The Mind of the Sanders Millennial

March 5, 2020 Updated: March 5, 2020


South Carolina and Super Tuesday may have blunted the excitement you felt a few days before those tallies came in, but you don’t care too much about the numbers.

It’s not that Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) is still close enough to Joe Biden to make it a live race. It’s that you no longer trust the process. You just can’t believe that the American people refuse to wake up and realize the scam that the economic elite have run on everyone else, and after 2016 you extend the scammers to the Democratic Party leadership and donors, too.

The endorsements of Biden by candidates who’ve dropped out are only further evidence of the conspiracy. The mainstream media have cast Donald Trump as a mortal enemy of the political establishment, but you don’t buy that at all.

For all the extreme reactions to the president, you know he’s not a radical. He wants to root out corruption, true, but he doesn’t want to change the system. He only wants to change the people who run it. When he denounces the Swamp, he means the actual individuals in office along with people in the network of lobbyists, journalists, contractors, think tanks, semi-official institutions such as NGOs, academics, and experts who shuttle in and out of successive administrations, and family members.

Fine—you hate the corruption, too, but President Trump doesn’t go nearly far enough. He likes walls and low taxes, and he calls your guy “Crazy Bernie.”

Which you take as a compliment. National health care, free college, cancellation of student debt … you see them as signs of deeper transformations to come if a Sanders administration materializes. They can call it crazy all they want. You aim to drag down the whole shebang.

You’re 27 years old and live in Brooklyn or Boulder, Seattle or Austin, Portland or Madison. You face stiff student loan payments, high rents and health costs, and a tight labor market in those Millennial zones. A politician pushing judicial reform and limited government doesn’t cut it. Charter schools, religious liberty, North Korea, trans-rights … Who cares!

You don’t want to raise the minimum wage a few dollars. You want to raise it enough to disrupt the low-wage status quo. You don’t want to boost corporate tax rates a few points. You want it high enough to end those obscene CEO compensation packages for good. No more blather about “hope and change”—let’s have a Green New Deal. The more the Establishment called it extreme and fantastical, the more you approve it.

You want a politician as exasperated and indignant as you are, and daring in his proposals. When Bernie Sanders answers a question about the funding for his plans by saying he has no idea how much they will cost, that doesn’t bother you at all. “How are you gonna pay for it?’ is an Establishment question, a way for comfortable officials to block reform.

You’ve had it with ordinary politics. If as the primaries proceed Sen. Sanders remains a close second to Biden, and if you hear rumors of closed-door dealings that negate the delegates he has won and the ideas they represent, you’re ready to march on Milwaukee in July.

You don’t know anything about the Democrat Convention in Chicago 1968, but the disruptions and demonstrations, the descent of Tom Hayden et al. on the city that summer, would look to you altogether fitting. We may see a repeat, with the exception of no Chicago cops with nightsticks ready.

You don’t wish to be misunderstood. This is not a political outlook. Sen. Sanders has tapped into something else: frustration, pessimism, betrayal. Nobody in the race but Sanders offers a better future of lower bills and higher wages. If things continue as they have before, you’ll never buy a house or condo, which in college towns and hip urban neighborhoods run sky-high. The housing boom of the second half of the 20th century didn’t help you. It priced you out of the prosperity the Boomers enjoyed.

It will be many years, too, before your student loans end, and the Medicare-for-all that will bring down payments doesn’t have a chance in the current Congress. Finally, the jobs you have don’t project you into a secure middle age, for everyone keeps telling you that in this dynamic and uncertain economy you should expect to switch workplaces every three years. Economists like to talk about “disruptive innovation” and “creative destruction,” but those terms only frighten you.

This is an irony that annoys you to the quick: the Establishment claims to be prudent and stable and far-sighted, but it has handed you anxiety and burden. It pledges to protect the future, but you have no future. You don’t want a policy platform; you need help. And if you don’t get it in 2020, you just might explode.

Mark Bauerlein is a professor of English at Emory College. His work has been featured in The Wall Street Journal, The Weekly Standard, The Washington Post, TLS, and Chronicle of Higher Education.

Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.