As you think back to last night’s debate, imagine for a moment that its lineup of candidates, instead of being half the 2020 Democratic roster, had instead been its entirety.

Imagine a former vice president, a former prosecutor, a former cabinet member, a governor, several members of Congress, and the obligatory novelty candidate. Virtually the entire field is funded by corporate money, from Wall Street to big pharma, as they tout various progressive half-measures that most of them plan on swiftly abandoning should they win the nomination or, eventually, the presidency. Almost all are centrists with a history of coddling power and punishing the marginalized, who have suddenly turned left for the primaries, and will likely turn right back around once the nomination is sewn up. Each attacks the other’s record knowing full well they share similar flaws and unsavory histories that will in turn be exposed, but with the understanding that this commonality means voters ultimately have nowhere to go. A lonely, flawed progressive or two serves as the voice of the party’s grassroots, but with their polling in the doldrums, they are largely ignored and will go nowhere.

In other words, last night served as a peek into an alternate timeline, one in which Bernie Sanders never ran for president in 2016 and nothing really changed in the Democratic Party; a world in which the party remained exclusively a vehicle for staid, corporate-funded liberalism, and the broad Left was forced yet again to choose from a menu of unsatisfying options that, for the most part, don’t share their values or vision for the world. […]