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Times Like These: Bernie, COVID, and the Online Left

In the twilight of the Bernie Sanders presidential campaign, the nation and the world face a public health crisis. To say nothing of the many, smaller, more personal crises bearing down upon the students, and the paycheck workers, and the elderly and sick. For many, the disgruntled socialist seemed like a would-be savior. For very few, however, were such immediate problems as a lack of money in the bank account always so easily politicize-able. Now, individuals’ everyday struggle has become the face of our politics.

Now that everyone has begun to recognize the imminence of a planet in peril by infection, a complete alteration of systems is underway. Multi-trillion-dollar federal spending packages, including a bolstering to unemployment benefits heretofore unimaginable under a Republican administration. Are compassion and self-service actually at odds? This moment forces us to re-evaluate and reshape our legislative priorities and our cultural habits, just as we are rethinking our personal lives.

“A ‘leftist’ ideology in fact betrays a keener knowledge of material reality, and an accompanying belief in the roles and responsibilities of the state and its leadership.”

An observation of trends in millennial online expression, perhaps the clearest window into the zeitgeist, reveals a yearning and a need to connect, and to communicate a sometimes aimless reaching out for others; a shouting into the distant social void. The longing is not, however, only abstract. There are tangible needs, too. Young people are demanding policy like universal medicare, college debt relief, and raising wages.

Why have the great majority of adept twitter users so overwhelmingly, and vocally, supported Senator Sanders and his insistent ever-uphill push towards socialism in America? Is it an insider mindset; virtue signaling the recognition of newly agreed-upon and accepted moral norms? Maybe, a ‘leftist’ ideology in fact betrays a keener knowledge of material reality, and an accompanying belief in the roles and responsibilities of the state and its leadership.

Ballot box data suggests that Bernard and his agenda were disproportionally upheld by younger people, those under forty in most cases. The same demographic that tweets about their stance incessantly. Those twitter characters did not translate to turnout at the voting booth, but the socialist ideals still matter. A pandemic is exposing cracks in established organized approaches to our utmost concerns like food, shelter, and medicine. As we formulate solutions to the systems that are functionally failing, we should listen to the young people who want the same security their parents had.

Older folks, the more reliable voters, might be better versed in economic pragmatism, generally speaking. We should also acknowledge, though, the generational discrepancy in many major markers of material well-being. As newly minted adults look ahead, staring down a crumbling economy, imagine all their future hurdles: reliable income; homeownership; healthcare. These necessities do not simply appear out of thin air; their conditions result from specific decisions. More and more millennials are understanding the increased adversity in their prospective lives, and its link to policymaking.

“A cataclysm can change people personally, and so too politically.”

The case for democratic socialism becomes stronger as our circumstances become more dire. The coronavirus crisis, coming in particular at this political moment, offers reasons for dismay, but also optimism. Look at the ways we can mobilize in the name of uplifting and protecting the most at-risk. Look at the increasing incidents of governments taking on national industrial projects, and the acceptance of a need to find (or print) more money in an effort to relieve seriously struggling Americans.

Online socialist circles have long recognized this ethos, albeit sometimes without the expected politesse in its expression. Nonetheless, the advocates have been around, fighting for socially minded, government-run programs to ensure basic material needs, like housing and health insurance, so glaringly coming to our attention during times like these. Bernie Sanders has been their champion.

Even as his presidential chances are extinguished, we would do well to remind ourselves of these unprecedented goings-on; about the ways in which a cataclysm can change people personally, and so too politically; and that our democratic sovereign is made up of individual people, many of whom are now suffering in a new way, recovering from shock, and maybe, recognizing finally that we are all in this together. In light of such a radical, transformative, collectively shared catastrophe, a political movement based on human solidarity is not only still possible, it is more imperative than ever.

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