Exclusive: the former presidential candidate suggested that Donald Trumps false claims serve a purpose to push the United States toward authoritarianism
Bernie Sanders has launched a withering attack on Donald Trump, accusing him of being a pathological liar who is driving America towards authoritarianism.
In an interview with the Guardian, the independent senator from Vermont, who waged a spirited campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2016, gave a bleak appraisal of the new White House and its intentions.
He warned that Trumps most contentious outbursts against the media, judiciary and other pillars of American public life amounted to a conscious assault on democracy.
Trump lies all of the time and I think that is not an accident, there is a reason for that. He lies in order to undermine the foundations of American democracy.
Sanders warning comes 50 days into the Trump presidency at a time when the country is still reeling from the shock elevation of a real estate businessman and reality TV star to the worlds most powerful office. In that brief period, the new incumbent of the White House has launched attacks on former president Barack Obamas signature healthcare policy; on visitors from majority-Muslim countries, refugees and undocumented immigrants; and on trade agreements and environmental protection programs.
Speaking to the Guardian in his Senate office in Washington DC, Sanders said that he was concerned about what he called Trumps reactionary economic program of tax breaks to billionaires and devastating cuts to programs that impact the middle class. But he reserved his most excoriating language for what he believes are the presidents authoritarian tendencies.
He charged Trump with devising a conscious strategy of lies denigrating key public institutions, from the mainstream media to judges and even the electoral process itself, so that he could present himself as the sole savior of the nation. The aim was to put out the message that the only person in America who stands for the American people, the only person in America who is telling the truth, the only person in America who gets it right is the president of the United States, Donald Trump.
Trumps fragile relationship with the truth has been one of the distinguishing features of his fledgling administration. He astonished observers by calling a judge who issued a legal ruling blocking his travel ban a so-called judge, accused Obama without producing any evidence of wiretapping Trump Tower, and claimed falsely that up to 5 million votes had been cast illegally in the November election.
Sanders, however, suggested the lies all serve a purpose. To underline his point, Sanders compared the 45th president with the 43rd. George Bush was a very conservative president, I opposed him every single day. But George Bush did not operate outside of mainstream American political values.
While the media spotlight remains firmly on Trump and the daily bombardment of his Twitter feed, quietly and largely unmarked, Sanders, the self-styled democratic socialist senator, is spearheading a nationwide resistance to the new administration. The Brooklyn-born politician is working in tandem with, though at arms length from, former senior advisers in his presidential campaign to rouse for a second time the vast army of young people who flocked to his cause in 2016.
He said that despite what he sees as the virulent threat of Trump, he finds comfort in the evidence that the resistance is already in full swing. You are seeing a very active progressive movement. Our Revolution a group which came out of my campaign other groups, the spontaneous Womens March, thats all an indication of the willingness of the American people to fight back for democracy.
Trumps end goal was to end up as the leader of a nation which has moved in a significant degree toward authoritarianism, he said. The only way to defeat that trend is for massive grassroots resistance, and clearly we are seeing that right now.
As examples of what he meant, Sanders pointed to the 150 rallies in 130 congressional districts that were held in one recent weekend alone. The events mobilized tens of thousands of people demanding meetings with their members of Congress to protest against the repeal of the Affordable Care Act.
Sanders made a specific appeal to his Republican colleagues in Congress to join him in this resistance. He addressed himself directly to those Republicans who believe in democracy, who do not believe in authoritarianism. It is incumbent upon them, in this moment in history, to stand up and say that what Trump is doing is not what the United States is about, its not what our constitution is about. They have got to join us in resistance.
He added: I hope in the coming months to be working with some conservative Republicans, who I disagree with on every economic and environmental issue you can imagine, to say to this president that you are not going to undermine American democracy.
The Vermont senator also remarked on the ongoing inquiry into alleged connections between the 2016 Trump campaign and the Russian government under Vladimir Putin. Intelligence agencies have accused the Kremlin of trying to distort the presidential election in Trumps favour by hacking into Democratic email accounts.
Russia played a very heavy role in attempting, successfully, I think, to impact our election. That is unacceptable, Sanders said.
We need to know what kind of influence the Russian oligarchy has over Trump. Many people are astounded. Here he is, seemingly in strong disagreement with Australia, with Mexico, with long-term allies; but he has nothing but positive things to say about Mr Putin who is an authoritarian leader.