The following commentary was contributed by guest political columnist, Allen Wang.
Socialism (or Democratic-Socialism and whatnot) is unheard of in these capitalist United States. When Bernie Sanders rose to prominence – an independent Senator from Vermont who attempted to secure the presidency under the Democratic banner – the national conversation was heated, puzzled, joyous, and devastated to find a liberal, outsider Trump-antithesis. Sanders famously preached for a political “revolution” that would raise American taxes on corporations and the affluent, a single-payer government-run health insurance program, free college, and the remnants of US interventionism fully withdrawn. His dead-on appeal to millennials has pushed Clinton’s rhetoric to the left along with the Democratic Party’s platform. Now, the party that fights for a national $15-an-hour minimum wage, will work towards legalizing marijuana, a carbon tax, and closing the political/corporate revolving door, among other things.
Professor Heather Gautney best summarizes the effects of Bernie Sanders’s popularity; “reviving the New Deal [style] of FDR Democrats,” “Sanders was clear early on that his campaign aimed to fortify a grassroots movement.” Wielding his influence has made the party platform a “historical marker of dissent from the party’s neoliberal agenda.”
He kept his campaign authentic and grassroots based, having it financed completely by a broad liberal public, and removed from any corporate conflict of interest that the Democratic nominee comes under plenty of fire for. More super PAC money was spent in support of Sanders than Clinton, which can be attributed to the broad labor union support base he receives from organizations, notably including National Nurses United, while Clinton has received the aid of Priorities USA Action. Clinton’s PAC was originally formed to help re-elect Obama, and receives “seven-figure contributions from the kind of billionaire financiers Mr. Sanders delights in lampooning.”
Going back to how Sanders functions as a political antithesis, it must be recognized he does so in two fronts: in ideology, he parades far on the American left, while Trump swings on the right edges of the political spectrum; politically, unaligned with the Democrats and less of a steady supporter for the party, his positions on current issues have been recognizably steadfast in his voting record. In other words, he runs opposite of Clinton’s epitomizing an establishment figure and many issue flip-flops, and is a socialist counterweight to Trump, the bombast capitalist.
To continue tracking American polarization, we have to take a look at the context that has allowed for his success to bear so much fruit. The most significant demographic in Sanders’s campaign were the millennials, and in somewhat similar fashion to Trump supporters, their recent political and economic experiences give good reason behind their anger at the system and support for an outsider.
Millennials, or young Americans in college born in the 80s and 90s (also dubbed as “Generation Y”) suffered both higher unemployment and higher falls in wages than any other group in the 08 Recession. Demand for retail, wholesale, leisure, and hospitality hotels, amusement parks, and restaurants services collapsed; consequently, wages dropped as companies around the country 1) knew they could attract unemployed applicants without raising starter wages and 2) needed to make cuts to costs. Factor in globalization and technology/automation improvements (especially with IT, the number of decent-paying, routine heavy jobs have been replaced. On top of that, college tuition, along with student debt and defaults, are at an all time high.
The Occupy Wall Street movement, which was initiated via a protest on September 17, 2011, in Zuccotti Park, that rallied against massive economic inequality, was the culmination of these concerns. What Bernie Sanders has offered in his campaign, which has consistently focused on tackling the 1 Percent (corporations financial institutions that undemocratically manipulate, influence, and pour money into the political process), is a voice that naturally complements the movement.
The Atlantic writes that Occupy “might not have produced a clear policy prescription, but it told a simple, true, and easy to understand story: The recovery had been extraordinary for the stock market and disappointing for the labor market.” In other words, the inequality in this nation is absurd, and financial institutions are to blame. What Sanders has done in his bid — and his continued legacy — is attempt to prescribe policy for the anger in Generation Y. And in the same way that Trump’s abandonment of Political Correctness catches the attention of both less-bombast mainstream politicians, supporters, and even skeptics of Trump who are anti-establishmentarian themselves, Bernie’s atypical anti-Wall Street rhetoric and “protest tactics” inspired many to back his bid.
It may seem that his legacy is marginal, seeing that the woman he lost the nomination to failed to secure the presidency, and that America’s federal and state governments (and now Supreme Court) are dominated by conservative, Republican elements. But recall his push on the Democratic Party’s platform, and recall the widespread anger that his supporters felt towards alleged DNC rigging and Trump’s presidency. The millennials are still angry, the people are still angry, and the conversation in America is still full of rage and polarization. In fact, more millennials in this election cycle are voting for independents or third parties than the last. Let it not go unnoticed that, in many ways, Trump and Sanders preach(ed) the same things; DC is a swamp full of corrupt politicians who have ignored the needs of citizens who have been harmed by the Recession.