By now we are all fully aware that election season is in full swing – and that among college age voters like myself, Bernie Sanders is the clear favorite, winning 84% of voters between the ages of 17 and 29 in Iowa.
Since realizing Clinton has almost no shot in reclaiming any significant ground among youth voters, establishment Democrats have voiced two troubling opinions that directly pertain to college voters, and therefore necessitate a response.
First, establishment Democrats have raised the concern that younger voters are supporting Bernie out of fear (of not having a job, of accumulating too much in loans, etc.) and idealism.
Second, establishment Democrats have suggested that if and when Hillary Clinton wins the Democratic nomination, we must at least vote for her in the general election against whatever Republican candidate stands against her – after all, we should put our right to vote to good use for the lesser of two evils.
I want to address these rather problematic sentiments as succinctly as possible.
While the troubling job market for college graduates and rapidly increasing expense of college are certainly troubling features of our current economy, and the reforms Bernie has suggested certainly seem idealistic in the context of contemporary American capitalism, I do not think fear and idealism are the driving factors behind the popular youth endorsement of Senator Sanders. The driving force is a desire for authenticity.
Today’s college aged students, growing up in the shadow of 9/11, through the 2008 recession, and now amidst national protests concerning systematic racism, have gone through a sequential disenchantment with American political, economic, military, and social authorities. The myth of uncompromised meritocracy has been exposed, global intervention has exhibited the downfalls of neo-imperialist foreign policy, and the workings of an unfettered free market have been significantly called into question. This while a hate-mongering right has risen in the aftermath and the role of establishment Democrats like Clinton in the entire mess has been firmly established.
The Trump phenomenon can be largely described by a conservative fear of losing power – thus the backlash against Mexicans, Muslims, and nonwhite citizens to establish an Other and maintain a delusional hold on white American exceptionalism. The Bernie phenomenon is of an entirely different sort, and is instead rooted in the newfound desire for authenticity – a rejection of the neoliberal systems that have failed on a global scale, disenchanted the idealized myths pronounced in the American dream, and continue to constrain our political imaginations.
While the question of our future employment and managing of our student loans is certainly valid, college voters are not supporting Bernie in order to secure their monetary share of the American elite. We are supporting Bernie because – perhaps to the shock of older Americans whose political and social imaginations are still plagued by the idealization of material wealth and GDP (which includes cigarettes and war machines in its calculation) – we are seeking something more than economic success as a measure of what makes a truly meaningful life. We yearn for a society built on more than material abundance.
Disenchantment and a quest for authenticity provides the backbone for Bernie’s youth movement – not fear and an infantile desire for more money in our bank accounts. That’s the first mistake older generations of establishment Democrats have made in characterizing the new left movement.
Secondly, if the Sanders campaign fails to secure the Democratic nation, our party-endorsed voting options will consist of the following: a Democrat whose policies have been largely condemned as corporate and imperialistic, who has time and again supported policies that disproportionately affect black citizens (like the war on drugs and mass incarceration), who a few years ago was against same sex marriage, and who continues to accept piles of money form big pharma, Wall Street, and more emblems of American disenchantment; and a “Republican” while whose demagoguery and rhetoric are reminiscent of Hitler and Mussolini, will probably embody a characteristically “mild” neoliberal presidency mounted on pseudo-meritocracy, corporate interests, and unchecked transnational trade agreements (I am of the conviction that all talk of walls and religious bans are simply displays of business-like rabblerousing to attract a frighteningly committed voter-base).
In other words, there exists a radical lack-of-choice between these two “choices.” While the lesser of two evils, clothespin vote argument does have some merits to it – especially with the amount of Supreme Court seats available in the coming four to eight years – it’s also an argument that guilts radical, disenchanted, and hopefully authentic young voters into participating in the very neoliberal politics that have disappointed them for the last fifteen years.
What I’m hinting at runs counter to perhaps the most traditionally invoked and generally beloved American political sentiment there is – you do not have to vote. Not voting, or at least not being forced to choose between the two nonchoices given to you by the established political parties, is a valid form of political expression. It rejects the status quo of disenchanted American politics and demands an alternative, a commitment to political re-imagination, and a renewed authenticity and trust in our systems. It demands more.
With that, I leave you to ponder.