Across the sprawling highways and quiet suburban streets of America, a disturbing phenomenon has taken hold. Perhaps you have noticed it yourself. Perhaps, more troublingly, you are a perpetrator. It’s somewhat sneaky, but you can see it if you know where to look: There is a shockingly high correlation between owning a Bernie Sanders bumper sticker and having an embarrassingly messy car.
Lest you scoff, look for yourself. Next time you see a car sporting a Bernie Sanders sticker, there’s a good chance that the inside of the car will look like a rabid wildebeest stampede plowed through a half-hearted garage sale held in that iconic and creepy abandoned amusement park still standing, albeit somewhat creakily, deep in the heart of Chernobyl.
At this point, if you have both a tidy car and a Bernie Sanders bumper sticker, you might be feeling a bit indignant, and understandably so. All I can say is, congratulations! You should feel proud, though I do encourage you to chide any of your messy socialist friends. After all, they are not only making you look bad. They are also illustrating one of the most powerful critiques of socialism — if a society expects everyone else to take care of everything, few will take care of anything — while also giving those of us on the libertarian-leaning end of the spectrum minor panic attacks about the perils of U.K.-style nationalized health care and the overall tragedy of the commons.
I should clarify that I am not talking about junky cars, or old struggling cars, or cars that have been dinged up and need repairs. Such conditions are understandable if you can’t afford to fix them. No, no: I am talking about perfectly nice cars — Subarus or Volvos or Priuses or Leafs — with interiors that look like a cartoon crime scene. Cars whose mess is so overwhelming that you don’t have to be a snoop, nosily peering into windows in the parking lot, to notice it. It’s a level of mess that could cheerfully break through brick walls, much like the hopped-up Kool-Aid Man of yore.
Here are things I have seen in cars wearing Bernie Sanders stickers: broken dog kennels, piles of hangers dangling with dry-cleaner plastic wrap, enough granola-bar wrappers to fuel a walk down the entire Appalachian trail, empty two-liter soda bottles, dirty Kleenex piles, half-eaten sandwiches, and one scornfully unopened copy of What Happened by Hillary Clinton. Often these things are all mixed together, creating a terrifying mélange of slack. People, this is really not that hard: There are trash and recycling receptacles all around!
I admit that my findings are not scientific. They are based on personal observation. With this in mind, for you sticklers out there, I spoke with two automobile experts about this troubling phenomenon.
The first, Twitter sensation and “freelance vehicular anthropologist” David “Iowahawk” Burge — you can follow him at @iowahawkblog, where he serves as one of the rare shining lights in that dark and unforgiving social-media jungle — pointed me to the “old left/right libertarian/authoritarian graph.” This framework argues that those on the left-authoritarian side are more likely to drive a Prius; those on the right-authoritarian side are partial to Ford F-350s. Right-libertarians like me should apparently be driving “a Tesla, a McLaren P1, or a ’33 Huppmobile rat rod,” which is troubling, given that I have no idea what a ’33 Huppmobile rat rod even is.
It’s a level of mess that could cheerfully break through brick walls, much like the hopped-up Kool-Aid Man of yore.
This is backed up by numerous studies, by the way: Republicans are more likely to drive pickup trucks and Mustangs and convertibles, while Democrats lean more toward hatchbacks and imports and eco-cars. When it comes to the striking correlation between Bernie Sanders stickers and messy cars, Burge concurs with my thesis: “It’s a sincere expression of lack of respect for private property, even their own.” He also went on to explain the time I saw a sad-looking caged bird in the back of one such car — “Come on, their cats have to eat something” — and astutely noted that bags of cat litter often make up a key ingredient in the aforementioned backseat mélange of slack.
The second expert I consulted, Neal Pollack, a novelist, humor writer, and reluctant car journalist, is personally lukewarm on the cars-are-linked-to-political affiliation theory: “Most people, believe it or not, have little to no political affiliation. They drive cars because they have no other way to get to work.” But what of the seeming correlation between having a faded Bernie Sanders sticker and a mortifyingly messy car? “In a true socialist future,” he told me, “we’d all take the electric tram to work, or at least to pick up our Universal Basic Income check. Sanders supporters are just anticipating that day.”
By jove! Of course!
Suddenly, it all makes sense.