In America—despite our inequality and blatant cronyism—the socialists never win. The socialists never could have won. Except for this year.
This year, 2016, was the year when the United States of America could have elected a socialist as president. This is not a fanciful expression of hope; this is a plain fact. And one that should make us weep with regret for the way that things have turned out.
This observation is not intended to be a lionization of Bernie Sanders, a mythmaking exercise, or a re-litigation of all of the primary arguments. It’s over. The socialist came close—closer than the socialists ever come, shockingly close, winning almost half of the primary states close—but in the end his defeat was resounding. The Democrats, it seemed, had a moment in which they seriously considered, for the first time in a very long while, going all the way. They flirted very intently with the idea of taking the strong positions on the values the party espouses, rather than the tepid, aggressively centrist positions that have characterized the party during most of our lifetimes. Things like universal health care and affordable college tuition and serious Wall Street regulation and other policies that traditional Democrats approach but never reach were, for once, permitted to become a part of the presidential campaign conversation without being dismissed with a patronizing eye-roll by the keepers of conventional wisdom. Redistribution of wealth! The idea that the government can actually change the persistent inequality of this country! Minus the bullshit! It was all there—if not in hand, at least on the table, within easy reach.
Of course, centrism prevailed, as it most often does. Sobriety and the sheer force of institutional power won out. The establishment candidate was nominated. That is what usually happens. Nothing remarkable about that.
The only remarkable thing is this: the socialist could have won. We are less than a month from the presidential election. Look at where we are. The Democrats are running against a madman. And fortunately for them, they are running against a madman prone to self-destruction. Donald Trump’s success does indeed speak to a significant change in this country’s politics, but Donald Trump himself is too inept to take advantage of it. When the demographics of the full electorate are considered, the Democrats cannot lose. They will not lose. They have what amounts to a free election.
And what we will get from this free election is Hillary Clinton: a member of a political dynasty. The excruciatingly focus-grouped creation of a group of advisers who have helped her overcome every obstacle except one: “defining her politics and her reasons for wanting to become president.”
Hillary Clinton is okay. Many of her policies are enlightened, though always leavened with a ruthless brand of perceived realism. Seen in contrast to Donald Trump, even the members of the hard left have begun to feel she is our nation’s salvation. It’s natural. Anyone compared to him is a life raft for all reasonable people to cling to. She will win, and she will govern.
But this time—only this time—we could have had the socialist. This time, he would have won. I cannot predict the future. But I suspect there may be a time in the next four years when we all look back on this lost opportunity with a profound feeling of regret.