Why You & Bernie Make Me Nauseous: An Argument for Meaningful Leadership

I don’t know about you, but I have a lot vested in the current presidential campaign. Sometimes it feels like, well, everything.

I am a big believer in thinking globally and acting locally, so usually the election drama many Americans seem to enjoy witnessing—like a spectator sport every four years—is not a stage that holds my interest for very long. I’d rather spend time at my town board’s meeting or calling my Governor’s office and leaving a message with his assistant. Add to that, the fact that most of the time the candidates playing the roles in this recurring drama seem like actors—puppets, clowns even—and it’s pretty easy to lose interest early.

Despite a typical lack of interest, I am painfully aware of the variety of issues these clowns and puppets are supposed to be thinking about and planning for. Does it ever seem to you sometimes that you’re more aware of what they are supposed to be thinking about and planning for than they are? We can probably blame the media’s lackadaisical approach for that . . . social media has intensified this culpability. It seems that at least half of the people on Facebook or Twitter are way better than Chuck Todd at asking good questions of our candidates (and each other).

But this election time, things feel nauseatingly different for me. And that is because of Bernie Sanders.

Leaving the Republican slate aside, there is no shortage of arguments for and against Bernie, and his opponent Hillary. As a big consumer of Facebook political feeds, I have seen every possible angle of identity politics submitted and exploited, as well as even a few policy arguments every once in a while. As a result of the Hillary vs. Bernie debate I have been unfriended by actual friends who I actually know and have had actual important formative experiences with, and condescended to by friends I don’t really know at all, but with whom I have 48 friends in common.

Taking these experiences to heart, I have been sure to exit the social media sphere frequently to look for factually based information about Sanders and Clinton, and I think it’s fair to say that anyone who wants to spend the time looking for good quality information can easily find it. I have, and I’m sure other people have, too. See, we don’t really need each others’ opinions on what each candidate has done to form our own opinions, as much as we all enjoy sharing with each other these days. But we do need something else from each other.

I mention this in an effort to set aside what I know will be the reaction to the rest of what I am going to write—that we should never make a heart-based argument for the most powerful office on Earth. That any plea for someone else’s vote must be based on facts and policy. I get that, and I’ve plenty of factual fodder to point to, but this article is not about that.

It seems I’m generally sad about the good Ol’ U.S. of A., and I have been since I was very young. I know I am not alone. I know that many of us look at the current situation and we can see that we live in a broken country, even if we ourselves manage to carve out a pretty nice existence. We can all see the wide variety of forms of injustice and struggle and pain right in front of our faces—whether once removed via TV or social media, or right in our own homes or communities.

We don’t have to ask whether these situations are right or wrong. We know they are wrong. We can feel the isolation from our fellow citizens. We immediately recognize that too many are not getting a fair deal. We know that our guilt or anger about this has resulted in us coming to judge and accuse each other, disrespect each other, dismiss each other. We can see all that has gone awry socially and politically, and if we’re especially aware of the forces in play, we can even see why.

The sadness gets duller and deeper over the years and collectively renders us useless. Yet, almost by perfect design, most of us do nothing because we are swept away in our own struggles, with our own battles against injustice, or just with the need for some sanity after a long day at work. Some people cannot even see beyond the wrongness they are living in the middle of. They are just plain broken, forgotten, abandoned—and the rest of us are the ones with the luxury of choosing to abandon them.

Faced with all we face—we shouldn’t forget that our recognition of what’s wrong, and/or our sadness is rooted in what’s good and right about our country, what has been before for many, and what could be again for all. It is rooted in the individual belief that “I matter.” My life should be better. From that we extend: “Others matter.” Others’ lives should be better. But that extension only happens when we listen to our hearts, not our heads. Our heads will always have one million and one reasons not to care. Or to allow for caring, but not for acting.

So, back to that nauseous feeling . . . it’s simple. I am nauseous because I am hopeful in an unprecedented way. Being so deeply hopeful (at least about a political situation) makes me nauseous because it is such an unfamiliar feeling and there is so much pain behind the fear of hoping, that I am terrified of what will happen and how I will feel if my hopes are dashed. I am terrified of four or eight more years of disengagement and nothingness. Or worse than nothingness, political and social regression.

Bernie is to blame. Bernie makes me want to barf. And so do you—no offense. I’ll explain why in a minute.

But first, I want to ask you something: What does leadership mean to you? What do good leaders do? Do they tell us what to do, and how it’s going to go, ask us to pitch in a bit, then pat us on the back when they get what they want? Or, do they inspire us to envision something better so we feel motivated to contribute? Do they point to the core values that bind us all, and remind us that we must strive to hold to those values and do the work. Or, do they tell us “I’ve got this.”?

Do they believe in us, or in themselves?

I want to ask you something else: What do you think it would it feel like to have a President who believed that people matter more than profits? That the planet that sustains us counts for something? What would it feel like to live in a country where we were reminded that we have a responsibility to ourselves and each other to participate?

What would you do with those (likely) new feelings? Would you begin to care more? To make time to help in some way? Can you even imagine what it might feel like? I am not sure I can. I’d like to know, though.

I want to ask you even more stuff: How do you feel now? As a human who shares this county with fellow neighbors, townspeople, city dwellers, state dwellers, region dwellers, and the whole damn giant 50-states-of-difference-soup dwellers?

Do you like us? Do you think we suck? Do you only validate the views and experiences of Republicans, Liberals, Rural People, Urbanites, or any other group? Do you think we can even see each other anymore? Do you think we can get better?

Can you name five things that we would all agree matter to the whole?

I believe that, among the many ills Americans suffer from, we suffer most from a lack of meaningful leadership. We suffer from decade after decade of “leaders” who refuse to question the system, who pay lip service to us, while working for special interests—all the while, telling us what we want to hear rather than the truth. Many values are espoused, one core value is in operation: political/monetary gain.

We suffer from being purposely divided from those we share this country with in a way that has dismantled our collective soul as a nation bit by bit. We suffer from a lack of external inspiration, which leads directly to a lack of the will to demand more—or even to demand the most basic of rights—and an inability to believe in ourselves, to believe that how we feel and what we experience day-to-day matters to the whole of our lives and is important enough to try to address collectively.

Bernie is to blame for shining the light on what’s wrong. Policy differences aside, lots of people don’t like that, and they might fail to notice he is shining the light on what’s right, too—us and the potential of our democracy. He wants to lead us, not direct us. He tells us the truth, not what we want to hear. He reminds us to stay united, even while wrench after campaign wrench is thrown onto the pile of division. He refuses to take money from those who benefit from a system which hurts the majority of us—not in vague, unknown ways, but in very real ways—a system that claims that only those who play by its rule book can possibly win. He asks us to believe in ourselves and what we can accomplish together. He exhibits principled leadership that is motivated by knowing right from wrong, and he has shown a consistent adherence to this core value across his years of service.

And you are to blame, too. You know, remember, for that barfy feeling. (Well, a lot of you.) You’ve shown up, you’ve waited in line. You’ve listened and cheered. You’ve refused to believe the Chuck Todds of the world, the NY Times, the punditry and pontificating that substitutes for what once was called journalism. You’ve questioned whether identity politics is always relevant. You’ve made me nauseous, and I love you for it. You scare me with your bravery, courage, and hope. Thank you.

The fear leading to nausea that I feel about potentially missing the opportunity to experience real leadership—it’s not just for myself, my kids, my town, it is for all of us.

Because we’re far gone, people. Nothing seems to unite us, to move us. Groups of beautiful children being shot dead at school. Young black men being shot dead for existing. For. Just. Existing. Entire states being raped for a fossil fuel that will kill us all. Food that makes us sick. Medicines that make us sick. No access to medicines that can make us better. Schools that turn our kids into test taking machines. Colleges that make our youth indebted forever. Woman being objectified more than ever before. Endless wars and neglected service men and women. Millions of fellow citizens living in desperate poverty, while millions more cling to the next paycheck and hope for the best. And the biggest deal breaker of all, climate change. I could go on here . . . feel free to fill in the rest. I know you can.

How can we not take a hard turn right now? How can we possibly stay on this path? What will life be if we do? Can we at least ask that question of each other? What level of insanity and dysfunction is required for us to have the courage to change? We’ve clearly met that threshold, and we desperately need the inspiration to change direction—someone to lead the way.

All these issues, these troubles, these horrors—they are ours. All of ours. This is not blue vs. red, north vs. south, white vs. black, this is a massive, collective moral failure. These problems don’t exist because we are different. We are just told they do, which makes us focus on what the other “side” is doing wrong. The only problem is that we are all on the same side, and an itty bitty percentage of our population who profits from a system that lacks all civility, rationality, and common decency is sitting on top.

So, now what? What values can awaken our broken American hearts? Which leader sees the power in all of us through the lens of basic fairness and reflects it back on to us? Which one keeps reminding us that we actually need each other, and that that’s okay?

You know: it’s Bernie.

Have courage. Vote with your heart. We have a lot vested in the current presidential campaign. Actually, everything.