I am only one of the tens of millions who were inspired by both of Bernie Sanders’ presidential campaigns. Looking back to where American politics were just five years ago, it is truly incredible to witness how far the progressive movement has come.
From a purely political standpoint, it is important to recognize how a small-town mayor, who won his election by just ten votes, would reignite the flame of FDR-like progressivism in American politics. But before we can analyze how much has changed as a result of Bernie’s presidential campaigns, it is crucial to understand the destructive, authoritarian spiral American politics tumbled down for decades before.
The last time Congress enacted a policy that remotely resembled that of a social democracy was during the 1960s. President Johnson’s commitment towards expanding government assistance for ordinary Americans would lead to the passage of various social programs and regulations that are still widely popular today. It was also around this time that a young Bernard Sanders would get arrested for protesting for racial equality and against the United States’ intervention in the Vietnam War.
Since this era of incredible social movements and change, America’s growing private sector began cracking down on the social and economic progress made over the past few decades. Before being appointed to the Supreme Court by President Nixon, Lewis F. Powell was commissioned by a pro-business lobbying group to write a top-secret memorandum entitled “Attack on the American Free Enterprise system”.
This document would later be declassified and become known as the infamous “Powell Memorandum”. It warned powerful government officials and corporate boards of the growing popularity of leftist ideas and created a blueprint for corporate lobbying that would become rampant for decades to come.
It was only a matter of time until the systemic implementation of neoliberal policies that hurt millions of American workers would lead to the election of a far-right authoritarian leader like Trump. In his recent study, Harvard political economist Dani Rodrik demonstrated that “hyper-globalization” and the monstrous widening of the inequality gap has contributed to an alarming rise in right-wing populism around the world.
Bernie was the antidote to this virus of corporate greed spreading across the United States. During his tenure as mayor of Burlington, Vermont, Bernie constantly spoke out against corporate greed and even hosted a town hall with political dissident and MIT Professor Noam Chomsky to raise awareness on the United States’ illegal involvement in Nicaragua during the 1980s.
This incredible streak of consistency across Bernie’s entire life makes him stand out amongst other politicians in Congress, who were well known to flip-flop on issues given shifts in public opinion. When homophobia was rampant in the halls of Congress, Bernie always took the opportunity to call it out.
Despite being an outsider in politics his whole life, it would not be until his 2016 presidential campaign for him to become a famous figure in American politics.
Bernie’s ambitious agenda, which consists of policies already enacted in almost every other developed nation on the planet, made many realize just how far America’s neoliberal rampage has gone. As a result, proposals that were once shunned from the political conversation, such as universal healthcare and free college tuition, became serious policy proposals.
In his 2020 presidential campaign, Bernie further expanded his influence over American politics while shattering fundraising records via his completely grassroots funded campaign. He even managed to position himself as the frontrunner by a wide margin for over a month, shocking the democratic establishment.
Despite coming up second in both of his bids for the Democratic presidential candidate, it would be a grave mistake to call his campaigns a failure.
As a result of the rapidly increasing popularity of Bernie’s ideas, the Democratic party is more progressive than it has been in decades. President Biden has already pledged to push for a $15 minimum wage, a bold climate change agenda, and additional assistance for families in need during the coronavirus pandemic.
So thank you, Bernie. Thank you for not only shedding light on the haunting darkness of our political and economic institutions but for inspiring a generation of young Americans, including myself, to fight for a more equitable and just America.