Playing Devil’s Advocate to Bernie’s Popularity with Youth

Sanders supporters could be presenting a skewed reality that does not pay heed to at least one side of the argument.

I don’t remember how I came to love Bernie Sanders.

Bernie Sanders is a United States Senator who was a Presidential candidate in the 2016 election cycle

What I do remember is that my opinion of him was founded on his personality first, and his political views second. Like an unprecedented number of youth, I deeply admire Bernie Sanders’ authenticity, and later came to believe his political views- extreme as they are- were the best vehicles to achieve the goals of Americans. Just one fact to emphasize this point is that more Americans under 30 voted for Sanders than Trump and Clinton combined.

Given that my opinion of Bernie Sanders, like so many around me, was overwhelmingly favourable, I set out to investigate the basis for the near-unanimous support of the U.S. Senator among youth. What I now challenge Sanders’ supporters with are three things: that his policies undermine the goals of some Americans, that he does not always present a holistic picture of what it means to implement policy, and to what extent their support for him is based on his unique brand of charisma. This is the first in a series of posts in which I play Devil’s Advocate to a popularly-held belief in order to encourage open-mindedness to other opinions on social and political issues.

I engaged two young men for their opinion on the 2016 U.S. Election Cycle- I will call them Pro-Bernie and Anti-Bernie. Both men have formed their personal opinions on Sanders the way that many of us do- a combination of reading factual information about the candidate, consuming popular media, and reflecting on how the information that they have absorbed integrates with their personal values.

I interviewed them to collect opinions about Sanders outside of my own, in order to formulate arguments against supporting Bernie Sanders. It was an odd exercise for someone who had gleefully giggled through the video of a tiny bird hopping around Bernie’s lectern, but I felt it was necessary to shake the foundation of my beliefs a little in order for them to grow stronger roots.

This is what I found.

  1. Under a Bernie Sanders Administration, People Still Get Left Behind

… just not the same people as before.

Perhaps several of us sat through mild discomfort while Bill O’Reilly interrogated Sanders on how much the wealthy would be taxed in America. “How high would you tax someone like me? 90, 95%?” A slightly flustered Bernie says that he doesn’t know exactly. “But if you’re going to run for President, you have to know”, O’Reilly huffs.

I would tend to agree with that.

Bernie is known as someone who is ‘for the people’, but we must keep in mind that he is not representing the interests of everyone. Everyone values different things in life, and some people value the accumulation of wealth for safekeeping within several generations of their family. Some others might dedicate their lives to fast and efficient technology and business innovation. These are just two examples of personal dreams that high personal and corporate taxes, and higher social security, would likely stifle (if only to some degree). Capitalism has been painted with a brush of evil by some radical Sanders supporters, but the reality is that capitalism breeds innovation and allows for upward social mobility as well.

Of course, greed, corruption, and mismanagement of funds hinders the progress of society. Just one example of this is highlighted in this article about the cost of corporate tax avoidance to small businesses in the U.S. However, there is room to improve the system and create a more fair environment for all members of society to flourish, without increasing the dependance of the lower-income class on Government handouts. Not all people who want to earn good money are evading taxes or cheating the system or pumping money into political candidates to further their own interests. Seeing money as a way to enjoy and find meaning in life is something that should be respected, as long as the people doing so respect the law and society as a whole. This dream cannot be undermined, as it has been from time to time by the far left.

2. Sanders Supporters Paint a One-Sided Argument Sometimes, Too… But That’s Politics

As I started to reflect on Sanders’ popularity on social media (read: scrolling mindlessly on Instagram’s “Explore” page), I noticed that Sanders supporters and Trump supporters bore resemblance to each other in at least one aspect- many of the posts in favour of Sanders represented a skewed reality that did not pay heed to at least one side of the argument. One example, as noted by Anti-Bernie, are the one-sided posts about free college tuition as a right. While he supports accessible education to all, Anti-Bernie says:

“the proposal does not address structural labour force issues, caps tuition spending to whatever the Government is able to spend, and requires state governments to contribute a significant portion of the funding when they are already struggling to fund K-12 schools that are lagging behind those of other countries”.

A fair point, and one that is completely omitted by most (not all) of the singularly left-winged posts on this issue.

Memes like the following, which gather several thousand likes on social media, do not present a rational many-sided argument that encourages moving towards finding common ground to solve a problem. It is simply inflammatory.

3. To Some People, Bernie’s Popularity Is More About His Personality Than His Political Views

I thought this quote was fitting for Bernie Sanders:

“Who you are speaks so loudly, I can’t hear what you’re saying”- Ralph Waldo Emerson

Gen Y craves authenticity and comic relief, and media around Bernie Sanders delivers both in a manner that has truly sparked a liberal revolution. This is not to say that Sanders supporters do not align at all with Sanders’ political views. Pro-Bernie says he has been a fan of Sanders since 2010, when he watched Sanders lambast corporate greed in an eight-and-a-half-hour rant. However, not all Sanders supporters have been closely following Sanders’ political platform like Pro-Bernie has. I would hypothesize that many of us are consuming media around us at the surface-level, quickly absorbing nuggets of information delivered through news headlines and Tweets, but perhaps not questioning what they read at a deeper level or seeking out counterarguments. Bernie Sanders is profoundly charming in his own way, and media is powerful, but it is often skewed… and I would propose that it has a strong role in leaning Gen Y more left than any generation before us (shout out here to Stephen Colbert and his far-reaching hilarity).

Hypotheses About How the Spirit of Bernie Will Be Kept Alive

Bernie is a household name now, much like JoJo the Bachelorette and Pokemon Go. The question on my mind is… will Bernie Sanders and his impact on millions be forgotten with time? What is the true impact of his campaign on American politics, and can we envision a candidate like Bernie ever winning a Presidential election cycle?

Pro-Bernie and Anti-Bernie, despite having different political views, acknowledge the importance of the Sanders campaign in easing the U.S. into an openness towards more left-leaning policies, that might have “traditionally been seen as Anti-American”, Anti-Bernie quips.

Pro-Bernie is satisfied with Sanders’ success in moving Clinton to the left, bringing single-payer healthcare back into the public eye, and removing some of the toxicity around the ideal of socialism. A more profound remnant of Bernie Sanders’ campaign, according to Pro-Bernie, is an awareness of how broken the political system is… an end to which I would perhaps also credit Netflix’s House of Cards. Jokes aside, the vision of a fairer voting system in which monied-interests don’t rule, is something that Pro-Bernie believes can be realized in our lifetime. Much like Princess Diana’s example of altruism while in a position of power, or Hilary Clinton’s example of grace when in a position of contention around her husband’s infidelity, Bernie Sanders’ authenticity at a time when he had the whole world to lose, will stay with us for a long time.

What are the Devil’s Advocate series of posts about?

In a world that is privy to extremely skewed media, and inflammatory jabs at people’s opinions, we must find a way to empathize with one another and find common ground on important issues so that we can actually see social progress within our lifetimes. Playing Devil’s Advocate, by which you are forced to see things from the perspective of someone who has different views from your own, is one way of doing that. The hope is that this platform breeds open-mindedness and the curiosity to question what we believe, so that we move towards a more tolerant and better-informed society.

The author acknowledges that these posts do not integrate all opinions on a matter, and may unintentionally omit some important factual or expert information. For feedback, pls email, or shoot me a PM.

To contribute an opinion piece for an upcoming blog post on any social issue that is important to you, pls do the same!