As if the upcoming Second Civil War were not enough to deal with, at least we can breathe a sigh of relief after it's over, and go back to the New Deal days under a realigned Bernie-style party, right? That's certainly what people want, but not necessarily what the elites will do.
The closest parallel to the Bernie era is the Lincoln era that came after the Jacksonian era, which was like our current Reaganite era. The Lincoln Republicans made a lot of improvements over the Jacksonian Democrats, like ending slavery, tipping the balance toward manufacturing rather than agriculture, investing in infrastructure, and dialing down militarist expansion. Those kinds of changes seem entirely possible under the new era led by the Bernie followers' agenda.
At the same time, the Lincoln era saw the continuation of several negative trends that had begun under the Jacksonian era -- rising immigration, falling standard of living for ordinary people, rich getting richer (thus, widening inequality), partisan polarization, minimal civic organization, a laissez-faire approach to business, and the absence of a national or central bank to regulate the banks away from excessive risk-taking, which caused wave after wave of panics and depressions.
Those negative trends only began to reverse in the 1910s, well into the Progressive Era, and the reversal lasted throughout the New Deal / Great Society era. Here are two charts from Peter Turchin's work here and here on political dynamics, the first showing inequality and well-being (things like real wages, health, and marriage), and the second showing political stress and well-being:
Just because Bernie himself and his followers want the New Deal as their model for when America was ever great before, does not mean that's what they'll be able to deliver when they start re-shaping society. Whatever constrained the Lincoln era to continue some of the corrosive aspects of the Jacksonian era, will probably constrain the Bernie era to continue these same corrosive aspects of the Reaganite era.
I don't see the Bernie people closing the floodgates of immigration that the Reaganites opened, the two parties acting on a largely bipartisan basis, the rise of civic organizations like we saw during the Progressive and New Deal eras -- since there is barely the seed of such groups right now, on the cusp of the Bernie era -- the imposition of all sorts of controls over business, a strong central bank that will keep the finance sector from inflating and then popping one bubble after another, or narrowing inequality between the rich and poor.
Why? Because the underlying causes of these problems were not addressed by the Lincoln realignment -- it was primarily a shift in power from one group of hyper-competitive elites to another. That did undoubtedly bring about good things, since the elites in the former dominant party were the worst -- dependent on slave labor for their plantations, mindless expansion for military elites, and low tariffs and no infrastructure.
Shifting power to a different bloc of hyper-competitive elites -- like the manufacturing magnates -- meant the dominant coalition now had no material interest in slavery, low tariffs, minimal infrastructure, or militarist expansion. But that simply meant that the trend in inequality would continue widening, only replacing the plantation owners of the South with the manufacturing Robber Barons of the North. These Robber Barons didn't mind hordes of cheap labor immigrants flooding our shores, which meant the factory owners didn't have to pay as much in wages. And why would the Robber Barons make bipartisan peace with the plantation owners, after all the hell they had caused just yesterday?
What are the underlying causes that must be addressed? Turchin has another good summary of the structural-demographic model of societal instability, where three major factors cause instability to rise (and their reverse, to fall):
1. Over-supply of labor below the elite level, whether by soaring numbers of aspiring workers or vanishing jobs to meet that supply.
2. Over-production of elites (including aspiring elites), and their rising competitiveness with one another.
3. Deteriorating health of the state, especially its fiscal health.
Read his summary for how these all interact with each other, and how they combine to influence societal instability.
Here, the main point to make is that most of the people today who would be re-shaping society under a Bernie realignment are not working to do much about these factors. Indeed, if you brought them up explicitly, the Bernie leaders would probably say what's the big deal? That strongly suggests that these negative trends will continue even under an era whose dominant coalition is a Bernie style group.
(I'm distinguishing Bernie leaders from Bernie voters, who are more likely to support reversing these negative trends, but who won't have much power to re-shape society.)
First, they say little about the role of immigration in causing a drastic spike in the supply of labor overnight at the sub-elite level of workers. That could not happen through endogenous demographic forces, such as a baby boom in fertility among natives. They insist on never reducing immigration, when asked directly about it.
On the other side of the standard-of-living equation, they say little about "bringing good jobs back" to this country. Little of the vanishing jobs story has to do with automation -- maybe at some point in the future, but the immiseration of working people during the Reagan era has mainly been caused by off-shoring decent jobs to cheap labor colonies like China, Mexico, and India. The Bernie people say very little about industrial policy, other than they don't want further good jobs to leave through additional free trade deals.
Are they proposing draconian punishments on greedy anti-American corporations, unless they de-industrialize the cheap labor colonies and re-industrialize America? Not really, so good jobs will probably not come back even under the Bernie era.
So there will be little progress on fighting cheap labor policies -- hence their far more prevalent emphasis on a more generous welfare state, to ameliorate the pain dealt by the greedy corporate bosses, rather than to force them to provide workers with deservedly high-paying jobs in the first place.
Second, if anything the Bernie people are ratcheting up the over-production of elites by calling for debt-free college tuition, since going to college is the primary channel by which aspiring elite members try to gain access to the upper stratum.
That will send the higher ed bubble into overdrive, turn everyone into an aspiring elite member with an entitled attitude and lifestyle, and place even more of the population on the "not working-class" side of the class war. Bubble degree mills don't provide anything of value in skills or training, so again their focus is on providing a more generous welfare state to soften the landing of people who just figured out that getting a degree per se doesn't get you into the elite stratum.
To her credit, Ocasio-Cortez does make sure to qualify her endorsement of the "debt-free college" talking point by adding, "or trade school" -- something actually worth a damn, not part of the higher ed bubble, and not an intensification of status-striving elite wannabes. That would actually be a recognition that we have to stop goading everyone into striving to join the elites, and take up something useful and humble instead -- and as an added benefit, something that will lead to an actual job paying actual money!
Reversing the over-production of elites requires popping the higher ed bubble once and for all, letting 10-15% go to college (cheaply by nature, with a dramatic drop-off in the demand for college admissions), and everyone else getting cheap or free training through vocational classes in high school, trade school, apprenticeships, etc.
Apart from the career angle to elite status, most of the Bernie people don't seem interested in reversing the trend toward urban residence in only the most rarefied of metro areas. They are embarrassed about living in Milwaukee or Detroit -- major metros, but not major enough -- and must transplant themselves to Seattle or New York. This falls under lifestyle striving and persona striving -- you're just too cool to have the stink of Milwaukee rubbing off on you, and can only be cleansed as your awesomeness deserves to be in Brooklyn. Courtier living is no different just because it comes in a hipster flavor.
To reverse hyper-competitiveness, people need to stay where their roots are, or re-populate small towns rather than feed the Moloch of major metros.
And third, the Bernie people seem openly dismissive of the national debt being a problem -- $20 trillion, $100 trillion, who cares? That's just how things are paid for -- we're simply going to re-direct that debt-fueled flow of goodies away from the Reaganite welfare addicts like the military, and toward Bernie patronage recipients like grad students working at Starbucks who can't afford to live in Williamsburg without some kind of help.
I'm a little more hopeful on this one, since the Bernie coalition will still have the finance sector as its senior member, just like today's Democrats, and they are heavily interested in keeping the debt down. If it explodes, then their financial assets, mostly denominated in US dollars, become worthless (either through inflation, or debt default destroying trust in the dollar). And their elite schemes are not as costly as the military, and actually have some chance rather than no chance of providing a return on the investment (all our foreign military adventures are pure wastes of money, with no loot, booty, or spoils to bring back).
And I'm not talking about how Medicare for All would require debt to finance it -- it's still cheaper than the way we do it now. I mean their overall attitude that worrying about the debt is one of those corporate Republican attitudes -- when it obviously is not, as proven by the Reaganites exploding the debt through the roof for 40 years, reversing the period of stable debt under the New Deal Democrats (done at the behest of the banks who controlled that coalition).
I don't see this as a gloom and doom outlook on the Bernie era that will follow the upcoming civil breakdown. It's just a realistic assessment of how political and economic dynamics work, as shown throughout history, including our own. We are not at the phase that immediately precedes a New Deal kind of phase, so it's going to take us longer to get there than people are hoping for -- but it doesn't mean we'll never get there, that our nation is done for, etc.
It just means buckle up for a longer haul than you were expecting from the thought of reversing history one era backward, when cycles only move forward. If you've fallen from a recent peak, you just have to push through the upcoming nadir to start rising up the next summit as fast and as painlessly as possible.