Athena would make the best president. But our times call for Ares

Art Small grew up in Iowa City. He now lives in Charlottesville, Virginia. -promoted by Laura Belin

When Virginia votes on March 3, I plan to vote for Bernie Sanders. Here’s why:

The rule of law in the United States is now under potentially lethal assault. The survival of America’s great experiment is democratic self-governance hangs in precarious balance. If we lose now, an authoritarian might-makes-right future awaits.

This is not hyperbole. This is today’s news.

Walter Bagehot memorably described democracy as “government through discussion”. What we’ve learned in the Senate this week, and throughout the government these past three grim years, is what happens to a democracy when a governing force no longer even pretends to engage in reasoned discourse. The rule of law cannot survive when words mean nothing.

How to fight back? Our normal tools are failing. The law is failing us. Reasoned discourse is failing us. Language is failing us. Plans, analysis, calm argument, citing the lessons of history, appeals to observable reality: nothing is working.

Margaret Atwood drew out the grim implication: “War is what happens when language fails.”

Athena and Ares

I have become convinced in this roiling historic moment, a candidate who offers reasoned argument based on sound analysis, will fail. A candidacy based on calculated appeals to the allegedly centrist swing voter will fail. Because words – the very stuff of democracy – are failing.

We must go deeper than reason. We need a trumpet call. We need a fierce moral vision.

The things I used to dislike about Bernie Sanders – the repetitive simplicity of his message, his failure to offer details to his grand visions – I now see as exactly what this frightening moment needs.

When I announced my support for Sanders to a friend, she wrote in reply:

“I understand and respect this [view], Just wondering if/why you think Warren doesn’t meet much of the same urgent criteria, but in a healthier and (finally) different gender body plus understanding of nuance but still strong message. I know he is rising and she the opposite.”

I previously supported Warren with genuine enthusiasm. I contributed financially to her campaign six times. I think overall she likely would make a more effective president than Sanders. I also think she would make a fine VP, and an historic, massively effective Secretary of the Treasury. I admire Warren deeply.

My switch from Warren to Sanders is not caused by her falling poll numbers. It is certainly not about her gender. Nor have I not written off her chances: I still think she could win the nomination.

I shut off my recurring contribution to Warren’s campaign after her “I think you just called me a liar on national TV”, no-I-won’t-shake-your-hand exchange with Sanders at the close of the most recent debate hosted by CNN. Either this move was a prepared made-for-TV moment, or a spontaneous outburst. Either explanation is depressing. If Warren would be our leader – the leader of the embattled resistance to the forces of oligarchy, white supremacy, and lawlessness – she needs to keep her eyes on that prize.

I would put it this way: in a time of peace, I would much rather be governed by Athena. But we are now in a time of war. We are at war with a force that seeks absolute power, without scruple, without shame, without hesitation, without compassion. This force threatens to destroy our democracy and savage our planet.

This is not the time for a thoughtful exchange of reasonable views. The spirit of today’s Republican Party is the spirit of the Terminator: it can’t be reasoned with. It can’t be bargained with. And it won’t stop until we, the political voices of reason and compassion, are dead.

We are at war. In a time of war, we need Ares.

A candidate of stupid, senseless, blind kindness

Bernie-as-Ares may seem a stretch. What I mean is that he embodies a single clear, simple message: compassion. Kindness. Care for others.

This message is and must be the core meaning of the Democratic Party: that we citizens are not just atomized individuals engaged in value-seeking transactions. We are a community. We care for one another.

This is not a foolish, utopian message. People – voters – know in their bones that compassion and kindness matter. They know, they feel, that a nation without compassion is not a place where they want to live, or an ideal that could ever command their loyalty. A cruel America is not an America that most voters recognize, or want.

The spirit of compassion is not a spirit of weakness. To the contrary: it is indestructible.

I have seen that it is not man who is impotent in the struggle against evil, but the power of evil that is impotent in the struggle against man. The powerlessness of kindness, of senseless kindness, is the secret of its immortality. It can never by conquered. The more stupid, the more senseless, the more helpless it may seem, the vaster it is. Evil is impotent before it. The prophets, religious teachers, reformers, social and political leaders are impotent before it. This dumb, blind love is man’s meaning. Human history is not the battle of good struggling to overcome evil. It is a battle fought by a great evil, struggling to crush a small kernel of human kindness. But if what is human in human beings has not been destroyed even now, then evil will never conquer.
― Vasily Grossman, Life and Fate

Sanders’ message is exactly this message of stupid, senseless, blind kindness.

Bernie gets it.

I’m with Bernie.

Credits: Photo of Mattei Athena by Jastrow, public domain. Photo of Ares Canope at the Villa Adrianaby Jastrow, Creative Commons license CC BY-SA 3.0. Quote from Life and Fate by Vasily Grossman, translation by Robert Chandler (2006).

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