Historians of the future, if there are any, will note that though the demieducated youth of the United States shed their belief in God, they still believed in Father Christmas. Uncertain of their futures, and in no hurry to pay off their student loans, the young entrusted their faith and debt jubilee to the Santa Claus of socialism, a little man with fluffy white hair proffering gifts from a big sack of other people’s money.
In Victorian England, this traditional figure was known as Jeremy Corbyn, a vegetarian who gave every worker a lump of nationalized coal and scourged the Jews because they would not recognize him as their savior. In the United States, where people are wealthier and more generous in spirit, young Americans know their redeemer as Bernard Sanders. Every four years he descends from one of his homes in Vermont, which is not far from the North Pole, to hail spittle-flecked imprecations upon the heads of the rich and regale the children with fantastical tales of nationalization.
As a stopped clock is right twice a day, so socialism again looks right a century after 1917. Joe Biden and Elizabeth Warren have offered the young middle class only the parental bromides of Clintonism. Sanders, however, still possesses the freshness of the truly passé. The subversion of humanities education by the radical left has scoured the tarnish off 20th-century history and restored the gleam of ideals to ‘actually existing socialism’. Americans born since the end of the Cold War have grown up thinking that a gulag is a Hungarian stew and a White Russian is just a cocktail, if only because their parents made them watch The Big Lebowski. Meanwhile, the Democratic party’s abandonment of American workers has done more to create a genuine proletariat than all the New Left’s xeroxing and leafleting ever did.
A true socialist, Sanders has been poised on his Marx all his life for this moment. His first order of business is to make war on his own party while ranting about essentially middle-class obsessions like zero-emissions reindeer in order to pacify his juvenile followers. Sanders could well win the most votes in the Democratic primaries and, the DNC and his coagulated arteries permitting, become the Democratic nominee. American workers being in no hurry to go the way of the bison, Bernie would lose to the bourgeois capitalist Donald Trump, quite possibly in a landslide of the kind that pulverized Jeremy in last December’s British elections. But whatever happens in November, Sanders will have won the battle for the spot where his party’s soul should be.
The Democrats are now being unraveled by what Sanders might call the ‘contradictions of capitalism’. While the Democratic leadership was soaking Wall Street and Silicon Valley and pandering to the public sector unions, it outsourced the maintenance of its coalition to the radicals, and indulged them as they built their Potemkin villages of intersectionality. Now, as the party structure hollows out and the party leadership fails convincingly to answer Donald Trump, the radicals have the ground game and the ideology to remake the party from the bottom up. The result is a radically depraved version of the rainbow coalition, with Sanders as its Corbyn-style ‘Magic Grandpa’, a deceptively cuddly fellow traveler determined to ride their youthful exuberance into office.
When Magic Grandpa shakes the money tree, it’s not just that other people’s money falls out. A tangle of poisonous roots is also exposed. A coalition of coalitions has mobilized for Sanders: acrimonious initials like the DSA (Democratic Socialists of America) and CAIR (Council on American-Islamic Relations), Jew-baiting proxies like Ilhan Omar and Linda Sarsour, woke warriors like IfNotNow and the Justice Dems, and bongwater conspiracists like the Chapo Trap House chaps and the campus wing of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine.
In November, Sarsour represented Sanders’s campaign as a speaker at the American Muslims for Palestine (AMP) conference, whose official program called Zionism a ‘disease’ that will ‘destroy the purity of Al-Quds [Jerusalem]’. It’s impossible, Sarsour said, to oppose ‘white supremacy in America and the idea of being in a state based on race and class’ without also opposing the existence of a Jewish state. Israel, Sarsour said, is ‘built on the idea that Jews are supreme to everyone else’ — a libel more likely to emerge from the mouths of white nationalists.
Sanders, the man of principle, has lately contrived to remind us that he is Jewish, while pretending not to notice that, like the Labour party under Corbyn, his campaign is carrying anti-Semitism and other forms of conspiratorial delusion out of the sewer and into the political mainstream. His alliance with Sarsour isn’t just Magic Grandpa having a Lebowski-style flashback to his radical youth. It’s a calculated attempt to catch votes, upend the party managers and commandeer the party: Corbynization in America.
That the Democrats are now Bernie’s party shows the success of his insurgency. For decades, the senator for the People’s Republic of Vermont was an Independent. In 2016, Sanders announced he was running for two slates — not the Bolsheviks and the Mensheviks, but as a Democrat for the presidential nomination and an Independent for the 2018 Senate race. With admirable consistency, Sanders is repeating the trick of running against himself this year. He insists with Andropov-like vigor that he’ll still be an Independent, and still be breathing, as an 83-year-old Senate candidate in 2024. Sanders is The Corbynizer. His followers will be back, even if he won’t be.