Thousands of students, myself included, flocked to the Diag on Sunday, March 8 to witness and participate in the campaign rally of Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt. Attendees were urged to rush to the polls to support Sanders in Tuesday’s Michigan primary in his attempt to be nominated as the Democratic Party’s candidate, the candidate to run against President Donald Trump in the general election.
Sanders, and his preceding speakers at the rally, had a common set of beliefs and all called for free — or at least heavily subsidized — housing, health care and college education. These ideals are commonly characterized as socialist in nature as they involve the nationalization and substantial takeover of what are chiefly private industries. As a result, one could consider Sanders and his supporters to be “socialist.”
The generation of my parents, and anyone who lived during the “socialist experiment” that was the Soviet Union, may have a different perspective on the hopefulness of Sanders’s campaign. While the ideals Sanders speaks about are utilitarian, the world has already witnessed the messy collapse of such a system and how the implementation of state socialism failed to provide the quality of life it promised in Eastern Europe. The world’s experience with socialism left a bad taste in their mouths. I can only speak from my experience as an American growing up in the conservative state of Indiana, but the words “communism” and “socialism” were associated with treason. To doubt the status quo, or to even be curious about different modes of political governance or economic regulation, was un-American — and frankly wrong. The generations that came before mine lived through socialism and saw its pitfalls, human rights violations and authoritarian nature. Whether they recognized the Soviet Union’s idealistic aims, or whether they now recognize that the United States is in a more technological, economical and ethical advantageous position than the Soviet Union was at its onset, they saw a failed experiment and the devastation of millions of repressed people. That undoubtedly shapes their view and their optimism for such ideals.
The political, economic and technological climate of modern America is vastly different than the post-World War II Soviet Union satellite states, but the experience of witnessing the failure of socialism has been enough to dissuade older generations from considering Sanders’ ideals. Socialism (and by extension socialist ideals) is considered to be “post-capitalist” in that its implementation requires a highly developed and technologically advanced market economy to then subsequently nationalize. We are currently living in such a society, with increasing levels of automation to work for the benefit of the people and with the amount of compiled wealth among the nation’s top one percent.
A new generation of socialists, or so-called “democratic socialists,” may have been born, but America isn’t ready for a president like Sanders yet. He is ahead of his time, but the role he is playing in opening people’s minds and creating a sense of hope and urgency for a political revolution is not to be undersold — his contribution is invaluable. The population isn’t ready for such dramatic change yet, but it will be interesting to observe the political trends of the generations to come and to see just how left American politics lean as my generation transitions toward being middle-aged. The saying goes that people get more conservative as they age, that the burning liberalism and anarchical view of the status quo fade as the years tack on, so the socialist reality may never come to fruition if the generation whom Sanders largely appeals to doesn’t stay the course.
The election of Trump shows that the far-right still holds power in the U.S., so it seems the election pendulum is unlikely to swing from one extreme to the next, in the case of Sanders, in one election. Former Vice President Joe Biden may represent a more feasible option for moderate voters in this election cycle, given that Trump has not been a popular president among the masses. Some may argue in favor of replacing one extreme with the other, but to achieve the socialist reality is a two-part process in America’s case. The first is to remove Trump from office by electing a candidate that’s in that direction before moving on to the second step of electing a candidate like Sanders.
Sanders spoke at his rally about how 70 years ago it would seem impossible, ludicrous even, that America would have an African American president. That it would be heinous for same-sex marriage to be federally legalized. These all seemed impossible and out of the question, but society changed and progressed in a positive and humanitarian direction. A socialist reality might seem ludicrous, out of the question or heinous to a large portion of the U.S. population at present time, but other ideas that have become commonplace initially appeared this way as well. The realization of such socialist ideals is fairly unlikely in one election cycle, but if we expand the scope to say 25, 50 or even 100 years, who knows what kinds of progress and change are possible? The development of society and the progression of political thought seem to be pointing us in the direction of a post-capitalist system, and time will tell us what that looks like.
But it will take longer than this November to decipher.
Shad Jeffrey II can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.