Throughout his career, Sanders has stood for the proposition that left-wing politics lost its way after the 1970s by letting what should be its central purpose — the class struggle, the rectification of economic inequality, the war against the “millionaires and billionaires” — be obscured by cultural battles and displaced by a pro-business, pro-Wall Street economic program. This shift has made left-of-center political parties (in Europe as well as the United States) steadily more upper middle class and conservatism steadily more blue collar, but the promise of Sandersism was that the transformation need not be permanent: A left that recovered the language of class struggle, that disentangled liberal politics from faculty-lounge elitism and neoliberal economics, could rally a silent majority against plutocracy and win. . . .
Now, under these strange coronavirus conditions, we’re watching a different sort of insurgency challenge or change liberalism, one founded on an intersectional vision of left-wing politics that never came naturally to Sanders. Rather than Medicare for All and taxing plutocrats, the rallying cry is racial justice and defunding the police. Instead of finding its nemeses in corporate suites, the intersectional revolution finds them on antique pedestals and atop the cultural establishment.
And so far, as my colleague Sydney Ember noted last week, this revolution has been more unifying than Sanders’s version — uniting the Democratic establishment that once closed ranks against him, earning support from just about every major corporate and cultural institution, sending anti-racism titles skyrocketing up the best-seller list, even bringing Mitt Romney into the streets as a marcher and inducing Donald Trump to make grudging noises about police reform.
If you ask these protesters, they of course claim to care about economic justice. But their actions make clear that they care a whole lot more about racial justice. There is much more anger against statues of Robert E. Lee than against Elon Musk.
And before that we had Me Too, a movement of justice for sexually harassed women that generated much more fire and passion than Medicare for All ever did.
The kind of measures we might actually take to flatten the economic pyramid are just boring compared to fighting back against police violence. Most Americans understand, I think, that economic justice is a hard problem and the fight for it unending and mostly frustrating. Given that victories on the economic front seem so distant and likely to be small, the fights against racism and rape seem more urgent.