The presidential “race” in America has turned into something that has been brewing for decades and is finally coming to a head. But it’s not just the Republican Party that is crumbling under the weight of its own shifts to the right and its years-long stoking the flames of discontent and anger.
The Democratic Party has also been wildly divided this election cycle and age-old resentments and indignations are surfacing and the vitriol surrounding it is immense. Which isn’t to say that the anger isn’t justified. It is. On all sides, if you ask me. It’s what we do with that anger, that outrage, that will define our future.
We’ve seen the anger and discontent on the Republican side play out in the form of racism, homophobia, xenophobia, fascism/intolerance, and misogyny. This is, in my opinion, a wildly misdirected and highly manipulated response. But the emotions that lie at the base of it – the social, cultural, and political disaffection – isn’t imaginary. But where the powers-that-be point their fingers and exclaim “It’s their fault!” is. That kind of manipulation has been with us since the dawn of recorded history. From Aaron using fear and distrust to convince the Israelites to embrace false idols and reject Moses at the base of Mt. Sinai, to the Salem Witch Hunts to Adolph Hitler to Joe McCarthy to the age-old gross manipulation by entire governments and political and religious parties across the globe that so effectively and efficiently turn neighbor against neighbor.
We certainly see it in men like Donald Trump and Ted Cruz.They are historic cautionary tales, the reality of which is recognized by some and ignored by others.
Many on the left watch this take place and wonder how it can happen. Yet again. We see entire ethnic, sexual, gender, and religious groups ostracized, condemned and held accountable for all that is wrong in our lives, in our country. And while there are always negative examples to be found in any group or school of thought, the rage directed at entire groups is one that not only prolongs that pain and damage that incited the discontent and fury in the first place, but adds even more victims to an already seemingly-endless list.
But this behavior isn’t relegated to today’s Republican or otherwise conservative parties. Those of us on the left are equally susceptible. The separation of liberal ideas, ideals, and the candidates who currently represent those, has uncovered a divide that has been there for decades. This is not a new creation, despite desperate cries for “unity” and the rude awakening many are experiencing. Like the truth of the Israelites at the base of Mt. Sinai, we were never “united.” There have always been different schools of thought within the community. Moses’ disappearance didn’t create the divide, it only created the situation for that divide to be exploited.
Hillary Clinton has devoted her life to politics. For many, her politics reflect what they believe, what they feel is right. But there is something else at work here alongside those beliefs and, in some instances, in place of those beliefs. Most any liberal American and probably most-conservative Americans as well recognize and believe that a woman President of the United States is long overdue. Embarrassingly so for a country that deems itself an “advanced” nation. Hillary Clinton’s nomination is so close we can taste it. This dream, this potential reality – for a country steeped in a history of sexism and misogyny and the continued discriminatory treatment of women in all forms – is monumental. And with it will come a wave of emotions and reactions, some that we can foresee and others we cannot. It’s uncharted territory for us, as well as a right of passage.
We watched as the induction of the first African-American President brought our country’s long-standing racism – both individual and institutionalized – to the forefront. It didn’t create that racism, it exposed it. And with that exposure came not only acts of fear-based violence and rage, but also active movements for change. In both directions! The end result, I believe, will be growth for us as a country. It won’t be immediate, but it is, I believe, inevitable. I just hope our nation won’t have to tumble down the same rabbit hole Germany did before it can come out the other side and start to genuinely heal. As Americans, we are at a crossroads and there are choices to make. And emotions to navigate.
As someone who identifies as a Bernie Sanders supporter in this current election cycle, I’d like to offer an experience and point of view that doesn’t often make national headlines. And I don’t write any of this in the hope of changing anyone’s mind. My only desire is to offer context. To try and create an understanding within our disagreements. It’s true we see many things differently, but we are also sharing similar experiences, even if we’re loathe to admit or recognize it.
I have watched, both curious and unsettled, at the narratives that are being spun and embraced. Not just by the news media or the “fringe,” but by otherwise caring, empathetic, and intelligent friends and family. As I cautiously peruse Facebook or watch the news on TV or read newspapers or have conversations at parties, get-togethers, and gatherings, I find myself confronted regularly by a wave of extreme intolerance, hateful accusations, and wild misinformation. Now understand, those things are coming from all sides, but as a Bernie-supporter, I’m getting an inordinate amount of it from Hillary-supporters. Which I know might seem weird or ironic to Hillary-supporters reading this as this is exactly the picture that is being painted of and the accusations being made by the media about Bernie Sanders-supporters or, as many news outlets would prefer you refer to them as, “Bernie Bros.”
Now, if you’re someone who likes to use that term when referring to Bernie-supporters, please understand that “Bernie Bros” is a direct form of gender-shaming. And news outlets – particularly openly pro-Hillary ones like CNN (See CNN Just Got Called Out for Manipulating Bernie Sanders’ NY Daily News Interview and Why didn’t CNN’s international arm air its own documentary on Bahrain’s Arab Spring repression?) will make sure that term defines the entire movement until the public at large can no longer see much of a difference between Bernie-supporters and Donald Trump-supporters. There is a fear-mongering happening. Openly and without shame and in exactly the same fashion that stories and images of Occupy Wall Street or Black Lives Matter or the Ferguson Protests can and have been twisted by those for whom those movements are threatening, whether financial or cultural. One does not have to look far online and elsewhere to find Hillary-supporters engaging in unapologetic and vitriolic bashing and ugly narrative vilification and perpetuating the “fear-rhetoric” about Bernie-supporters, without any sense of irony when they claim that Bernie-supporters are largely engaged in “vitriolic bashing” and “ugly narrative vilification” and perpetuating the “fear-rhetoric” about Hillary Clinton. All this before they then compare Bernie supporters to Trump supporters, thus fulfilling the desired media theme.
I recognize that the negativity many Hillary-supporters are feeling from Bernie-supporters is oftentimes very real. But if you were to stand on the other side of that aisle, you would be experiencing exactly the same thing from far too many Hillary-supporters. So what’s the difference?
As Glenn Greenwald observed in his article in The Intercept:
“To put it simply: if you really think that Sanders supporters are particularly abusive online, that says a great deal about which candidate you want to win, and nothing about Sanders supporters. If you spend your time praising Clinton and/or criticizing Sanders, of course you personally will experience more anger and vitriol from Sanders supporters than Clinton supporters.
“Conversely, if you spend your time praising Sanders, you will experience far more anger and vitriol from Clinton supporters. If you spend your time criticizing Trump, you’ll think no faction is more abusive than Trump supporters. If you’re an Obama critic, you’ll conclude that his army of devoted worshippers is uniquely toxic. And if you opine that the original Star Trek series is overrated, you’ll be able to write a column about the supreme dark side of nerds, armed with numerous horrifying examples.
“Hillary Clinton is the establishment candidate. Therefore, she has far more supporters with loud, influential media platforms than her insurgent, socialist challenger. Therefore, the people with the loudest media platforms experience lots of anger and abuse from Sanders supporters and none from Clinton supporters; why would devoted media cheerleaders of the Clinton campaign experience abuse from Clinton supporters? They wouldn’t, and they don’t. Therefore, venerating their self-centered experience as some generalized trend, they announce that Sanders supporters are uniquely abusive: because that’s what they, as die-hard Clinton media supporters, personally experience. This “Bernie Bro” narrative says a great deal about which candidate is supported by the most established journalists and says nothing unique about the character of the Sanders campaign or his supporters.
“Do pro-Clinton journalists really believe that Sanders-supporting women, or LGBTs, or people of color, are exempt from this online abuse from Clinton supporters, that this only happens to people who support Clinton? (In 2008, Krugman used the same tactic on behalf of the Clinton campaign by claiming that Obama supporters were particularly venomous and cult-like).
“As I documented last week, it is hard to overstate how identical is the script being used by American media elites against Sanders when compared to the one used by the British media elite last year to demonize Jeremy Corbyn and his supporters. This exact media theme was constantly used against Corbyn: that his supporters were uniquely abusive, vitriolic, and misogynistic. That’s because the British media almost unanimously hated Corbyn and monomaniacally devoted themselves to his defeat: So of course they never experienced abuse from supporters of his opponents but only from supporters of Corbyn. And from that personal experience, they also claimed that Corbyn supporters were uniquely misbehaved, and then turned it into such a media narrative that the Corbyn campaign finally was forced to ask for better behavior from his supporters.”
In the same way one might open their Facebook newsfeed and find themselves confronted by what they consider “Hillary-bashing” posts, my newsfeed feels like an endless torrent of anti-Bernie and anti-Bernie-supporters-directed hostility and name-calling. I watch as an entire belief system is systematically reduced to a reviled hindrance that is fiercely promoted by a news media that consistently prints headlines like this recent New York Times article: Bernie Sanders, Eyeing Convention, Willing to Harm Hillary Clinton in the Homestretch.
Now if you feel that headline is true, I ask that you look even more closely at the narrative that is being spun throughout every hour of every day. As Glenn Greenwald pointed out above, this script isn’t a new one. But it is an effective one and it fosters not only rage (on both sides), but works diligently to make sure both sides stay on the offensive and rarely, if ever, come to empathize or truly understand one another.
I now see daily on Facebook and other social media outlets Bernie-supporters commenting in very polite, thoughtful, and well-articulated manners in response to equally thoughtful posts by Hillary-supporters. But all too often when the issues themselves are simply challenged, responses like “I’m sick of all the Bernie-hate” or “Sorry you have to withstand the torrent of backlash” arise. It has gotten to the point where any disagreement or challenge is viewed as an attack or termed “bashing.”
But you probably know what this feels like. You may have felt it when Obama was attacked and your beliefs and desires and needs after 8 years of barely surviving the Bush Administration were shunned and mocked. When your thoughts and beliefs were immediately dismissed as just being the blindness of another “bleeding-heart Liberal” or another “Obama lunatic.” You probably feel it now every time you read a headline that asks Hillary to step down and get out of Bernie Sanders’ way or claims that you are nothing more than a corporate pawn being led astray and too afraid of change to do or recognize what’s right.
It’s a gross simplification and it does a genuine disservice to everyone on all sides. It gives us license to not actually have to listen. Or to question ourselves. Yes, there may be grains of truth in there, but the spin is deliberate and enacted with a fierce skill. There is – as in all ideology, political and otherwise – a faction of people who will misdirect their outrage and find others to embrace that misdirection with them. What I’m saying is that this is rampant on ALL sides. But what is happening in the news and in social media is an active attempt to create such discontent, such resentment against not just Bernie Sanders but those who share his values and approach, that they are creating an actual “fear” of Bernie-supporters. Fear of violence, fear of mistreatment and, with calculated indignity, fear of a renewed and open resentment and hatred of women.
Even though over half of Bernie-supporters are women.
Which brings me to a very particular experience I’ve had on more than one occasion. I have found myself on the receiving end of Hillary-supporters telling me outright that I have nothing to lose in this election cycle because I am a white male. That I am privileged. I have been told that if I do not vote for Hillary in the general, that I am actively spitting in the face of women everywhere and that friendships will be terminated.
Yes, as a white male in our society I am privileged. But I have fought very hard and continue to fight to eradicate that privilege. For me, that is one part of why I support Bernie Sanders. For me, voting for a woman because she is a woman does not make me an automatic advocate of women or women’s rights. If Carly Fiorina were the only woman in the race, I daresay my liberal friends would not be accusing me of male privilege or misogynistic tendencies if I did not vote for her. And if Barack Obama had not been our nation’s first black president and, instead, Ben Carson were up for that historic honor, few liberal-minded people would have tagged me as racist or fearful of black equality if I chose not to vote for him.
And yet, in almost every political conversation with Hillary-supporters, I find myself being accused of truly horrific and deeply insulting actions and motivations. Both my personal integrity and my core values seem to have become acceptable targets. Yet in almost all instances, my girlfriend – who is even farther to the left than I am and who, unlike me, isn’t undecided about her general election vote and knew ages ago that she would never vote for Hillary – is left unscathed. Even when she speaks up, demands attention and proclaims outright in mid-conversation that she will never vote for Hillary and that she is even more “guilty” of everything I am being accused of, each and every person has actively found a way to ignore that reality or to justify it in some act of truly impressive political and social contortionism, so that their attack can refocus on the Bernie-supporting male in the room.
When I point this out, this gender-devaluing and blaming, I am often told some variation of “Well, now you know how it feels.” Is this the answer? The solution? Is this how we will choose to eradicate inequality? Is this how we want to focus the outrage, the resentment and the anger surrounding this country’s long history of sexism and racism? By becoming those we despise? By embracing vengeance and acts of humiliation? By pointing fingers and creating a “common enemy?” I recognize that this is inevitable to some degree. But we all have choices to make and with those choices comes responsibility.
Again, to be clear, I am not accusing Hillary-supporters of engaging in anything more offensive or destructive than any other group. What I am saying is that, depending on which side you are on, your view is skewed and there are outlets out there working quite diligently to use that perspective to isolate and diminish. On ALL sides. But the machine to do this is MUCH stronger behind Hillary (media, big money, and the DNC itself) and so the narrative against Sanders-supporters becomes a minority under attack. And that feeling of helplessness results in the desire to be even stronger and more vocal. Just as the threat of having to wait yet again to see a woman president is almost unbearable. Voices rise up, as do emotions.
A regular CNN contributor and former Special Advisor for Green Jobs for President Barack Obama, Van Jones, recently and honestly pointed out this about DNC Chair, Debbie Wasserman Schultz, following the personal and political drama that unfolded at the Nevada Caucus:
“If you’re gonna come out, you’re gonna talk about violence, and you’re the DNC chair, you’ve gotta be fair about it. I think she made it worse. We need to bring these people together — that did not happen.
“I don’t think that that was wise for her to do that. First of all, Bernie did say in his statement that he was against the violence. Also, if you want to talk about violence, only one person’s been arrested; it was a Hillary Clinton supporter, Wendell Pierce, arrested for assaulting a Sanders supporter.
“Debbie, who should be the umpire, who should be the marriage counselor is coming in harder for Hillary Clinton than she is for herself.”
“That’s malpractice. I wish Reince Priebus was my party chair. He did a better job of handling the Trump situation than I’ve seen my party chair handle this situation. I’m ashamed to say that.”
It’s nice to see that not all CNN pundits are towing the party line at the expense of truth or fairness. Nothing is ever black or white.
On the topic of fair and open-minded Hillary supporters, I do recognize that it is immensely difficult for those who truly see Hillary as a great candidate to understand the level of distrust she engenders in some and how any liberal-minded individual could actually refuse to vote for her. Especially against a Donald Trump! So excuses are sought in an attempt to make sense of it. It’s sexism or the “fringe” acting out or, as many like to frame it, the ignorance of youth. Which of course completely disregards the millions of post-40 Bernie supporters, but certainly serves as a relatively comfortable explanation. What this doesn’t allow for is the possibility that the beliefs of most Bernie-supporters may also be based in reason, in an understanding of the issues, and in a knowledge and education of history, both political and cultural. And that not all young people are naive, uninformed, or easily misguided. I have experienced a frightening percentage of my 50-ish-year old peers who would fit snugly into that category. Don’t reserve it for our youth. That’s far too easy.
Yes, there is ignorance on all sides and in all age groups. From my side of the “aisle,” far too often when I’ve tried to engage a Hillary-supporting friend over actual political and cultural issues, the conversation all-too-quickly finds its way to “Well, I think it’s way past time we had a woman president. Not that that is the only reason to vote for her.” But for some out there, it boils down to being exactly that. Obviously that doesn’t equate to most Hillary-supporters not being knowledgeable about the issues and only caring about having a woman president, but how easy it would be, based on my personal experience in addition to the narratives floating around out there, for me to embrace that as the truth.
We all have needs and desires and we are all susceptible to gravitating toward the narratives and information that best justifies those desires. But if we allow those narratives to eclipse our ability to empathize or to fight our own worst reactive tendencies, then we all lose. And right now, there is a big, well-funded machine behind Hillary Clinton whose mission it is to sculpt that narrative, to put all its weight and money and expertise behind it. From the largest corporations who own the news media to the DNC itself whose very existence as they know it is being threatened. In the world of American politics, it doesn’t really get much bigger than this.
We talk of liberalism and the Democratic Party. We praise ourselves for being more progressive and more “open to reality and change” than our Republican cohorts. And while that may be true in many instances, it does not mean we are immune to having our fears and desires manipulated. Oftentimes, it is much easier to see the “other” than to look at oneself. Most Democrats can easily see how Ronald Reagan changed the Republican Party. We watch as he is praised by most Republicans as the father of contemporary conservative politics. Even though the party has continued to move so far to the right in the decades since Reagan’s presidency that, as many have noted, Reagan himself would not be nearly right-wing enough for today’s Republican Party.
When Reagan took office, there was a clear delineation in approach, ideals and policies that, for many Republicans, clearly did not represent their party as it had been for generations. Just as the Republican Party of Abraham Lincoln bears little-to-no political, social or economic resemblance to the Republican Party of today, despite their misplaced pride in calling Lincoln one of their own. It’s a complete denial of history. It’s a massive reddefinition of the Republican Party itself. And those who spoke out in opposition to this “new” Republican Party back in the 1980’s were quickly silenced or rendered obsolete, as it would be today with Reagan himself.
This is where it gets interesting. For many of us on the liberal side of that equation, the Clintons are our Ronald Reagan. The Democratic ideals set forth by Roosevelt and his policies and approach, both economic and social, were greatly undone by President Clinton who ushered in the new definition of the Democratic Party as neoliberalism. And while Hillary Clinton is not her husband, she very actively supports those neoliberal strategies. Which, for many, is not a bad thing. But for many others, most of whom believe with all their hearts that the Party has – like the Republicans post-Reagan – continued to move greatly to the right, it is a redefining of the Democratic Party that has almost completely lost sight of the definition of liberalism and progressive values that once defined it. Hillary Clinton represents for many not only a dismantling of policies that created and sustained the middle class and put in place absolutely vital-to-our-existence economic and corporate oversight, but a deeper immersion down a very destructive and – to use a tired term – “broken” road. And just because the Republican Party and their candidates are now even MORE destructive (and make no mistake, they are), that doesn’t mean that all those who oppose the contemporary Republican Party’s values and policies should and could unite. Hillary Clinton’s position today is more closely aligned with the conservative/Republican values and policy agendas of my youth than the Democratic Party I once admired.
Whether you share that sentiment or have a different take on it is not important. What’s important to acknowledge is that millions of Americans feel this way. Millions.
This means that, for many of us, there is more at stake than just undoing the negative repercussions of contemporary Republican obstructionism or keeping today’s Republicans from reaping more social and economic carnage. But in order to begin to at least understand what so deeply motivates Bernie-supporters, one must be willing to look beyond the common-goal-mantra repeated by folks like Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.):
“It’s good [for Sanders] to continue to raise the concerns that people have, but I think it ought to be in the context of, ‘This is the difference between the Democrats and Republicans in this race.'”
We know those differences. They are already crystal clear. This line of thinking actively keeps us from having the conversation that is MOST important to Bernie-supporters. For many, this mires us in focusing on what we don’t want instead of what we want. It may not be a conversation you feel is paramount at the moment; “There is a greater threat out there that requires immediate attention and it’s called the Republican Party.” But to begin to understand Bernie-supporters, one must be willing to approach our current situation from a slightly different perspective.
For us, the Great Recession – from which the middle class has yet to bounce back from – is a direct result of Clinton-era politics, the dismantling of Glass-Steagall, which Hillary Clinton not only to this day still supports and refuses to reinstate, but she is now parading Bill Clinton before us as her chosen economic supervisor “in charge of revitalizing the economy.” For many of us, that is an absolutely terrifying notion right up there with appointing a Wall Street vet as Treasury Secretary. The consequences of this are immense and paint a picture of the next eight years that keeps us spinning down the same rabbit hole we’ve been tumbling through for decades now. And if you believe that hole leads to a darkness we will eventually never be able to break free of, then it rises to the top of the list of decisive changes that need to be made in order to find daylight. In simple terms, the Democratic Party is tumbling down the same dark hole as the Republican Party, just not as quickly. For so many of us, the answer is not in pointing at and fighting the “other,” but in looking at the role we ourselves play in the bigger picture and how we are all active parts of a much larger narrative. Keeping Republicans at bay feels urgent and is far more tangible and the results far more immediately gratifying, but from another perspective, it prolongs a focus on why and how the Republican Party has gotten where it is and how much that reflects what we’ve been giving up as a nation, as a whole, Democrats and Republicans alike. If you step back, it’s not the state of the Republican Party we need to look at, it’s the state of America.
My desire is to see this country shift back to the progressive Democratic policies it once began to successfully enact, to a path we were once on, for a time, but have critically and discernibly and, perhaps in some cases, unconsciously strayed from. This isn’t “Let’s Make America Great Again,” it’s “Let’s Learn From Our Mistakes.” I want to find real ways to affect that change. Changes I believe are essential to the future of this country if we do not wish to crack under the weight of our own self-interests and egos as most other “great” nations before us have. Maybe we cannot outrun history. But if we are to evolve, we sure as hell have to try.
In the meantime, I suggest we all pay extremely close attention to the narratives that are being spun and how we are constantly being prodded to “punch down” instead of up. The differences between Sanders-supporters and Clinton-supporters are real. But the angry divide and the pointing of fingers and the vilification of the “other” will continue to set us back generations. And there are some who actively gain from that scenario, though they are a minority. Albeit a very powerful one.