Sanders will probably not get the Democratic nomination, but it is undeniable that his unexpected success testifies to something shaky in the US establishment.
To an image consultant, he is not the perfect candidate. He lacks the youth or charisma of Kennedy, Clinton or Obama. However, he has managed to present himself as an average citizen from an immigrant, lower-income family, who is sensitive to the difficulties of those who have had trouble finding a place within the system.
His platform to earn the US Democratic presidential candidacy is to advocate for a hands-on democracy. His leadership is based on principles that allow socializing the American Democracy – he points to Norway and Sweden as models – while maintaining tax regulation on the rich, offering free health care for all, and free college tuition -things that seem impossible in a nation famous for its private higher education and excessive student loans. His socialism is far from resembling Marxism, and although in the 1960s he did acknowledge the benefits of free education and free health services in Cuba, he also criticized the political persecution and the overcrowding in Cuban prisons.
What he proposes is not a new matter to this country. In fact, Sanders identifies greatly with Franklin Delano Roosevelt (1933-1945), who during the Great Depression established the New Deal1, an economic plan of taxation to fight poverty, and who also enforced the Glass Steagall Act2 which limited the power of banks and Wall Street.
The first action that Sanders imposed out of principle for his campaign was to refuse donations from Wall Street billionaires – the superpack. Instead he asked his supporters, one by one, to make small donations starting at $47 dollars, and this has allowed him to raise more than 140 million dollars already.
Could this mean that a socialist current is forming in the United States? That it could gather strength and influence in the near future?
It is striking that Sanders’s current discourse in which he calls himself a socialist democrat emerged at a time when the US President is restoring diplomatic relations with Cuba after 50 years, to the point of affirming that this is an act that is putting an end to the Cold War. A war that greatly influenced the political and intellectual life of this nation and in which the prohibitions of McCarthyism demonized the terms “communism”, “socialism”, and “revolution”, wiping them out of the social discourse.
It is not surprising that Sanders’s boldness when speaking about socialism and revolution has earned him many enemies, but what is impressive is the high percentage of young adults under the age of 30 who say in the polls3 that they would vote for a socialist. Sanders has a massive presence in the social media where his likes significantly outnumber Hillary Clinton’s. In comparison, his coverage in the traditional media is paler.
The American dream is based on the idea of a country that offers equal opportunity to its citizens regardless of their social and economic status, enabling them to meet their goals provided they work hard. But when the banks and Wall Street with its lobbyists and generous donations to politicians make a fortune at the expense of the majority and affect the job market by producing inflation and inequality, social segregation, frozen salaries, and unemployment, the initial premise stops being true and the dream becomes a nightmare.
That great number of young US citizens with a vote, who could not identify with the system in place because that system excludes them, find in this 74-year-old idealist a way of symptomatizing which is not settling into frustration for what they do not have, or settling into depression due to the unreachable object.
Amidst the suctioning power that the capitalist discourse has over the subjects, someone like Sanders who finds a way of doing without giving in to those mirages, shows that alternatives are available.
1 President Franklin D Roosevelt’s economic recovery program and social reforms between 1933-1941.
2 Law that prohibited banks from using clients’ money to engage in risky banking operations in the stock market, therefore separating investment banking from commercial banking, and establishing new regulations.