On Wednesday, November 9, at 9:47 am, BuzzFeed News sent out a push notification: “Trump is leading a global nationalist wave. The liberal world order is nearly over and the age of populism is here.” This, from a publication better known for listicles than sweeping political pronouncements. If even BuzzFeed felt it necessary to ring the death knell for the “liberal world order,” then liberalism must be really, really dead.
But what, besides global nationalism, can replace it? The answer is clear if we look at the 2016 election from its inception. The race we should be remembering is not just Clinton versus Trump, but Sanders versus Clinton. For nearly a year, millions of Americans supported an avowed socialist, and many of those people were young—like me.
This new New Left renaissance isn’t confined to the United States: Our British neighbors witnessed a similar wave of enthusiasm for Jeremy Corbyn. It’s kind of funny, if you think about it: The two most prominent politicians to galvanize young people in the United States and the United Kingdom over the last year are old white dudes. Sanders and Corbyn both look like my dad, except even older and less cool.
And it’s not just them—their ideas are old too. Or so it would seem to anyone who came of age before the fall of the Berlin Wall. Socialism, the redistribution of wealth, providing vital benefits and social services through the mechanism of the state—people were talking about this in the 1960s. And in the 1930s. And in the 19-teens. And now Sanders and Corbyn are recycling those hoary ideas (or so the argument goes), their only concession to the 21st century being the incorporation of racial-, queer-, and climate-justice rhetoric. (We can argue about how earnest they are and how successful that’s been).
And yet, in the 2016 primaries, Sanders won more votes from people under 30 than Clinton and Trump combined. Bernie pulled in more than 2 million of us; Clinton and Trump trailed far behind, with approximately 770,000 and 830,000, respectively.
Corbyn’s signature achievement thus far has been nearly tripling the size of the UK Labour Party. With over 550,000 members, it’s the largest political party in Western Europe. Though Corbyn’s supporters are not as strikingly youthful as Sanders’s—the influx of new members has barely changed the party’s average age—the youngest among them have a similar enthusiasm.
If you spent last year wondering why all these young people (“millennials,” as the headlines love to shout) have flocked to dudes even older and less cool than my dad, consider this: I’m 22. I was born in 1994. Bill Clinton was president. It was the era of the New Democrats in the United States and New Labour in the UK. Five years earlier, Francis Fukuyama had famously declared “the end of history,” and neither September 11 nor the global financial collapse had yet shaken that sense of security. My birth, and that of my generation, coincided with a huge geopolitical shift: For the first time in 50 years, the world wasn’t split in two along the familiar capitalist/communist lines of the Cold War. Seemingly, it had become whole.