America's shameful state of decay: Sanders is campaigning on rebuilding the country's infrastructure -- will it work?

Sanders is promising an FDR-style public works program to rebuild our crumbling infrastructure. Here's how

By James Luchte
February 22, 2016 1:30AM (UTC)
main article image
Bernie Sanders (Reuters/Jim Young)

"Every generation needs a new revolution."

  Thomas Jefferson

Infrastructure. Not a very exciting word, and certainly not one to whip up the hysteria of the electorate in an election year. We have other words for that: immigration, terrorism, religious extremism or Russian aggression. The usual suspects.


Yet, perhaps the word "infrastructure" will become more exciting if we unpack it, learn what it is – and understand that it is not any external cause that most threatens America, but instead decades of negligence to the very "infrastructure" of this nation. There is that word again: infrastructure. But, what does it mean?

A short list will suffice: water treatment, roads, bridges, public housing, passenger and freight rail, marine ports and inland waterways, national parks, broadband, the electric grid, schools, hospitals, government buildings, dams – in other words, to use a medical metaphor, the conditions for the healthy life of a nation.

Perhaps the people of Flint, Michigan, and the increasing number of cities affected by the lead poisoning crisis know better than most the critical importance of the timely maintenance and transformation of our nation’s infrastructure.


On Jan. 27, 2015, Senator Bernie Sanders introduced the “Rebuild America Act,” which was meant to begin to tackle decades of neglect. At the time, Sanders explained the intentions of the bill: “For too many years, we’ve underfunded our nation’s physical infrastructure. We have to change that and that’s what the Rebuild America Act is all about. We must modernize our infrastructure and create millions of new jobs that will put people back to work and help the economy.”

However, Sanders' bill did not, as he suggested at the time, only concern the long overdue task of rebuilding the necessary conditions for the life of a healthy nation. His bill, calling for a $1 trillion investment, would also create 13 million jobs in five years – good jobs -- which would be exciting not only for the many unemployed and underemployed (for those living on starvation wages), but also for local, state and federal treasuries that would benefit from increased revenue, and for the many peripheral businesses, such as restaurants, retailers and other small businesses, that would benefit from the added purchasing power of working families across the nation. Such a targeted program would, in this way, provide the seeds for the multiplication of many millions of new jobs in all sectors.

Yet, Sanders’ bill was blocked by Senate Republicans whose filibuster talked the bill to death. To put the Rebuild America Act in perspective, we need only compare its ambitions with the numbers Barack Obama touted in his own $50 billion Rebuild America Act of 2011. In the wake of the daunting challenges, his effort was merely a drop in the ocean.  


Sanders, who is now running for president – and who has won the New Hampshire primary against Hillary Clinton – has taken the ideas of his filibustered bill onto the campaign trail. If he wins, his presidency will work to eclipse the weak economic recovery under Obama with an FDR-style public works project that will restore not only the health of the nation, but will also accelerate real economic growth through a people’s recovery.  

Departing from Obama’s 2011 infrastructure plan, which would have been financed by a gas tax, Sanders intends to fund his initiative through a tax on Wall Street financial speculation, which is, after all, the root of the failed economic strategies that caused the financial crisis of 2008.


Of course, there is much more to the Sanders’ agenda than only the infrastructure bill – but, in itself, such an initiative would not only be a very good start, but would also outshine all previous efforts in this direction since World War II. Sanders' plan for American renewal is, moreover, supported by the AFL-CIO, U.S. Chamber of Commerce, American Society of Civil Engineers, and by millions of American working families.   

After decades of foreign adventures and war, America, in all its aspects, subsists in a state of decay within and would be unrecognizable to the founders of our nation. Long ago, Benjamin Franklin’s maxim "A stitch in time saves nine" was left to the history books, along with its wisdom of timely action. Now, however, one stitch will no longer do – but nine, and these have been set forth in Sanders' program, not only for infrastructure, but also measures for working families, among which include jobs, healthcare, tax justice, criminal justice reform, climate change, civil liberties and putting an end to banks that are “too big to fail.”

The presidential campaign of Bernie Sanders has identified the vast problems facing our nation, and is propelled and exclusively funded by an unprecedented grass-roots movement promising a “political revolution." Most of us know these problems, for they affect the overwhelming majority of Americans in our daily lives: in the developed world, the highest inequality, highest child poverty, highest incarceration rates, highest rates of domestic gun violence outside of war zones, and the list goes on and on -- all of this is truly exceptional.  


From Jefferson’s dream of an agrarian democratic republic to our unacknowledged and costly global empire (more than 1,000 military bases around the world and a permanent war economy), we, the people, like the Romans before us, are threatened by an enemy within that has placed our democracy on the cusp of tyranny.  The billionaire class sits behind its guarded walls, oblivious to the lives and struggles of ordinary citizens. Without the overt titles of princes and kings, we are on the verge of becoming exactly what our Founding Fathers had struggled to eliminate from the new revolutionary Republic.

Bernie Sanders and his supporters, and perhaps also his enemies, have recognized this greatest of all threats to our democracy – vast inequality -- and have initiated the beginning of a political transformation that seeks to reclaim our democracy for the millions of hardworking families who feel each day that they have been left behind by the age of greed.

James Luchte

James Luchte is a philosopher, author and activist in the United States. He is also Visiting Professor of Philosophy and Aesthetics at Shanghai University of Finance and Economics. His latest book is titled "Mortal Thought: Hölderlin and Philosophy" (Bloomsbury 2016).

MORE FROM James Luchte

Related Topics ------------------------------------------

2016 Presidential Election Bernie Sanders Editor's Picks Infrastructure Rebuild America Act