A widespread sense of collective cynicism has blanketed America’s oldest and wealthiest generation. It is the audacity of hopelessness: a political choice in opposing Bernie Sanders’ candidacy that 90% of seniors are making that despite their relative affluence, they are the only demographic that deserves Medicare-style socialism.
Seniors 65 and older handed Trump the 2016 election, in many states voting for Trump at double the rate of younger voters under 30. They remain the largest demographic supporting our tyrannical president’s reelection.
In this year’s presidential primaries, seniors have also emerged as the most cynically conservative Democratic Party voting bloc. While Bernie Sanders candidacy has ignited the activism and support of young Americans desperate for structural change from a system that excludes their needs, Bernie-skeptic seniors are voting for anyone-but Sanders at six to ten times the rate of 18-29-year olds.
We boomers, Americans born between 1946 to 1964, grew up in the era of the greatest period of prosperity in our nation’s history. We are the daughters and sons of what President Lyndon Johnson called The Great Society, one in which the American dream would extend into the lives of millions of working and middle class Americans of all races. Our country’s first minimum wage and a proliferation of high wage union jobs were joined by federal programs providing college loans, apartment construction, food stamps, Medicare for seniors and Medicaid. Poverty rates plummeted while life expectancy and household incomes soared.
Then came the 1980 election, which brought Ronald Reagan’s “Trickle Down economics” con job to Washington. At its core was a new loophole-filled tax scheme benefitting the super wealthy. Reagan’s reverse-Robin Hood policies were joined by the political warfare that he and his fellow Republicans waged against unions and government programs.
Nearly 40 years of class warfare waged by the 1% and their donation-guzzling government enablers has resulted in the largest redistribution of wealth upwards ever experienced by a modern nation. Instead of trickling down, our nation’s wealth has flooded to the top. While the inflation-adjusted cost of housing, health care and college has tripled, wages for a vast majority of Americans have remained flat. Meanwhile, the richest 1% have received nearly all of the rewards of a fast-expanding economy. Wealth disparity in the United States is higher than it has ever been historically, and higher than any other modern nation. As a result, America has become the number one country in the industrialized world for child poverty, poor health, and low life expectancy.
Our nation’s wealth has also flowed from the young to the old. Millennials today are the first generation in U.S. history to earn less than their parents did.
As the Brookings Institution reported last year, “From 1989 to 2016, the median net worth of families with a head of household age 65 or older increased by 68 percent. Over that same time period, the median net worth of families with a head of household age 35 or younger decreased by 25 percent.”
Yet America’s wealthiest demographic, we boomers and seniors, are the ones who currently or will soon receive taxpayer-financed free Medicare, the best health insurance program in America, with the lowest co-pays or deductibles. We are the ones who were lucky enough to buy our homes before the greatest increase in home values in the nation’s history happened, or secured low-cost rent-stabilized apartments built with federally financed loans during the postwar boom. We are the ones who went to college when it was so affordable that part-time plus summer jobs could pay both tuition and room and board.
At the same time, it is we boomers who are the most resistant to Bernie Sanders, the first serious presidential candidate in generations who has built a movement that extends the American dream to our youngest and neediest citizens.
During the 2016 election and again this past year, I have engaged hundreds of people in conversations about Bernie Sanders. While young people frequently express enthusiastic support for his candidacy, most Americans close to my age (61) and older have responded with comments like these:
“I love Bernie, but he just can’t win,” or, “I like what Bernie stands for, but America will never elect a socialist.” Or, “Bernie is just too radical–it will never work.”
It is no small irony that the oldest presidential candidate in history draws most of his support from our youngest voters, while most voters over the age of 60 treat him like a political pariah.
Exit polls in Iowa found that 48% of voters under 30 chose Bernie, about as much as all of the next four candidates combined. This was ten times the Bernie voting rate of the 5% vote Sanders received from seniors, who divided their votes almost equally among all four other non-Bernie candidates. The results in Nevada were not much different, with only 11% of voters over 65 backing Bernie, just one-sixth the rate of the 65% of Nevada’s under-30 Bernie voters.
Why do so many members of my generation and the one that came before me dislike Bernie Sanders so much?
I think it is because of what I call “The audacity of hopelessness.”
The audacity of hopelessness is rooted in a widespread sense among boomers that the dysfunctional, unresponsive government we have is the best we can do.
The audacity of hopelessness feels that is immature and unrealistic to hope for anything better. Most members of my generation have had their sense of idealism beaten out of us by the harsh reality of corporate-corrupted politicians from both parties who have redistributed our nation’s immense wealth to a brutal warfare state and to the corporations and oligarchs who pay for their election campaigns.
No we can’t has become the clarion call of American seniors.
No we can’t have a government-run health insurance system that covers young people as well as wealthier older voters like us. This sentiment prevails among seniors even though every other modern nation on earth offers universal insurance, covering nearly all costs without needing to go bankrupt or beg from our neighbors on GoFundMe, as 20 million humiliated Americans were forced to do during the past decade. It prevails, among seniors, despite the fact that our government, through various programs like Medicare and Medicaid, already funds two-thirds of all our nation’s most expensive health care costs, with one-tenth the administrative headache and overhead of the for-profit private health insurance companies. And despite the fact instead of taking insurance away from Americans, as Pete Buttigieg and Joe Biden have deceptively claimed, extending Medicare to everyone under 65 by replacing premiums with an increased health insurance tax would cost everyone but the wealthiest 10% of us far less than we currently pay, through private insurance, co-pays, and deductibles.
No we can’t provide workers with living wages, or focus our resources on building a green future, infrastructure and housing instead of wasteful multi-billion dollar weapons systems, tax cuts for billionaires, gigantic subsidies for fossil fuel companies and Wall Streeters, and endless, cruel foreign wars.
No we can’t elect a democratic socialist president leading a political evolution movement to transform our government into one serving the common good instead of the profits of the wealthiest few.
No we can’t because Bernie, according to the widely circulate lie, that Bernie will not be able to get new laws passed by Congress. Democrat-voting boomers I have spoken to recently who are generally well-informed unwittingly repeated this lie to me, despite the little known evidence that the New York Times wrote in 2016:
“Over one 12-year stretch in the House, Mr. Sanders passed more amendments by roll call vote than any other member of Congress. In the Senate, he secured money for dairy farmers and community health centers, blocked banks from hiring foreign workers and reined in the Federal Reserve, all through measures attached to larger bills.”
I have never heard a Bernie-skeptic boomer or senior say that they were against mobilizing our government to address imminent climate change disaster. I have yet to read a Bernie-skeptic pundit suggest that our government works better when our politicians owe their election to the billions of dollars of campaign donations from corporations and oligarchs. Or a Bernie-skeptic senior suggest that they feel good that more than half of our fellow citizens live paycheck to paycheck, in constant fear and stress over the prospect of being wiped out by a single medical emergency.
Instead, what we hear from most Democrat-voting seniors as an excuse for their cynicism is that other “average American voters” would never elect Bernie. And that, as a Bernie-hating pundit in the Washington Post titled his column this week, “Vote for Bernie, Elect Trump.”
As an investigative legal and financial journalist, I am as aware as anyone of the unique threat to our democracy, people and planet that the reelection of Donald Trump would surely bring. I have been reporting on Trump for 38 years now, since he first conned me into putting him on the Forbes 400 (a deception which included calling me as his fictitious spokesman John Baron, a tale I recounted in the first of a series of exposés I wrote about Trump in the Washington Post during the past few years).
I am so concerned about our mad would-be king that I recently authored a new dystopian novel called America 2034, a spinoff of Orwell’s 1984 set in Trump’s 18th year as President for Life. The book envisions America’s descent into a Hitler-esque dictatorship. It begins with Trump declaring a state of emergency this November to take federal control of polling stations and voting machines to steal the presidential election, a prospect that increasingly seems within the realm of possibility.
Although only Bernie offers the sort of movement behind his candidacy that can mobilize enough voters to vanquish Trump, my fellow boomers continue to tell me that they believe “Bernie can’t win,” and that “Americans will never vote for a socialist.”
These mainstream media-parroted talking points are used as justification for Bernie-skeptic seniors, an excuse for their “No, We Can’t” cynicism that flies in the face of all the recent national polls showing that Bernie beats Trump by a wider margin than any of the other candidates running.
There is a reason for this. With Fox News, the greatest fake news promoting propaganda machine to ever exist, on Trump’s side, it will take a Democratic opponent with unimpeachable integrity and party outsider status to beat Trump’s con that he represents the common citizen in their struggle against Washington’s political establishment.
This outsider status was the basis of Trump’s ascendance in 2016. As I reported in my Washington Post analysis titled, “The 6 Essential Cons That Define Trump’s Success,” by running against the republican establishment, and then “crooked Hillary,” Trump deceived 63 million voters into believing that he would cut a better deal for them than the “swamp” of politicians ruling both parties.
Bernie is not a billionaire cutting taxes for his fellow oligarchs while caging migrant children and railing against the “Deep State” that dares to investigate his repeated crimes. When it comes to outsider status, Bernie, unlike anyone who has run for President in decades, is the real deal. He is not only the longest-serving Independent Party U.S. Senator, but simultaneously the Senator with the number one highest approval rating from his home state constituents (63%). And this survey includes how voters in the very reddest of states feel about their Senators.
Bernie has two powerful forces working for him that no other Democratic candidate or even Donald Trump has. The first is that he is a true independent who places people before Party.
To the undecided independent swing voters who are likely to determine the outcome of this election, Bernie will rightfully wear the antipathy of the Democratic Party establishment and corporate media pundits as a badge of honor.
As I wrote four years ago in a widely circulated Huffington Post political column, the most definitive polls of the 2016 primary consistently found that Bernie, when running against Trump, received two out of three independent votes. When running against Hillary Clinton, the quintessential Democratic Party insider whose approval rating was far below Bernie’s, Trump won two out of three of the same independent votes. Which paved his way to the White House in his 2016 upset election.
Bernie’s second powerful force is that he is running with an energized volunteer army of young believers who can help him peel off a small but significant fraction of the 102 million eligible voters who decided to sit out the last election because, in essence, there was “not enough in it for them” to make the effort to vote. A disproportionate number of these non-voters were under the age of 30; in many key states turnout for this demographic was just half the voting rate for the 65 and older category. If Bernie’s candidacy provides even one-twentieth of the disillusioned voter with a reason to turn out because they would actually get something that has never been offered to them and their struggling families before–namely health care, college loan payoffs, free tuition, and a higher minimum wage–then the 2020 election end very differently than 2016.
In a compelling column following Bernie’s landslide victory in Nevada, titled Finally, Can We All Agree? Everything We Were Told About Bernie Sanders Was Wrong, writer Mehdi Hasan observed, “You would have to go back to the invasion of Iraq in 2003 to find another example of where our political and media elites were so out of step with reality; so off in their predictions and prognostications; so keen to peddle myths and misinformation.”
I like to call Bernie’s movement for a government that serves ALL of our needs the second American Evolution. Bernie’s movement represents our collective evolution, from a functional oligarchy controlled by the billionaire and corporate donors of politicians, to one that serves we, the people, our collective future, and the common good.
It is shameful that a large majority of relatively affluent members of the so-called “Greatest Generation” and so many of my fellow boomers today support either Donald Tyrant Trump or “Anybody but Bernie.”
What happened to our collective hope for a better future? To our children? To our planet? To the common good?
We should know better.
Act less selfishly.
And listen to our young by supporting Bernie Sanders for President.
This editorial, by Sonoma Independent Editor Jonathan Greenberg, is a boomer generation bookend to millennial Managing Editor Tim Ryan’s endorsement. The award-winning Sonoma Independent is owned by Progressive Source Communications and was founded in 2015 with a mission of “Informing to Empower.”