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COLUMN: The Coronavirus, not Bernie Sanders, will shift the country to the left

Despite Joe Biden’s success on Super Tuesday and his likely nomination, the Democratic primary has exposed the leftward shift of the country. Last night on stage with Kamala Harris and Cory Booker, Biden called himself a “bridge” between this generation and the next generation of leaders. And the next generation will be far more progressive than those who have governed in the 40-year wake of the Reagan Revolution. 

Young people overwhelmingly embraced the message of Bernie Sanders. They want more government intervention because free market extremism has failed to offer them the same opportunities as their parents. Instead of watching widespread prosperity and upward mobility, they’re watching concentrated wealth going to those with the ability invest while people who work for wages make little progress.

A Republican friend of mine says that once these young people start paying taxes, they’ll become far more conservative. That may have been true 20 years ago but it’s not true today. They aren’t spending their money on taxes. They’re spending it on student debt the size of mortgages, child care bills that top $1,000 per month and health insurance with high deductibles and high premiums. The promise of homeownership is elusive and when it’s available, it’s often not convenient to the places they work, adding long commutes to an already stressful life. They’re spending all of their money without accumulating any wealth. 

Now, the coronavirus is about to expose the weakness of our safety net. While Trump is busy trying to blame Democrats for causing the hysteria that’s wreaking havoc in the markets, Italy is seeing the reality that may soon be here. In a country with far more doctors and hospital beds per capita, the health system is overwhelmed. Doctors are making difficult choices about who gets treatment and who doesn’t because of the lack of supplies. In one hospital, people over 65 are routinely denied treatment as are people of all ages who have undergone any kind of transplant. Despite GOP claims, it’s far more deadly than the flu. 


We are less prepared than Italy. The virus is spreading quickly and it’s like watching a disaster in slow motion. The denial among Trumpists and accusations by Fox News are just leaving us more vulnerable. Before this is over, a lot of people will probably die and our inability to adequately respond will lead to demands for major health care reforms. 

Despite its traumatic nature, coronavirus will likely be a shared national experience that diminishes some of the hyper-polarization that’s plagued our nation for the past decade or two. Americans will come together to grieve our losses and find solutions. They’ll demand a more activist government that provides a more substantial safety net. The agenda laid out by Bernie Sanders will be implemented by people with broader appeal than the Senator from Vermont.  

The shift we’re about to see is a reaction to the Reagan Revolution, just as the Reagan Revolution was a reaction to the New Deal. The coronavirus and the economic downturn it causes will prove to be the trigger for more activist government, but it won’t be socialism despite the cries of the GOP. We’ll enter a new era to address big problems like climate change, the technological revolution and the health care crisis. Individualism won’t solve any of those issues. It will take collective action moving in a more unified direction.  

Thomas Mills is the founder and publisher of PoliticsNC.com. Before beginning PoliticsNC, Mills spent 20 years as a political and public affairs consultant.



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