The independent senator from Vermont, 77, wants to be the oldest president in the history of the United States.
New York is a melting pot; the city birthed both Donald Trump, in his golden crib in Queens, and Bernie Sanders, in the predominantly Jewish immigrant neighborhood of Brooklyn. Deciding to highlight this contrast, the independent senator for Vermont, who his followers believe could have stopped Trump’s victory, launched his campaign last Saturday at the same campus where he studied political science for a year in 1959.
Today, Sanders is 77 years old. Winning the next election would mean he would be nearly an octogenarian when he would enter the White House in 2021. He wants to be the oldest president in history, and defied the cold and snow to launch his campaign in front of a crowd of 20-somethings who are giving new life to his old socialist ideas. It seems these old ideas have come back in fashion, or they never died in the first place. “Some vote for a brand, the black candidate or the Hispanic candidate, but we’re here because we share ideas,” explained Austin Borkoski, 29 years old. “I have more confidence in him than anyone to do it.”*
If any of these disinherited voters dazzled by Trump in 2016 feel disappointed, this time, they have found a palpable contrast between the son of a real estate tycoon who has received $200,000 a year since he was three years old, and the socialist who this Saturday remembered his 25 cent-a-week salary. Sanders believes that the time is ripe for the U.S. to face the problems of globalization using socialist solutions that were abandoned under the looming threat of the Soviet Union. “The Cold War has ended; it is time to give an opportunity to these old ideas,” proposed Scarlett Ahmed, a 49-year-old trade union leader.*
Trump capitalized on this attitude in his State of the Union speech; he’s willing to resurrect the old propaganda of the phantom of socialism, peppered this time with the situation in Venezuela, but Sanders is playing with more modern ideas. Three years ago, they were considered “radical.” Last Saturday he outlined his proposals for universal healthcare, a minimum wage of $15 an hour and public universities like Brooklyn College, a place where he received “an excellent education” while living in a rent-controlled apartment. Today these policies are in the agendas of dozens of Democratic candidates who have entered the electoral arena. “We have to be careful with fakes,” explains Megan Devir, a 47-year-old mother who wants to send her child to public school. “Bernie is the original; he’s authentic.”*
His message opposing the brutal economic inequality of our era has not changed: the inequality of the top 1 percent hoarding all the wealth, and someone like Jeff Bezos becoming the richest man in the world from the exploitation of his poorly paid workers. His message has not changed; not now, not in 2016, not even in 1960 when he studied in Chicago, a city he visits this Sunday as part of his journey through his own personal history, before traveling to Iowa. There will be a stop in Alabama to participate in the anniversary celebrations in Selma, conscious that at this moment of diversity, the deficit of his being a white male could make him more vulnerable than was apparent in 2016.
Despite competing with candidates who are people of color, like Kamala Harris or Cory Booker, this Saturday he promised not to renounce “any of the 50 states without a fight.”* Activists from Black Lives Matter like Shaun King, the master of ceremonies at the Brooklyn rally, are willing to testify that he has always been on their side.
“Just as it will matter in 20 years’ time where you were when the Muslim ban was imposed, or the families destroyed at the border, it matters where Bernie was six or seven decades ago.”* He told the story of Sanders’ arrest in civil rights protests, or at Martin Luther King’s march on Washington, which could sound like stories straight from grandpa’s knee. A coherent history that could distinguish him from the barrage of progressive candidates he is competing with, like when he faced Hillary Clinton and the establishment in 2016. It will not be easy, but it never has been for Sanders.
“If this time the Democrats play it like they always have, they will have lost my vote forever,” warns Nicole Rubino, a 25-year-old croupier. The night she spent driving from the heart of Pennsylvania to attend the rally is precisely the demonstration of strength Sanders will need from January on.
*Editor’s note: This quotation, accurately translated, could not be verified.