Examining the Bern
Author: bodie robinson – contributor
The U.S. presidential election will be held Nov. 6, 2016. Americans are entering the thick of the primary elections to choose the Democratic and Republican nominees for president. One aspect of this election which sharply distinguishes it from the 2008 and 2012 elections is a surge in populist rhetoric from both the left and right wings. On the right, we have Donald Trump. Trump has gained favour among the Republican base using anti-Muslim and anti-immigrant rhetoric, as well as a promise of ‘bringing jobs back’ to America by imposing tariffs on companies who outsource jobs. The consequence? Making America great again. His inflammatory speech and name recognition has allowed him to dominate the news cycle. The Donald has also utilized an ‘anti-establishment’ tone, since his campaign is self-funded, and he does not appear to be beholden to any ‘big money interests’ or any governmental organization of bureaucrats, like the Republican National Committee.
Left wing populism has manifested in the campaign through a form of ‘democratic socialist’ Bernie Sanders. Bernie has been running a grassroots campaign, almost entirely funded by small donations (average $30) from supporters, on the platform of taxing the 1 per cent, ‘breaking up the big banks,’ and investing a trillion dollars in infrastructure repairs in order to create over 13 million (a conservative prediction) government-financed jobs.
For anyone who is privy to twentieth-century American history, these policies may sound familiar to you. In what is called the New Deal, similar measures were taken by Franklin Delano Roosevelt during the Great Depression to remedy income inequality and mass unemployment. Under FDR, the rich were taxed upward of 90 per cent. The Glass-Steagall Act was implemented in FDR’s first term, which prohibited commercial banks from engaging in investment business. In addition to these measures, FDR invested heavily in the Public Works Administration, a government agency that bought contracts to private construction firms in order to create jobs and stimulate the economy. Roosevelt became so popular with the American public that he was re-elected three times. This is the reason the American government imposed a two-term limit on presidential candidates in 1947.
In this way, Bernie’s platform comes as a ‘new’ New Deal. Although it is debated by some economists, most agree that FDR’s New Deal policies helped drag the American economy out of the Great Depression. Bernie’s plan, however, is extremely contentious among modern economists (some calling it a fairy-tale), while others like Gerald Friedman and Richard D. Wolff have explicitly voiced their support for Bernie’s plans, even if it is just a matter of a lesser evil, compared to Hillary’s plans.
And, speaking of Hillary, whether Bernie supporters will admit it or not, the odds are in her favour of winning the Democratic nomination for president. Hillary’s influence, super-delegates, and campaign network are too far-reaching and competent to let this election slip through her fingers. The Nevada primary (which she won by 5 per cent) revealed the limits of Bernie’s campaign. Hillary’s name recognition and her popularity among minority voters as well as low-information Democrat voters will, I believe, overpower Bernie’s campaign in the coming months.
But fear not, Bernie fans, because Bernie has already achieved far more than any of his supporters could have ever dreamed. Firstly, as a word and concept, ‘socialism’ has been greatly destigmatized due to Bernie’s campaign. Secondly, the fact that this time last year hardly anyone recognized the name Bernie Sanders reveals the extent of the Internet’s power to disseminate information. The mainstream media did not pick up on Sanders’ campaign until a few months ago. And even now, Sanders does not receive even a fraction of the airtime that Hillary and Trump enjoy. The internet has proven that it will become the most powerful tool to exchange information regarding politics in future elections. But most importantly, Sanders has brought out hordes of young people to become involved in politics and support his agenda of a ‘democratic socialism.’ Young people aged 18-30 are voting overwhelmingly (over 85 per cent) for Bernie in the primaries. It seems to me that a more radical leftist politics is what to expect of this generation in the future.
In summation, populism is on the rise and it will continue to dominate the political scene as long as the internet remains free and people remain agitated with the current state we find ourselves in: the widening gap of income inequality, the continuation of neoliberal economics, the impotence of electoral politics, and the acceleration of technology which, as of right now, puts about 40 per cent of American jobs at risk of automization. If young people are hoping for change, then we must realize that one third of the formula is already satisfied. Many people are agitated. What’s left? To educate and organize – with or without Bernie.