A long time ago, a game was released for the PlayStation console. The game had a demo released through Pizza Hut, a short taste of this spy thriller, Metal Gear Solid. You play as Solid Snake, and your mission is to sneak through a base and stop a terrorist group from launching a nuclear missile. Upon playing the full version, instead of a full action thriller (although the game has plenty of this) you are instead treated to a thematic experience of pacifism, the folly of nuclear proliferation, genetics and eugenics, government corruption, and more. For a game where you kill plenty of people, these pacifist themes left quite the impression on an eight-year-old boy in rural Tennessee. The subsequent games in the series would only provide further thought on all the ways the world was in dire need of a new path forward, with the second entry giving a chilling look at the future information manipulation we would come to experience in the following decades.
The world watched in horror on September 11, 2001, as terrorists hijacked and flew planes into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, as well as the plane whose path of destruction was interrupted by the brave passengers on board. We also watched with horror as the resulting War on Terror would lead to the US fighting wars in at least seven countries under four different presidents, and continuing into a third decade, illegally spying on all domestic citizens, and outright ignoring the rights of anyone deemed a threat. Those early days of the war saw some anti-war protests, sure. However, we also saw the rise of anti-Muslim xenophobia, which could be described as the mutation of currently existing xenophobia that has existed throughout the history of this nation. The concept of “wars for oil” was not lost on that teenager in Tennessee, still playing those philosophical war games. Yet the wars continue, the thirst for oil continues, and the suffering of the world continues.
The world faced a new challenge in 2008, as markets and economies experienced what would later be described as the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression. We would learn about all the sketchy dealings done by Wall Street banks, investment firms, and the rest of the financial industry that led to this crisis. Through Matt Taibbi’s reporting in Rolling Stone, a high school kid learning to love rock music would learn about how big banks in general, and Goldman Sachs in particular, were practicing all sorts of shady business practices. None of it quite made sense to that high school kid, but he understood that money is the raw expression of power, and those with money and power would do nearly anything to keep or grow them.
The nation faced a different stress test as yet another black person was murdered by police without consequence in Ferguson, MO in August 2014. For a moment, it really seemed like enough was enough, that change was finally on the verge of breaking through that barrier that had held it back for decades. Finally, it seemed, the tide of justice would turn for so many victims of those tasked by the state to “protect and serve.” But alas, as has happened so often, justice was not served. Around this time, that boy from Tennessee had ventured north to the big city with his future wife. He took note of this incident, and looking at the segregation present in his new hometown of Chicago, was able to extrapolate that injustices long thought rectified in our history were still very present and very much a problem, now more than ever.
Spring and summer of 2015 saw the nation beginning the search for the person who would eventually succeed their first black president. Many big names would join the contest; on one side, Secretary Hillary Clinton was presumed the front-runner for the office. Her competition looked to likely be Governor Jeb Bush, brother to one former President and son to another. He faced some competition, from other Governors, Senators, CEOs, and still others. Business as usual was the perception, as the next President would likely be a Bush or a Clinton. But two other men would enter the contest, and by doing so would both change US politics for years to come: Donald Trump and Senator Bernie Sanders. Spoiler: Mr. Trump would go on to beat them all and serve his full term as President, surviving two impeachment trials and nominating three Supreme Court Justices in four years. His competition would either wallow in relative obscurity, or struggle to find their place in this new political reality brought on by the ascension of Mr. Trump and his conservatism repackaged in nationalism and pseudo-populism. However, he would never directly face off with Senator Sanders, as many would like to have seen.
On the Democratic side however, few expected Senator Sanders to provide much competition to Secretary Clinton. A man widely regarded as genuine by his colleagues, a man often criticized for talking about the same issues for decades without much variation (mainly because the issues persisted, and in most cases worsened), his brand of left-wing populism would be a sharp contrast to both the pseudo-populism of Mr. Trump and the centrism of Secretary Clinton. In the early days of the primary, his ideas caught fire like a match in gasoline with the public. Indeed, these policies championed by Mr. Sanders remain some of the most popular policies with the US population to this day. It was through his campaign that our Tennessee boy, now living in Chicago, would come to see that better things were possible in the world, things do not need to be run the way they currently are, people do not need to needlessly die due to lack of healthcare, food, shelter, or meaningful employment
, in the richest nation the world has ever seen.
Senator Sanders and his campaigns for president had and continue to have great impact on the US Left, and his 2016 campaign was also responsible for my own full political awakening, though certain seeds had been planted years before. It was through Mr. Sanders’ two presidential campaigns that I discovered why exactly I never got excited about Democrats, despite knowing full well that Republican policies were terrible in practice. Through these campaigns I learned of the vast world of independent media springing up on the internet, though this space was rife with pretenders and outright snake oil sellers. Despite the sludge, genuine voices were found, voices eager to elevate these issues first raised by Senator Sanders. In this ecosystem, I was introduced to Real Progressives and Modern Monetary Theory, and the revelations the theory held for what was possible only magnified the possibilities the Sanders campaign introduced to the public. Through the following years, I would go on to read and watch and learn much more about MMT, the policy implications of it, and the things needed to be done to make them a reality. The future looks bright through the correct lens, and MMT is that lens with which we can all envision a better future. I hope to have a small part in helping shape that future.