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The Death of the Old Bernie Sanders Left

Posted on Wednesday, March 6, 2024
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AMAC Exclusive – By Walter Samuel

Bernie sanders rally

The 2024 presidential race is increasingly becoming a story not just about two campaigns, but two political movements.

Eight years ago, Americans witnessed not one, but two popular movements against the political establishment that had dominated government for decades.

On the conservative side, Donald Trump defeated Jeb Bush and John Kasich, banishing the Republican establishment. On the liberal side, meanwhile, Bernie Sanders, the self-proclaimed “democratic-socialist” senator from Vermont, attempted to lead a revolution against Hillary Clinton, the closest the Democratic Party had to royalty, but ultimately failed.

Though it has suffered trials, eight years later Trump and his America First movement not only still exist, but are the dominant force within the Republican Party, something all Americans must reckon with. By contrast, Bernie Sanders’ supporters have been reduced to marching in support of Hamas under trans rights flags. In the Michigan Democrat primary on February 27, the remnants of the Sanders coalition barely mustered 100,000 votes for the “Uncommitted” campaign of opposition to Biden, compared to the nearly 600,000 votes Sanders himself won in 2016.

For the last eight years, American political life has been defined by these two 2016 political revolutions – one which succeeded, and one which failed. In 2024, American politics is not about left versus right so much as it is about outsiders versus insiders, which is why figures like Matt Taibbi, Glenn Greenwald, and Tulsi Gabbard find themselves lumped in with the “right” by their former liberal allies.

That dynamic is a consequence not of the America First movement’s success in toppling the Republican establishment, but of the utter failure of the Sanders revolt to shake the Democratic establishment, leaving the Democratic Party as a base from which establishment politicians and entrenched interests could rally their forces against Donald Trump.

American politics would not necessarily be further to the left or right if Sanders had succeeded in toppling the Democrat establishment, but it would be about competing visions of what America should be and what policies should be adopted. Instead, the contest we have now is more fundamental.  It is about who should rule, and who should obey. Who should have the right to speak, and who should be silenced.

It may seem odd at a time when supporters of Hamas are openly marching on campuses and members of the Democratic Socialists of America count scores of elected officials among their ranks, including representatives and the mayor of Chicago among their members, to say the left has collapsed. But today’s left is a pressure group, not just contained within the Democratic Party as a lobby, but also confined geographically to urban cores and college towns.

The modern left is also limited culturally to a Westernized conception of identity politics as practiced by affluent white liberals. As a result, as evidenced by the last New York mayoral election where Eric Adams beat out more left-wing Democrats in largely minority neighborhoods, the left struggles to win working-class and non-white areas of major cities. It may occasionally forge alliances with other groups, as it has with Arab Americans over opposition to Israel, but this is an instance of the Democratic Socialists of America prioritizing Arab nationalism over socialism or its nominal agenda, rather than of expanding its appeal to a new audience.

The Arab Americans of Dearborn will accept the solidarity, and then resume their drift to the GOP when school returns in the fall and their children are subjected to courses on non-binary identity. Democratic-socialists have abandoned coalition-building in favor of socialism, and socialism in favor of identity politics, and then failed to secure the loyalty of the identity groups whose causes they purport to champion.

In fact, the stunning legacy of the left’s embrace of Black Lives Matter, extreme LGBTQ+ advocacy, and open borders has been to drive African Americans, gays/lesbians, and Hispanics toward the Republican Party.

The culmination of this came in the recent Michigan primaries. The Sanders-wing of the Democratic Party had everything going for it when it came to a credible showing. They had a president who was viewed as too old to serve by a majority of Democrats. In Arab-Americans they had the support of a major demographic group, of national figures such as Beto O’Rourke, and elements of the Michigan Democratic Party. They managed 13.2% or 100,000 votes, in a state Sanders won with 599k in 2016 and still managed to win 578K in 2020. In short, they lost over 80% of those who had supported Sanders even four years before.

It did not have to be this way. Bernie Sanders without a doubt benefited from running against Hillary Clinton in 2016, but like Joe Biden, she retained popularity within the party and the support of the establishment. What Sanders managed to do was to unite voters who agreed with him on policy with two other groups. First, of course, were those who disliked Clinton, but on a wider level, he also brought in those who had problems with the Democratic establishment.

Sanders won 43 percent of the national vote in the Democratic primaries in 2016, 13.2 million votes, and 23 out of 57 contests, including states like Michigan, Wisconsin, and Indiana. That coalition included some college students and urbanites, but the professional class largely backed Hillary.

The heart of Sanders’ coalition were rural voters, union voters, and those in small towns. Sanders’s appeal was inclusive. He combined Donald Trump’s criticism of trade deals with criticism of how banks, bankruptcy laws, and pharmaceutical companies exploited Americans. He also supported gun ownership relative to other Democrats, was neutral on immigration, and avoided direct attacks on American history.

In short, Sanders’ 2016 campaign was positive in a way the modern left is negative. Whereas the modern left treats medical care as an entitlement, Sanders attacked the high costs and consequent medical debt as the result of a regulatory and legal system where politicians colluded with pharmaceutical companies, and banks and then exploited the system. Similarly, whereas now those with student debt treat debt forgiveness as a right, Sanders framed it as a form of financial exploitation. The problem was that universities and banks had colluded with the government. As for identity politics, Sanders in 2016, suggested class was more important, a line that he hurt himself by dropping in 2020.

In short, Sanders ran against his own party’s establishment in 2016. The modern left, by contrast, defines itself by how closely it defers to that establishment.

A quick examination of almost any Democratic Socialists of America or other left-wing event or protest will reveal masks on the faces of the overwhelming majority of participants. Deference to pharmaceutical companies, “experts,” and institutions became an identifying line for the left, and the suggestion that there might be any ulterior profit motive, whether in pushing certain COVID-19 treatments or promoting expensive gender transition care, is foreign.

In fact, the American left are arguably the first socialists in history who cannot even conceive of the idea that capitalists might have an ulterior motive when it comes to anything with cultural significance.

“There is no political agenda behind ESG and DEI,” leftists say, “companies are just following the market.” Meanwhile, Disney is seen as a victim of persecution in Florida, while we’re told the same pharmaceutical companies that helped create an opioid epidemic would never promote medical treatments for gender dysphoria which would create lifetime customers. Social media companies only look out for the public interest when censoring accounts.

It is this embrace of the institutions of the establishment that drove more principled leftists such as Glenn Greenwald, Bill Maher, and Matt Taibbi out of a movement they had dedicated decades of their lives to. Ironically, it is now members of the Democratic establishment class who occasionally express dissent – on crime, the border, and excessive identity politics. The suggestion that class is at the center of politics, which used to be the heart of socialism, will get you banned from every socialist group in America, especially if a white male utters it.

On economics and foreign policy, the left has become the domain of the urban over-educated and under-employed bourgeoisie, as Marx would term them, the millions who find themselves making just above or below six figures after exorbitantly expensive humanities degrees.

When it comes to housing, the left fully embraces class warfare – against landlords. They are a party for rent control, against eviction, against cars, but for high property taxes to pay for public transport. It is hard to imagine why anyone who lives outside a city or college campus would vote for them, which is why almost none do, and their support for housing only extends to cities anyway. If someone tries to build a house in a suburb or rural area, they will oppose it on environmental grounds.

As for foreign policy, it is hard to understate how much mileage Sanders received from Hillary Clinton’s vote for the 2003 Iraq War. That vote also helped cost her the 2008 contest against Barack Obama, and by 2016 she had added Benghazi and Syria to the list of failures, along with a promise of launching a global campaign of intervention to prove she was a new Iron Lady.

Looking back, it is almost impossible to imagine a greater failure to “read the room,” if not for the copious competition for the title provided by Clinton’s campaign. Sanders was attacked by the usual suspects as an isolationist and an appeaser, but the irony is, at the very moment when some of Sanders’ foreign policy instincts have been vindicated, if not by history then by the sentiments of the American electorate, the left has dropped all of them.

When it comes to Ukraine, the modern activist left is, with a few exceptions, all in on a jihad to rescue Ukraine and deliver Vladimir Putin to the Hague to stand trial for crimes against humanity. They are all for an interventionist, some might say, imperialist, policy in Latin America and Europe against “mini-Trumps” and have backed blatant interference in elections in Brazil, Hungary, and Poland, as well as efforts to topple Netanyahu in Israel.

If there is one place the left has actually moved leftward it is on Israel, but as opposed to their conservative counterparts and Sanders 2016, they do not want to scale back U.S. support but rather switch which side it is behind.

If it is hard to figure out who this assortment of grievances and entitlement masquerading as policies are intended to appeal to, the answer is almost no one except elite institutions themselves and those who wish to work in them. In 2016, Sanders represented a movement of voters. In 2024, the left represents a movement of politicians.

The campaign against Israel has made little progress among the electorate in Michigan or New Hampshire, but it has conquered the group chats of junior staff at the White House and State Department. Advocacy groups have either succumbed, been subjugated or thrown into chaos. Corporations have been infiltrated – just witness Google’s Gemini AI.

The result is a polarization of American politics not between different groups of voters, but between different power centers. On one side, are the concerns of ordinary voters, sometimes in conflict with each other, but generally concerned with real-world issues such as inflation, crime, education, and health. On the other hand, an activist movement has abandoned appealing to voters in favor of appealing to institutions, and then using those institutions to impose its will.

Between them are a few Democrats trying to balance the concerns of voters in the real world with the institutional power of a left that has become the Marxist vanguard, not of the masses, but of a social elite.

To say this is an unhealthy situation would belabor the obvious. The current left is driven to resort to anti-democratic means of institutional control because it has driven away the masses and then blamed the consequences on a conspiracy by powerful institutions it controls. The right is accused of prioritizing the politics of grievance over issues, but the reality is that it has justified grievances about the institutional war being waged against it, and no one to discuss policy with.

This did not need to happen. There was a valid critique of 2016 America from the left just as there was one from the right. A case to be made about the dangerous concentration of media and cultural power in unaccountable hands, the close collaboration between private industry and government, and whether those in positions of power had our best interests at heart.

With a few exceptions, this critique is no longer being made from the left. Instead, we have a shrinking cult that repels those for whom it purports to speak and has made common cause with the very institutions it was dedicated to challenging.

Walter Samuel is the pseudonym of a prolific international affairs writer and academic. He has worked in Washington as well as in London and Asia, and holds a Doctorate in International History.

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PaulE
PaulE
4 months ago

This is the most important and accurate part of the article, as it clearly states what has been building slowly and steadily for decades: “The result is a polarization of American politics not between different groups of voters, but between different power centers. On one side, are the concerns of ordinary voters, sometimes in conflict with each other, but generally concerned with real-world issues such as inflation, crime, education, and health. On the other hand, an activist movement has abandoned appealing to voters in favor of appealing to institutions, and then using those institutions to impose its will.”

The so-called “Bernie movement” didn’t fade away or burn itself out, as the author suggests. Rather the American socialist / communist movement, which is essentially what the “Bernie movement” is when you strip away all the window dressing, simply evolved to the next stage. With the ideology of the left now firmly and comfortably embedded in large swaths of the government, MSM and a number of corporate boardrooms that have aligned themselves with the government for economic reasons, the movement simply no longer has any need to maintain the pretense of caring about anything but the unilateral power and control they have craved from the beginning. This is completely consistent with how socialism / communism has evolved in other countries around the world, once the movement is no longer reliant on the so-called “useful idiots” for their votes any longer.

Sure, socialist and communist nations still have elections, but it is widely known and accepted that they are all shams. The outcome is pre-determined and tightly controlled, so those in charge know they can claim they have wide-spread support of “the people” before a single vote is even cast. See Putin in Russia, Xi in China, Maduro in Venezuela, Erdogan in Turkey and a long list of other authoritarian countries where “the vote” no longer really matters. In those countries, the furthest thing on the minds of those in power is what is in the best interests of the people. In those countries, the people exist only to serve those that rule over them or else.

mtice
mtice
4 months ago

American politics is not about left versus right so much as it is about outsiders versus insiders”. I would add that it is also right versus wrong, good versus evil, the army of God versus the legions of satan.

Jeff
Jeff
4 months ago

In Super Tuesday the undecided voters on the democrat side exceeded 200K as of 10PM Tue night. With many democrats embracing socialism, I would say the Bernie Bros are alive and kicking. Bernie and Warren may be quiet since the party has moved further left than ever before, embracing that socialism.
Should the MAGA movement fail in November, this nation and the world overall is in for some trying times.

Awakened
Awakened
4 months ago

Like all good Communist/Socialists, Sanders has made himself quite rich so now — the proletariat be damned! Identity politics is their M.O. sowing division the result. America owes its fractious, screamng mobs to Sanders and compamy with Obama/Biden as the cherry on top. NOte: Obama promised “fndamental change” by which he meant a total overthrow of our republican democracy, a takeover of the Socialt Communists. Look at who Obama’s influencers were and you know that truth, and Obama made himself very rich on all of it.

uncleferd
uncleferd
4 months ago

I agree that Bernie did not come off as the same degree of “vengeful liberal” that most of his counterparts were, but he was not someone I would have elected, despite positive things I heard from some conservative aquaintances. The liberal crowd in this game will ultimately push as far as we let them… and remind us, once again, that nothing screams “stupidity” like a Biden yard sign.

Awakened
Awakened
4 months ago

Like all good Socialist Communists, Sanders has made himself quite rich so now — the proletariat, be damned!

Robert Zuccaro
Robert Zuccaro
4 months ago

Democrats “move” wherever the polls say they need to to get, gain, and/or hold power. If Nazism became the new political movement in America, Democrats would be joining in chanting “hiel” because, to them, “every vote counts”.

Thinking
Thinking
4 months ago

Simply put the left wants the power forever at any cost, to finish the destruction of America.The right wants America to be great as it was for 250 years, minus the last 4 years. We were living in peace with everyone, dialogue between opposing views was possible. Now the left has made their opponents the enemy and should be eliminated. That is what is going on. Take religion away from you, the constitution and the Supreme Court. They will decide what is good for the people and America. They have taken fossil fuels away in the name of climate change only to buy dirty oil from Venezuela that damages the environment more than drilling here in America. Plus the war in the Ukraine is contributing to the pollution even more. But don’t talk about you Nazis on the right. They don’t even know what the word Nazi means. If they would take an honest look at themselves they would see a Nazi. The election is over who will save America and who is destroying it. Ole Joe is a destroyer. Flying migrants in by plane, the border was too slow, Joe? May the good Lord help us to save America.

Jim
Jim
4 months ago

The United States, our great nation, is a Constitutional Republic, NOT A DEMOCRACY.
CONSTITUTIONAL REPUBLIC = INDIVIDUAL LIBERTY
DEMOCRACY = MOB RULE
THERE IS A GIGANTIC DIFFERENCE BETWEEN A REPUBLIC AND A DEMOCRACY.
DEMOCRACY IS WHAT ROTTEN COMMUNISTS LOVE TO GET THEIR HANDS ON.

Russ
Russ
4 months ago

I thought Sanders was the exception from Vermont. Now I realize there are many nut cases there.

Jeri
Jeri
4 months ago

Bernie Sanders=an old elitist white man who hates old white elitists white men. What a feckless dolt. Save America and hurry up and die.

Bob Chase
Bob Chase
4 months ago

Basically we are about at the fight or flight point. Don’t know of any place worth flying to so ………………………

carol exposito
carol exposito
4 months ago

It’s hard to say where we are going in this country. Certainly, we have sitting in the White House the most incompetent, chaotic and divisive person ever, being led by the nose by Obama-esque staffers. The policy of this administration is akin to what goes on in a hen house when a fox invades it. A lot of noisy squawking with feathers flying in all directions. Our only hope is we get the “Orange Man” back so he can crack the whip and restore sanity to this band of incorrigible numb nuts!

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