Will Berners Become Trumpeters?

Forget Bernie or bust, how about Bernie or bluster? Did you ever hear something that you thought was so preposterous, so outrageously counterintuitive that you immediately dismissed it, and only later on after some deeper reflection begin to see a certain degree of twisted logic that made it appear plausible? In a discussion with my 24-year old son today just such an incident occurred and I find it fascinating. Once again, twisted but fascinating.

It gives me great pleasure to engage with the younger generation on any number of issues. Over the years it has been tortuous to discuss politics with either of my two sons because of the vast age and incorrectly assumed, on my part, knowledge gap. As one who had spent an entire career in politics/government/public policy I, of course, assumed that my knowledge base and experience could not be matched by the conspiratorial nature of what passed for political dialogue among the younger generation. But as time passes I find myself increasingly questioning whether my preconceived notions of political righteousness are indeed due for a major tune-up.

The importance of this revelation is brought home in a powerful way with the emergence of a viable and pugnacious campaign championed by Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders and the legions of youths that he has galvanized into political action. These youths do not resemble the wide-eyed idealists that characterized the rebellious of my day, rather they reflect the hard-edged realists that are the product of the information age. Rocked by college debt, out of reach housing costs, low wages, a prodigious and yawning income inequality gap, cynicism, a lack of confidence in both governmental institutions and elected officials, and general frustration with a future that is defined by anything resembling a quality-of-life standard, today’s youth are more invested in revolution than reform.

They increasingly see Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders as two sides of the same coin, each offering an alternative to the establishmentarian-led dysfunction that has gripped our nation. And while one may argue, as I do, that from a position or policy standpoint the difference between the two could barely be greater, today’s youths are not so much interested in or confident that policy is as important as change. Make no mistake this is not change you can believe in but rather change you can be certain of.

For those intimate with progressive and liberal politics there has been a discernible and growing mantra among Bernie supporters that if their candidate does not receive the nomination they are inclined to sit the election out. I have written previously how preposterous this proposition seems to be in light of the apparent alternatives. I have not seen polls, however, that capture the extent to which those supporting Bernie might manifest their disgust if he does not secure the nomination by actually voting for Donald Trump.

From a policy standpoint it makes no sense. From the standpoint of frustration with a system that appears to be rigged against them it does not seem that far-fetched. It is the product of a dysfunctional system that refuses to adhere to the basic notion of fairness and opportunity that once was thought to be the bulwark of our representative democracy. I do not begrudge the anger, frustration, and disgust they feel, and while I do not condone their lack of idealism it is not that difficult to rationalize their rejection of it. After all the road to hell is paved with good intentions, so it has been said.

Until this conversation it had never dawned upon me that the bonds of trust between generations were so precariously balanced on the edge of a system that no longer functions. But in retrospect the rejection of Bernie’s brand of socialism is just one more indication of the extent to which the system, bolstered by a bipartisan disdain for reality, is willing to go to protect its benefactors and punish pretenders to the throne.
It is worth considering whether or not this perception of youthful indiscretion is an accurate reflection of the newly emerging activism on the part of our youth. If so we must take a hard look at the existing calculi for making political decisions and electoral strategies. In the end the youthful exuberance that has liberals and progressives salivating at the prospect for a better tomorrow may dissipate into a form of oligarchic governance that will make the current dysfunction seem tame by comparison.

I have said for some time that we can learn more from our kids than they can learn from us. This might be a time to start paying some attention to such admonition.

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