You can already feel the air coming out of the current leftist bubble that goes back to around 2015. It coalesced around Bernie's campaign, but most of those people have already ditched him and gone back to their same ol' bullshit, cheerleading for a polarizing neoliberal culture warrior like Liz Warren.
It has reminded me so much of the early 2000s, when I was in the anti-globalization and anti-war movements in college. It's strange listening to political podcasts again, which I haven't done since then (back then it was streaming Democracy Now via Pacifica Radio on the RealAudio Player, downloading Noam Chomsky talks, Unwelcome Guests, and interviews / talks hosted by ZNet). It wasn't as developed as it is today, and the parasocial quality was lesser in degree, but it's hard for me not to notice the parallels to today.
That climate coalesced around Nader's 2000 campaign, generated a major protest during Bush's inauguration, and was undeterred by 9/11. There were massive protests against the war before it even began in 2003, and Fahrenheit 9/11 was a major hit at the box office in 2004 (#17 for the year). That mood was popular, not marginal.
Then by 2005, it had more or less evaporated. The late 2000s support for Obama had nothing to do with leftism -- just libs and even moderates getting pissed with 8 years of Bush, the recession, etc., wanting a change of pace but not a major change. Compared to the first half of the 2000s, they had now tuned politics out.
The early 2010s did not see a leftist bubble either. Occupy Wall Street was just a public space hang-out, a party in a carnivalesque atmosphere. It did not have widespread resonance, and did not even try to do anything specific (like blocking the FTAA, preventing the Iraq War, and so on, from the early 2000s). Most people were having too much fun, living too carefree of a lifestyle, to feel the need to pay attention to leftists.
As of 2015, though, it's come back big-time. The Bernie campaign, #MeToo, Trump Derangement Syndrome, Russiagate, imagining Nazis under every bed, joining the DSA, living a parasocial relationship with left-wing podcast hosts.
This rhythm suggests a reflection of the 15-year cultural excitement cycle (see an overview here). That is, it is the vulnerable phase, when people's energy levels have crashed into a refractory period, when they feel like they need to huddle in the leftist bubble for protection. It's not as if neoliberal austerity or imperial adventures just happened with Trump's election.
Rather, it's people's social-emotional states that have suddenly changed, causing them to react to external events in a different way, one suiting them to joining a leftist crowd. In a refractory state, all external stimuli feel painful, so you feel victimized by your environment -- not only your direct social environment, but the broader political current affairs.
Typically that leads to joining the left, although there is right-wing victim Olympics as well, so perhaps the phenomenon is more general -- politicizing the personal, and treating politics as therapy for your broken emotional state. Liberals temporarily become radical leftists, and conservatives temporarily become radical rightists.
During the following restless warm-up phase, people's energy levels have recovered to baseline, and they don't feel such a strong need for being shielded against painful stimuli (i.e., all external events). Having left their refractory period, they don't feel constantly victimized, and no longer in need of group therapy. So, bye-bye to the left bubble. This attitude prevailed during the second half of the 2000s, including the Obama campaign, by which time liberals had de-radicalized.
During the following manic invincible phase, their energy levels are spiking, and they really feel no pressing personal need for politics as group therapy. If they get involved politically at all, it will be to create a party for radicals (the kind where you have fun in public, not the kind that involves long meetings). This was the attitude during the early 2010s, epitomized by Occupy Wall Street, Slutwalk / Free the Nipple / No Pants Subway Ride, and so on and so forth. No strongly, broadly felt need to primary Obama "from the left" because everyone was in high spirits in 2012.
Before the early 2000s, the last time there was a leftist bubble was the late '80s with Jesse Jackson's primary campaign, anti-Apartheid, the date rape panic, etc., also during a vulnerable phase. It had popped by the early '90s, with the shift into the warm-up phase, and liberals de-radicalized into choosing a centrist like Bill Clinton. By the late '90s manic phase, there was no broad leftist zeitgeist at all -- no attempt to primary Clinton "from the left" since everyone was in such an upbeat manic mood.
Before the late '80s, the last leftist bubble was the early '70s -- the original leftist bubble, characterized by anti-Vietnam War protests, anti-capitalist organizations, second wave feminism (all heterosexual sex is rape), bombings, the Counter-culture, Watergate, the McGovern campaign, and the rest of it. That was a vulnerable phase.
Some of those topics were part of the late '60s manic-phase movements, but those were more upbeat and carefree -- the Summer of Love, Woodstock, student protests as an excuse to hang out in public spaces, and so on. And during '68-'69, they had not really radicalized into anti-capitalist, anti-imperialist, anti-sexist, anti-whatever. By the second half of the '70s, a warm-up phase, the Counter-culture was dead, and liberals de-radicalized into choosing Jimmy Carter. During the manic phase of the early '80s, there wasn't even a residue of the early '70s personal-is-political counter-culture.
I don't think you can go back before circa 1970, because that's when the New Left replaced the Old Left. Before 1970, there was no "personal is political" stuff, no politics as group therapy. It was materialist, seeking a higher standard of living and autonomy for working class people, mainly through labor unions. Certainly there was an awareness of problems that went beyond the individual to encompass entire groups -- The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit, the Feminine Mystique, etc. -- but they were not politicized into a pseudo-political movement, did not have a political candidate to rally around, and did not lead to temporary radicalization followed quickly by de-radicalization.
The speed with which people go through these phases -- radicalized, de-radicalized, politics as partying in public -- suggests something other than external economic or political forces are at work. It looks more like mood swings over the course of an entire rollercoaster cycle. And what do you know, they overlap perfectly with the phases of the excitement cycle, in just the way you'd expect (with the vulnerable, refractory phase making people feel victimized and in need of politics as group therapy).
This dynamic needs to be taken into account for those who are planning on leftist politics after 2020. During that year itself, de-radicalization will already have begun, since 2019 is the last year of the current vulnerable phase, and then it's on to the warm-up phase. They will still be shrieking culture warriors, but they'll be supporting outright libs like Liz Warren and AOC, not Bernie Sanders. That emotional state will last into 2024 as well. Prepare for a party atmosphere during the late 2020s.
This is yet another reason why populists cannot rely on leftoids for change -- they're only in it for emotional reasons, and even those are fleetingly cyclical. Yesterday's Free the Nipple babe has become today's MeToo crusader, and tomorrow will be rid of her post-horny victim mindset, ready to revive Slutwalk the day after tomorrow.
Focusing on real material issues, with audiences who keep experiencing them no matter what emotional mood-swing they're in, is the only way to replace the failed status quo with something different.