During the 1980’s, while Ronald Reagan was convincing Americans that capitalism was synonymous with freedom, a young politician from Vermont had very different ideas. While the Republican establishment believed that the communist USSR was an “evil empire,” mayor Bernie Sanders openly praised their socialist economic system, and even “honeymooned” in the Soviet Union with his wife.
Decades later, millennials have entered a workplace shaped by Ronald Reagan’s economic policies. Many of these millennials have had difficulty “adulting.” Most delay marriage into their late twenties or thirties. When they find a job, many are frustrated to find out that they will make less money than they expected to make with their college degree. Much of the money they do make will go toward paying off student loans. In the millennial demographic, the average personal savings rate is less than zero.
It is easy to see why a message of free healthcare and debt forgiveness would resonate strongly with millennial voters. Many young progressives threw their support behind a self-described socialist after hearing him blame their economic woes on a capitalist scapegoat. The fact that Bernie Sanders was once an apologist for the Soviet Union hardly bothers them at all—the USSR was long dead before any of them had begun paying attention to politics. With no first-hand experience with actual socialist governments, millennials happily turned the word “socialism” into a catch-all term for their frustrations with capitalism.
Despite his popularity, Bernie Sanders never authentically embodied the millennial zeitgeist. He was slow to endorse open borders immigration policy and, to this day, remains unwilling to fully endorse intersectional identity politics. His kind of progressivism belongs on the left-most fringe of an old, bygone, white working class. However, in 2016, he appeared to be the most viable progressive alternative to the Democratic Party establishment, and he nearly won the nomination with millennial support. Unfortunately for him, after conceding defeat and throwing his support behind the opponent who conspired to undermine his candidacy, the spell was broken. Millennials moved on.
Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is the new, more authentic champion of progressivism, and her face is already slated to appear on the cover of Time Magazine. As a “woke” millennial, her focus is directed toward the man who she believes to be the true cause of millennial economic woes. Ronald Reagan, she insists, is responsible for the fact that her generation faces stagnant wages and overwhelming income inequality. And she is not exactly wrong about this. Reagan’s deregulation of industry and finance did indeed correspond with an increase in economic competition in the workplace—talented racial minorities and women competed for top positions previously held by white men—and this did, in fact, contribute to a growing wealth gap between rich and poor.
As Plato pointed out long ago in The Republic, when you replace an old, settled aristocracy with a more competitive oligarchy, the ruling class tends to become less liberal with their wealth, since their social status depends on the accumulation of it. In other words, citizens begin to look something like this:
“A sort of squalid man, getting profit out of everything, filling up his storeroom—exactly the kind of men the multitude praises … to what must you look if you want to see the wrongdoings of these men? To their guardianship of orphans and any occasion of the kind that comes their way and gives them considerable license to do injustice.”
According to Ocasio-Cortez’s progressive understanding of history, Ronald Reagan transformed America into an oligarchic society. It is unsurprising that one of her first policy proposals was to raise the top marginal tax rate from its current 37% to 70%—a mirror image of Reagan’s policy which slashed the top marginal rate from 78% to 28%. From Reagan’s perspective, the federal government was, more often than not, the problem. Ocasio-Cortez wants Americans to return to a time when they saw the federal government as the solution. That is why her signature policy proposal is a mountain of new government regulations that includes socialized medicine and is named after the New Deal—the paragon of “big government” federal programs.
At a South by Southwest conference in Austin, Texas, Ocasio-Cortez expanded on her critique of Reagan, arguing that his rhetoric about welfare policies, while not “explicit racism,” was still “rooted in a racist caricature.” As I have previously explained on this site, progressives view the conservative argument that the growing wealth gap is a result of meritocracy as racist. Alexandria cannot accept the idea that American Jews and Asians have improved their economic circumstances through individual merit empowered by stable cultures. No, the achievement gap must result from successful races (now including Jews) exploiting the less fortunate. The word "meritocracy" itself is seen as a “dog-whistle” to this new oppressor class.
The progressivism of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is on the rise in the Democratic Party. It reared its head, in 2012, when routine votes over continuing to recognize God and Jerusalem were nearly shouted down at the Democratic National convention, prompting historically low turnout among Jewish Democrats in the 2012 and 2014 elections. For the time being, opposition to Donald Trump has galvanized the Democratic Party into unified resistance. But, in 2024, when the reign of Donald Trump is over and Ocasio-Cortez becomes old enough to run for President, the situation might look very different. The time of the anti-Reagan is coming. Be afraid.