By Don Keelan
In a recent public announcement, Gov. Phil Scott pulled no punches, describing what occurred at the Alburgh Community Education Center during a middle school basketball game. As far as he was concerned, it was a disgrace that adults would rush onto the gym floor and engage in fisticuffs. Sportsmanship at its worst has no place in Vermont.
The governor is eternally hopeful. Today in Vermont, polarization, lack of civility, and disagreement are as present as Maple trees. And our Senior Senator, Bernie Sanders, can be credited for much of it.
The senator has made polarization his lifelong passion and is immensely proud to characterize the population as “them versus us.” If you are rich (I gather in financial assets), wealthy, and successful, you are on the senator’s list as “them.” Sanders makes it quite clear by his rantings that he is out to get you.
Witness the U.S.Senate, specifically, the hearing that was conducted by the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee. As the chair of the committee, Senator Sanders has fulfilled a lifelong dream, which he plans to turn into a nightmare for folks he compels to come before his committee.
According to Mary Clare Jalonick with the Associated Press (and writing in the Bennington Banner’s February 9 Edition): “He (Sanders) says some corporations should be nervous.”
The quote refers to Sanders’ invitation to appear before the committee to leaders of Starbucks and Amazon, two international corporations. According to Sanders, they acted illegally when their employees attempted to unionize. Howard Schultz, the Head of Starbucks, declined the committee’s invitation. Sanders is saying that when the executives of a large and successful company appear before his committee, it will be a scary event.
That is how the U.S. Congress operates: threaten those with whom you might disagree. And in Starbucks’ and Amazon’s cases, Sanders goes beyond just disagreement. It is hostile. He has been clear these past four decades: he despises wealthy people. If this isn’t the foundation of polarization, what is?
If, as Sanders notes, these mega companies are practicing illegal labor activities, let all 50 states’ labor departments deal with such activities. If additional resources are needed, we have a Labor Department in Washington and the National Labor Relations Board.
That would not satisfy Senator Sanders. How else can he achieve his decades-old cause of pitting the wealthy against the not-so-wealthy in American society? It is time for Senator Sanders to return to his alma mater, the University of Chicago, to seek guidance.
Professor Russell Johnson of the University of Chicago’s Divinity School references the noted Jewish philosopher Martin Buber and his speech in 1952: “Hope for this Hour.” Buber argues that “one effect of polarization is the transformation of ordinary mistrust into ‘massive mistrust.’”
Sanders has a national stage in his quest to create societal polarization: the U.S. Capitol building.
Buber also notes that “polarization is not extreme disagreement but the erosion of the conditions—like trust—necessary for working through disagreement.”
Testifying in Washington before a congressional committee should be treated as an honor, privilege, and civic responsibility. Just because one’s wealth is in the billions, one should not be the invited witness to maliciousness.
Buber concludes in his ‘Hope for this Time’: “citizens need to push back against the forces of polarization. The flames of resentment and mistrust are fanned by politicians and journalists who stand to gain from a divided society, but these tactics only work as long as ordinary people allow them to. The hope for this hour depends upon the hopers themselves, upon ourselves.”
Governor Scott, you occupy the high ground when addressing the end of polarization and lack of civility in Vermont. It is time you reached out and brought our senior senator to that high place. It is a proven fact that you don’t improve the circumstances of the poor by pitting them against those who are not.
Don Keelan writes a bi-weekly column and lives in Arlington, Vermont.