by the Kochs or Putin WHOMEVER. With all thats at stake MONEY is always the determining factor OF COURSE. We can't give in and if it involves any harsh reality of violence, then just wait till the Fat Lady sings, or Put Out The Lights, the PARTY has just begun.
+23 # grandlakeguy 2016-11-27 11:48
Senator Sanders PLEASE...challe nge the "results" of the primaries.

YOU are the only legitimate next President!
+20 # GoGreen! 2016-11-27 10:42
Changing the Democratic party is not an option. The party belongs to the big 'donors' and will do whatever they have to do to stay in office.

Both the Democratic party and the Republican party do the bidding of the extremely wealthy people of this nation. Israel has a major influence on them too. Our 'Representative s' give Israel money, and they toss some of our tax funds back to corrupt our elected officials.
-20 # Cassandra2012 2016-11-27 13:45
Quoting GoGreen!:
Changing the Democratic party is not an option. The party belongs to the big 'donors' and will do whatever they have to do to stay in office.

Both the Democratic party and the Republican party do the bidding of the extremely wealthy people of this nation. Israel has a major influence on them too. Our 'Representatives' give Israel money, and they toss some of our tax funds back to corrupt our elected officials.

Was with you till you went off on one of those mindless knee jerk anti-Israel (and by implication anti-Jewish) wild unsubstantiated bigotry tacks.
+28 # librarian1984 2016-11-27 14:28
anti-Israel does NOT imply anti-Jewish -- but it sure makes it easier to demonize, doesn't it?
+14 # anthraxripple 2016-11-27 11:14
Great article.

I guess it's time for Clinton's minions to attack and start gloating about "winning" the primary "fair and square", while simultaneously whining about "having the general election stolen" (by the same processes that were used to hoist her up on the DNC's ticket.

Bernie is still working and trying to figure out how to fight the right-wingers as a unified force.

Hillary is still conniving and trying to figure out how to milk something out of this, while continuing to divide the left, and look for more right-wing political and financial support.

I feel sorry for her.

Now that the Clinton Foundation's dried up, who will pay to remodel Chelsea's house?
+21 # librarian1984 2016-11-27 11:53
"we have to be very, very smart"

So Bernie would have taken the VP slot. Interesting. Another mistake by HRC.

What a great conversation. These two seem to epitomize the two current camps. Lee wants to express his anxiety, Sanders is impatient and wants to get to work.

"Our job is to convert that anger into a constructive effort"

On CNN this morning Sanders likewise showed impatience with questions about the recount. He agreed the electoral college issue should be revisited so all states are in play.

He said we need a more diverse government but that identity politics is insufficient -- representatives need to be willing to stand up to the oligarchy. I like this focus.

He is pragmatic and focussed as always. He speaks strategically of our leverage on issues and using the media to promote the progressive agenda. His laser focus on issues is his greatest strength and, classically, perhaps our undoing.

Sanders is going to have to live with the knowledge that, now that we know Clinton loses to Trump, he SHOULD have fought the election fraud in the primaries -- that he was our best chance against Trump and he should have fought for the nomination.

Everyone talks about what a perfect campaign Obama ran. But Sanders did just as well -- with crowd funding and against the entire party apparatus and msm. Sanders and his team performed miracles. Sanders did not do much wrong. But not fighting the election fraud --that was a doozy.
+9 # grandlakeguy 2016-11-27 13:27
Yes librarian his failure to challenge the fraudulent primaries was Bernie's biggest mistake.
I also believe that he seriously erred by not talking about HRC's very toxic record.
No mention of the lies about sniper fire, her vote to continue the use of horrific cluster bombs and so so much more.
Bernie was being polite and decent while at the same time his opponent and the DNC were rigging the process against him.

Our nation and the world have lost so much potential for a better future due to the dishonesty so clearly displayed in the Dem. primaries!
+9 # anthraxripple 2016-11-27 17:22
The only difference betwee Sanders' and Obama's campaigns is that Clinton came pre-prepared for the onslaught of negative reaction she inspires. She wasn't nearly as proactive with her trolls 8 years ago. Her hubris didn't account for the fact that she even COULD lose. Obama proved her very wrong, so, rather than even allowing that to be possible, this time she made sure all the pieces were in place to make the nomination nothing more than a coronation.
-27 # MidwesTom 2016-11-27 12:13
Go to the Republican party, where the common folk and working people abide; forget the elitist and wealthy gang that now runs the Democratic party. Bernie and Trump have far more in common that either does with HRC.
+8 # warrior woman 2016-11-27 13:02
They may abide there but they are dupes of the elite. There will be no crumbs of cake forthcoming, we're all going to need to get used to bending over.
+15 # librarian1984 2016-11-27 13:18

Everything the Dems learned they learned from the GOP. If you think the GOP is the champion of the everyman you know something I don't. Don't you think the frustration and anger that fuel Trump's support comes primarily from disaffected GOP voters?

Both the DP and the GOP are filled with regular people at the mercy of parasites convinced they're 'elite'.

While they divide us by gender, color, party, region, sexuality blah blah, they are waging a class war .. and they are winning.

They will keep winning until WE, the 90%, unite and rise up .. together.
+4 # anthraxripple 2016-11-27 17:19
That's hillarious Tommy!

You're probably not even being sarcastic, which is even funnier.

I especially liked the bit about "common folk" and "working people" in the GOP, vs. the "wealthy elites" in the Democratic Party.

What's that fancy word for saying something that is the exact polar 180-degree opposite of a fact or truth? Help me out someone. I could use it right now. It's not "lie", because what Tom just did is a lot more extreme (comically so) that a simple lie.
-4 # MidwesTom 2016-11-27 19:27
HRC spent more than twice what Trump it. Obama;s cabinet was 100% filled with academics. Wall Street was behind Hillary, not Trump. Trump won the blue collar votes of Republicans ad many Democrats. The two parties have switched.
+7 # anthraxripple 2016-11-27 22:39
Are you calling Hillary a "Democrat"?

That's your biggest mistake.

Are you new here? Haven't you bothered to read the amount of anger the ordinary Democratic voters have had at the Clintons, and Obama for YEARS? We're not angry "because they aren't enough like Republicans"

-29 # bobaka 2016-11-27 13:24
Bernie is a reform capitalist--whi ch is what a progressive is. He is a system man and most people are way outside of the system whatever the bleating of professional insiders,bourge ois journalists, and other careerists trying to make orthodox sense and keep their parasitic jobs. Bernie is another millionaire afraid the riots in the streets will burn down his new mansion.
+8 # rxfxworld 2016-11-27 14:36
Except that you have opinions without facts. Senator Sanders net worth is $140,000. Not bad compared to most Americans but hardly in the millionaire class.
+3 # lfeuille 2016-11-27 19:46
It's a little more than that. It was about 300K before his wife inherited a vacation property in Maine which she sold to buy one in Vt. I don't know how much it covered of the cost.
0 # rxfxworld 2016-11-27 14:37
See my reply to you bobaka
-3 # lorenbliss 2016-11-27 19:24
Reading Ms. Brockes' report clarifies Hillary's strategy:

Using Stein as her puppet – and obviously as both Stein's financier and puppet-master -- Hillary times the recount to invalidate enough electoral votes to give herself the presidency.

As The Hill reports, failure to complete an official recount by the federal 13 December deadline may invalidate the state's electoral votes:

Thus Hillary seizes the White House while positioning Stein as the scapegoat for the resulting civil war, thereby eliminating the Greens forever. Clearly, Stein's ambitions have not only reduced her to a sacrificial lamb, but also reveal her as a useful idiot.

Civil war? Yup. The KuKlux/Christia n/Nazi militias will rise in armed rebellion if Trump is ousted -- particularly if the ouster is accomplished by typical Democratic (sic) treachery.

As I have written elsewhere, this will kill forever the potentially successful NONVIOLENT revolution brewing at Standing Rock.

The civil war's associated state of emergency will enable Hillary to permanently nullify what remains of the Constitution, thereby ensuring the eternal omnipotence of capitalist tyranny aka Nazism.

And the death and destruction so inflicted – which Hillary will blame on Russia – will give her a “nothing-to-los e” rationale to nuke Moscow, thereby triggering the thermonuclear apocalypse for which she so malignantly yearns.
+3 # DongiC 2016-11-27 21:13
I don't think there will be a civil war. The KKK, the alt right, the Nazi militias and all the rest of Trump's legionnaires will rapidly disappear when they face the armed forces of the United States.

The Standing Rock movement will continue to draw national attention. I doubt if many of Trump's followers are there neither do I think he will help the Sioux. I read where he has money in Energy Transfer and he seems committed to place . the nation on a suicidal course regarding the environment

As to Clinton and nuclear war, it's a mighty leap in logic to go from a personal animosity with another leader to the end of the world. Syria is not Cuba and a no fly zone while very dangerous and avoidable is not the same as the establishment of a naval quarantine in the South Atlantic. The Syrian situation can and should be settled peaceably, Russia and the United States can do it. Both Putin and Clinton can negotiate a setttlement. They have every reason to do so.
+2 # lorenbliss 2016-11-27 19:31
What gives? Accessing RSN now makes my entire computer run unbelievably slowly -- five minutes just to type this paragraph in Word and paste it here ...
-4 # sdraymond 2016-11-27 22:31
Quoting lorenbliss:
What gives? Accessing RSN now makes my entire computer run unbelievably slowly -- five minutes just to type this paragraph in Word and paste it here ...

Maybe it's because somebody at RSN finally figured out that you're a troll paid by the Russian KGB.
+4 # lorenbliss 2016-11-28 08:00
No matter. You need to update your files: no KGB since the USSR died. Now my instructions from the Kremlin come via other means:

добрый вечер!
+5 # Majikman 2016-11-28 10:55
Bravo, loren, bravo!
0 # lorenbliss 2016-11-28 17:01
Thank you.
-1 # sdraymond 2016-11-29 19:41
Quoting lorenbliss:
No matter. You need to update your files: no KGB since the USSR died. Now my instructions from the Kremlin come via other means:

добрый вечер!

ivQuoting lorenbliss:
No matter. You need to update your files: no KGB since the USSR died. Now my instructions from the Kremlin come via other means:

добрый вечер!

The KGB may be dead in your mind, but it's very much alive in the mind of Putin and the repressive and homophobic regime in Moscow. From everything you've written, you are at least an apologist for that repressive government and it's fake news. My Ukrainian friends don't believe the KGB is dead, but just goes by another acronym.
-1 # sdraymond 2016-11-29 19:43
...And so do my gay Russian friends.

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