Bernie Sanders: 'Nero fiddled while Rome burned. Trump golfs.'

Bernie Sanders accused President Trump of “leading us down the path of authoritarianism” and having a “negligent response” to the coronavirus pandemic in his speech at the first night of the virtual Democratic National Convention on Monday.

The Vermont senator also urged the supporters who pushed him to a second-place finish in the Democratic primary to rally behind the party’s presumptive nominee, former Vice President Joe Biden, and his running mate, California Sen. Kamala Harris.

“Nero fiddled while Rome burned. Trump golfs. His actions fanned this pandemic, resulting in over 170,000 deaths and a nation still unprepared to protect its people,” Sanders said. “Furthermore, Trump’s negligence has exacerbated the economic crisis we are now experiencing.”

Among other things, Sanders blamed Trump for inadequate supplies of protective gear that plagued the country at the start of the pandemic in March and the expiration of employment benefits for the record numbers of workers who have lost their jobs.

He also framed Trump’s overall handling of the presidency as “a threat to our democracy.” To make his case, Sanders, who spoke live during Monday night’s convention kickoff broadcast, listed a number of criticisms he has of the administration, and he took issue with Trump’s remark earlier in the day about staying in office beyond his constitutional term – a recurring bit for the president.

“During this president’s term, the unthinkable has become normal. He has tried to prevent people from voting, undermined the U.S. 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,” said Sanders. “This is not normal and we must never treat it like it is. Under this administration, authoritarianism has taken root in our country.”

Sen. Bernie Sanders speaks during the virtual Democratic National Convention on August 17, 2020. (via Reuters TV)
Sen. Bernie Sanders speaks during the virtual Democratic National Convention on Monday. (via Reuters TV)

The speech was a preview of attacks to come from Sanders as the election approaches the home stretch. A source close to the senator said he “will continue finding venues to push the message” of why he thinks Trump must lose in November – including potentially holding live events if he is able to do so safely during the pandemic.

Sanders, a self-described “democratic socialist,” has become a leading figure of the party’s progressive wing. In his convention speech, Sanders briefly alluded to the deep divides that have emerged between progressives and more moderate elements of the Democratic Party when he noted that he and Biden “disagree on the best path” toward expanding health care.

However, Sanders also pointed to their common ground and cited “a few examples of how Joe will move us forward,” including Biden’s support for raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour, expanding unions, combating climate change, and establishing paid family leave and universal pre-kindergarten. He also praised Biden’s health care proposals, saying they were a step in the right direction.

Despite the clear policy divisions within the Democratic Party, Trump has sought to paint Biden as being in lockstep with Sanders. The Trump campaign responded to Sanders’s speech with a statement saying his “socialist agenda is on the ballot.”

“There is nothing moderate about Joe Biden and Kamala Harris, and Sanders’s speech tonight proves it,” the Trump campaign statement said.

Along with the critiques of his policies, Sanders called the president’s rhetoric extreme. He accused Trump of engaging in “the demonization of immigrants, the coddling of white nationalists ... racist dog whistling … religious bigotry and ... ugly attacks on women.” Sanders referenced a slogan of Biden’s campaign and said the former vice president would “heal the soul of our nation” and “end the hate and division Trump has created.”

“To everyone who supported other candidates in the primary and to those who may have voted for Donald Trump in the last election, the future of our democracy is at stake, the future of our economy is at stake, the future of our planet is at stake,” Sanders said.

“We must come together, defeat Donald Trump, and elect Joe Biden.”

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