Senator Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont) has been championing Democratic socialism on the campaign trail while seeking the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination.
Sanders, however, didn’t just start making Democratic socialism a trending topic overnight. A 1981 interview with Phil Donahue establishes that “Bernard Sanders,” as he was referred to, has been outspoken about the perils of capitalism since he was elected mayor of Burlington, Vermont — a vote he only won by a mere 10 votes in what was a conservative state back in the early 1980s, and in an era where Republican Ronald Reagan swept into the White House and defined the modern era of capitalism.
The result of Reagan’s campaign saw most of the United States get swept into anti-socialist rhetoric that saw socialism being compared to communism — an especially dirty word to use in the Reagan era due to the Cold War with the USSR. One of Reagan’s most famous quotes is, “Socialism only works in two places: Heaven where they don’t need it and hell where they already have it.”
Toward the end of the 1981 interview, Donahue asks then-Mayor Sanders if he’s a capitalist, in which Sanders flatly responded “no.” Donahue would go on to state the case for capitalism, using the free enterprise system as evidence that capitalism works. Sanders replied that the United States doesn’t reside in a free enterprise system, but a corporate capitalist system where a few have all the control of the wealth and resources in America.
“Do I believe that the profit motive is fundamental to human nature? The answer is no,” Sanders said. “I think the spirit of cooperation and you and I can work better together rather than having to compete against each other in Detroit to destroy each other.”
Sanders is referring to the peak of the automotive industry in the late 1970s and early 1980s where the “Detroit 3” automakers of General Motors, Ford Motor Company, and Chrysler were trying to compete for the majority of consumers by making cheaper cars and maximizing profits, instead of working together to make the safest vehicles on the road. This took place while Japanese imports such as Toyota, Honda, and Nissan were on the rise and starting to establish a footprint in the American automobile market.
Now, almost 40 years later, Sanders is part of the Democratic socialist movement that has gained considerable momentum since President Trump took office in 2017. The question is whether or not the majority of Americans are ready to see Democratic socialism take shape in the U.S., or if most Americans still have hope that capitalism is a sustainable system.
Brandon Howard is a Grit Post contributor, auto worker, and former public radio reporter based out of Lexington, Kentucky. Follow him on Twitter @mrpowerhoward.