'Nero fiddled while Rome burned. Trump golfs': Bernie Sanders calls on supporters to back Biden against threat of second Trump term

'The unthinkable has become normal ... We must never treat it like it is'

Alex Woodward
New York
Monday 17 August 2020 23:50 BST
Bernie Sanders compares Donald Trump to Roman tyrant Nero

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Bernie Sanders has appealed directly to progressives to support Joe Biden's election against Donald Trump.

"We need an unprecedented response, a movement like no other before, of people who are prepared to stand up and fight for democracy and decency and against greed, oligarchy and bigotry," he said. "And we need Joe Biden as our next president."

The Vermont senator, speaking before former first lady Michelle Obama on the first night of the 2020 Democratic National Convention, warned that "the price of failure is just too great to imagine".

Following his departure from the race in April, and the mourning of progressives losing a prominent voice on the American left on the party's largest stage a second time, Mr Sanders thanked his legions of supporters, asserting that the platforms they "fought for, that just a few years ago were considered 'radical,' are now mainstream".

It marked a small moment for a victory, one that he didn't declare in 2016 following his challenge to eventual nominee Hillary Clinton and the electoral strides among progressives in the years that followed. Within the five months after he suspended his campaign, progressive Democrats backed by Mr Sanders have won several primary elections against status quo incumbents and well-funded challengers, while the coronavirus pandemic has underscored American inequities that the senator has challenged throughout his career. Medicare for All, the senator's signature healthcare proposal to ensure universal coverage, now has broad voter support.

But he returned to the convention in 2020 to deliver an explicit call to action to those supporters, without an arena audience or a crowd to cheer him on, leaving him to issue a dire warning in relative silence: "If Donald Trump is re-elected, all the progress we have made will be in jeopardy."

"The unthinkable has become normal," he said. "He has tried to prevent people from voting, undermined the US Postal Service, deployed the military and federal agents against peaceful protesters, threatened to delay the election and suggested that he will not leave office if he loses. This is not normal, and we must never treat it like it is."

He condemned the administration's response to the public health crisis – "Nero fiddled while Rome burned, Trump golfs" – as "negligence" paired with "fraudulent executive orders" that exacerbated the crisis during the economic fallout from the pandemic

"Millions of working families are wondering how they'll feed their kids and worried that they will be evicted from their homes," he said. "But the truth is that, even before Trump's negligent response to this pandemic, too many hard-working families have been caught on an economic treadmill with no hope of ever getting ahead. Together we must build a nation that is more equitable, more compassionate and more inclusive."

After his withdrawal from the campaign, Mr Sanders and Mr Biden swiftly announced an alliance, one that relied on a coalition of progressive and influential Democrats for working groups that would eventually draft the candidate's platform, a 110-page document that signalled some concessions to the left.

Progressives also saw a series of crucial primary wins in the months that followed, including "squad" members Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Rashida Tlaib and Ilhan Omar, who handily trounced well-funded Democratic primary challengers and ensured their likely returns to Congress, as well as newcomers Jamaal Bowman, who defeated longtime New York Democrat Elliot Engel with more than 55 per cent of the vote, and Cori Bush, whose primary win in Missouri unseated a political dynasty.

None of them, other than AOC, will appear on the DNC's virtual stages.

Former New York Mayor and billionaire Mike Bloomberg, who poured millions of dollars into a campaign in which he secured only American Samoa before dropping out, will also be speaking. Mr Bowman, a former middle school principal whose shared experience as a young black man beaten by police while Bloomberg was mayor, won’t be.

Another former presidential challenger, Elizabeth Warren, had thoroughly unbuttoned Mr Bloomberg (“a billionaire who calls women ‘fat broads’ and ‘horse-faced lesbians’”) on the debate stage as he faced relentless scrutiny for his support for stop-and-frisk policies.

Many progressives and delegates have refused to endorse the party's official platform without a promise to endorse Medicare for All.

But Mr Sanders relied on the urgency of removing the president from office in his message to unite the party.

While Mr Sanders admitted that Mr Biden does not agree with his vision for Medicare for All, he stressed to his supporters the policies on which they do agree: raising the hourly minimum wage to $15, guaranteeing paid family leave and universal pre-kindergarten, rebuilding infrastructure and supporting a clean energy plan to combat the climate crisis and criminal justice reform.

"And to heal the soul of our nation, Joe Biden will end the hate and division Trump has created," he added. "He will stop the demonisation of immigrants, the coddling of white nationalists, the racist dog whistling, the religious bigotry, and the ugly attacks on women."

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