Full disclosure: I’m not a political expert. Nonetheless, I’ve found this presidential race to be particularly captivating and have made a point of following along throughout its many ups and downs. After all, my generation will be the one responsible for combating pressing issues like climate change and foreign policy, and the one riddled with paying off the trillions of debt we’ve accumulated as a country. Not to mention institutionalized racism, the stagnating gender wage gap, and LGBT rights. During the past months of political turmoil, we’ve witnessed Trump’s rise and fall with the “silent majority,” some tense debates that made us all ask ‘what the fuck?’, and a few surprising entrances into the the race itself.
Excluding Trump, Bernie Sanders is arguably the most unexpected candidate for president in 2016. The seventy-three-year-old Vermont Senator has maintained a reputable political career by focusing on issues such as income inequality, universal healthcare, parental leave, climate change, and campaign finance reform. He’s staunchly critical of U.S. foreign involvement, and was an early opponent of the Iraq War. But while Sanders has garnered a career worthy of respect, no one foresaw his entrance into the presidential race, and his burgeoning popularity among millennials.Since entering the race in April, Sanders has garnered an disproportionate share of the youth vote compared to his competitors. I’ve reviewed Sanders’ platform and watched him debate. He’s clearly charismatic and provocative, which adds to his overall appeal. However, there’s something deeper at play here that’s launching the “Democratic Socialist Capitalist” into the limelight of the election.
A few nights ago, I found myself explaining to my conservative dad (he’s always voted Republican) why I like Sanders as a candidate. “He’s the most trustworthy of the bunch. And he has real morals,” I insisted. Naturally, these assumptions were challenged. After all, it’s naive to assume that we can see the whole picture when it comes to politicians of any sort—even the ones that walk to work. But it begs the question: Why do I, and so many of my peers, respond so strongly to Sanders?
It’s not about him, it’s about the cause.
Bernie Sanders is motivated by a cause. Yes, he’s built out a broad platform that outlines the ambitious changes he would make if elected to office. But what really resonates with the millennial population is his clear-cut, gutsy message of social and economic reform. (Compare his Twitter feed to that of Hilary Clinton, and the distinction is clear.)
“Of course, many candidates claim that their campaigns aren’t about them but about something larger. But when Sanders uses this line, which he does all the time, he is merely stating a fact,” says John Cassidy of The New Yorker.
No one rivals Sanders’ outspoken aversion to the one-percent and “Big Money.” Not to mention, his campaign is funded entirely through small individual donations, rather than through a Super PAC. Sanders’ unconventional altruism is exactly why he’s gaining popularity. While other candidates argue over petty details and shamelessly promote their political careers, Sanders has remained fettered to his ideals of economic justice and progressive social change. While it’s uncertain if he’s capable of achieving his goals, one thing’s for sure: Sanders knows why he’s running.
People buy why, not what.
Sanders speaks to the deepest, most fundamental question that defines us all: Why? We need a purpose and we want to believe in something bigger than ourselves. Let me relay this more clearly. Nike is the largest apparel manufacturer in the U.S., grossing $30.6 billion in 2015. But they don’t maintain their influence through simply selling shoes. Nike sells a concept, and this is what makes the company so successful. You don’t feel guilty splurging on a new pair of performance running shoes because doing so is a testament to innovation; a personal alignment with their impossible-is-nothing ethos. When this framework is applied to politics, it creates the same effect. Bernie isn’t selling anything except his ideas. As a result, we’re buying into him.
Sanders is calling on us for a political revolution. Will we answer?