2016 is the election year and Bernie Sanders is changing the socio-political sphere with the introduction of Democratic Socialism. With the GOP debates and caucuses being followed closely on social media, millennials have been on edge by watching the candidates battle it out in the primaries.
When millennials hear the word socialism, our perception of the word may not be as negative as generations before us have noted. Millennials have lived through 9/11, the Iraq War, execution of Saddam Hussein, experienced America’s first black president, the track down of Osama Bin Laden, 2013 government shutdown and much more. However, we have not experienced the Cold War or the bone-chilling fear of communism and socialism spreading globally.
Other than what we learned in our high school history classes, us millennials have no real grasp on the fear Americans had during the big showdown between the U.S. and Soviet Union. In fact, according to a poll by the Harvard Institute of Politics, 66 percent of people ages 18-29 believed that Sanders’ claim to be a democratic socialist did not make them more or less likely to vote for him–it made no real difference at all.
To clarify, communism is a system which believes in a centralized government (the government holds all political authority), a planned economy, equal distribution of wealth, and no distinction between classes. However, during the Cold War, leaders such as Mao Zedong and Joseph Stalin ran centralized autocracies and totalitarian governments, and labelled themselves as socialists, which brought negative connotation to the term socialism.
Socialism stresses on economic policies in which the state is the primary actor in the economy and economic activity not all about producing profit, but promoting socioeconomic welfare. The goal is to lesson poverty through equity, increase the general standard of living and improve the quality of life of sectors. Socialism can coexist with different political systems, which introduces the concept of Democratic Socialism.
Democratic socialism believes freely elected government with freely elected representatives, instead of a single party makes all the decisions like social communism. Democratic socialists hope to strengthen the party by improving upon issues of healthcare, college tuition, and a strengthened social safety net.
Perhaps one of the main reasons why millennials favor Bernie Sanders is because of his unrequited advocacy for economic equality. Along with the impossibility to enter the job market or the amount of debt millennials graduate with, Sanders’ agenda incorporates reducing student debt, free college education and creating more jobs, all of which are some of the most important concerns for millennials, according to a May 2015 survey of college students by the Panetta Institute.
It is ironic to think that a 74-year-old white man would become somewhat of a celebrity with millennials. The hashtags #FeeltheBern and #BernieisBae are representative of his quirky persona, with his unkempt hair and raspy Vermont accent–a stark contrast to Hillary Clinton’s up kept style and polished, camera-ready persona. Bernie is somewhat of a populist–promising policies that will appeal to the middle class and lower classes, which require a large commitment of resources from the state.
On the Republican side, Donald Trump, self-proclaimed populist, is representing a more repressive style of populism, or economic nationalism, shared by racists like governor George Wallace in the 1970s and 80s. This includes his anti-immigration views by associating an economic problem with a certain group of people.
It is still unclear if Sanders’ popularity with millennials will phase the vote of baby boomers, but it has been made clear that Sanders is claiming to start a “grassroots political revolution” by taking transforming the meaning of socialism today.