Let us make no mistake about it, the sudden and extraordinary surge in just the last 11 days that has propelled the campaign of former Vice President Joe Biden into an almost insurmountable lead toward the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination counts as a national revolt against Trump.
Perhaps there is some irony in the notion that this quasi-revolution was not in the direction of self-proclaimed revolutionary Bernie Sanders, but away from him. The American people have reacted to Trump’s treachery by quickly and overwhelmingly rallying behind Biden as a candidate with solid Democratic values and credentials, leaving the big words but few results over decades of his last standing rival in the proverbial dust.
But this has not been about Sanders, it is about Trump, and those who have stepped up to speak out at the ballot box are not political hacks or the party establishment types, but the American people.
On Sanders, there is a big difference between him and his core constituency of idealistic young voters. A huge difference that, hopefully, his younger supporters will come to appreciate in the coming months.
Sanders is an old leftist, a member of the Socialist Workers Party as a youth who was homeless and itinerant until he somehow won an election as mayor of Burlington, Vermont, back in the day. None of that constitutes marks against him, per se, except that he’s not really changed in fundamental ways since then.
I, and many others from my generation who grew up with him, know that remaining unchanged from those days is problematic. I was in what was effectively a leftist political cult myself in the 1970s, and the Sanders personality and “M.O.” are not strangers to me.
It’s in his leftist, countercultural character to offer pie-in-the-sky with no practical way of achieving his promises.
I had an aunt like that growing up. She’d visit and make all these wonderful promises of exotic places she was going to take us, and it all sounded so good. It was after she left that my parents had to break her spell, telling us that she was full of hot air who enjoyed making us happy with her words, but there was nothing more to it than that. Of course, they were right.
Counterculture demagogues had a field day in the 1970s and 1980s with gullible youths who were looking for a better world. Many became hardcore cult leaders with terrible consequences, like Jim Jones and Jonestown. They all involved a huge disconnect between promises and results. Even if well-meaning and sincere, they are functionally snake oil salesmen. The empty promises can sound great.
As for Sanders’ millions of sincere and passionate young supporters, I was like them back when he, too, was like them. I can only propose as one who was more than willing to live on the social margins to advance good causes in those days that many of today’s Sanders supporters are invaluable contributors to a more just and equitable future, and should be embraced and engaged in this year’s titanic struggle to rid the nation of its most corrupt president in history and to craft a more constructive pathway to the future for us all.
People like Biden worked his entire adult life, being less oriented to big talk than to hard-worked results for his constituents.
Such folks are routinely given a very bad rap by countercultural “heroes,” accused of being self-serving, corrupt and compromising with the powers of evil.
But as we’ve seen this winter with the new Democratic majority in Virginia, for example, the results of hard-working leaders in the mold of Biden can be spectacular to the good of us all.
Revolution in an American system of democratic institutions can come around every single election cycle. Sometimes they manifest themselves as reactionary, as happened so often from 1980 to 2007, ending only when the global Great Recession threatened to inflict unmitigated pain on many millions. Sometimes they are revolutions to the good, as what’s happened in the last 11 days, and as has been the case in election cycles since Trump took over at the White House and hopefully will continue through this November.
Nicholas Benton may be emailed at [email protected]