Bernie Sanders is everywhere, even if he is not in the White House. The seasoned Democrat launched a million memes by turning up at US President Joe Biden’s inauguration in an ensemble that has been variously described as “grumpy chic” and “going to the post office” look. Amid the striking visuals of Vice-President Kamala Harris’s purple power suit, Lady Gaga’s operatic gown and Michelle Obama’s strikingly confident head-to-toe plum attire, in walked Sanders in an unfussy dun-coloured coat pulled up to his ears, carrying a manila envelope and wearing thick mittens made of up-cycled sweaters — a picture of matter-of-fact, we-have-got-work-to-do ordinariness.
It might be relief at the end of the tenure of a populist post-fact president, who pushed the famed American democracy to the edge of a coup, at the return of the humdrum after the disruptive reign of Doland Trump, but the US interwebz went tipsy with amusement. The photograph of a masked Sanders, seated in a chair at the inauguration, unimpressed by the pomp all around, has been grafted on to millions of images, from Edward Hopper paintings to Lord of the Rings scenes and New York street corners. It’s apt, of course, that American voters have not forgotten Sanders in this moment of transition. The Vermont Senator eventually bowed out of the race to become the Democratic contender for the presidential race, because his agenda was seen, in the final analysis, as too radical and left-wing for the compromises needed to oil the wheels of democracy. Nevertheless, his critique of American politics and corporate capture of capitalism, his advocacy of affordable healthcare, increasing the minimum wage, among other things has pushed the Democratic agenda towards a course correction, towards connecting with a working-class that remains suspicious of the elite capture of democratic institutions.
Sanders was surprised by his breaking the internet. “In Vermont we dress warm… and we’re not so concerned about good fashion,” he said. For politicians across the world reeling from the rise of autocratic populism, though, Sanders is a reminder that good old-fashioned progressive politics will never go out of fashion.