I was an overnight camp counselor for six summers. Does that make me an expert in conflict resolution? Not really; diffusing the sorts of political throwdowns between supporters of Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders is far more difficult than getting 13-year-old boys to operate under a code of mutual respect and community responsibility.
Or is it? Are they not similar situations? What I’ve seen out of the Democratic primary has been a complete degradation of respect between the two camps. Both sides have gone increasingly negative (remember the good old days when Bernie refused to go after Hillary’s emails? that was adorable). Hillary’s supporters characterize “Bernie Bros” as the worst of Reddit personified—sexist buffoons who rest on white male privilege and think that excising money from politics and breaking up big banks is some sort of cure-all salvo. Bernie’s legions say Hillary fans are blind to the truth that our democracy is totally fucked and that the corrupt, establishment dog Clinton would keep it that way. This fight permeated Paste’s recently, as my colleague Walker Bragman took to his keyboard to pen a response to Wonkette’s fierce putdown of a piece he wrote in Salon. The crux of their dispute is a matter of priorities. Bragman writes:
“Anyone who criticizes ‘Bernie Or Bust’ as a privileged position, is essentially making the argument that those issues can wait — that our broken democracy is a nebulous idea, and there are immediate problems we must deal with. I disagree with that position.”
As someone who cast an anti-Trump, anti-Cruz vote in the Illinois primary (look how that turned out), I’ve maintained a safe distance from the Hillary-Bernie fracas, not fully investing in either side but confident that either would be superior to Donald Trump. It pains me to see progressive supporters of the two major-party alternatives to America’s best salesman going at each other’s throats so viciously when, in reality, they’re on the same side—that of greater equality. What’s missing is an attempt to see the world through a different lens.
Quite simply, a white male cannot possibly be affected the same way as a female by Trump’s blatant misogyny. A white person can’t possibly feel the same fear as a Hispanic or Muslim person when Donald Trump “celebrates” Cinco de Mayo or supports a national registry for an entire religious group. For the people who have been hurt the most by Trump’s rhetoric and stand to be hurt most by his policies, he is an unacceptable choice for president, and to say otherwise, even with the hope that a failed Trump administration would bring about wholesale progressive change in 2020 or the longer-term future, is to demonstrate a considerable lack of empathy.
Though she’s by no means a progressive, Hillary Clinton is measurably more liberal than Donald Trump on every single social issue in this election, and her presidency would be far more likely than Trump’s to take steps toward such progressive goals as abortion rights, equality opportunity for women, minorities and the LGBT community, and a sensible immigration policy. Not only would President Trump either neglect or work against these goals; his supporters, validated by his rise to the White House, would be emboldened to go about making the country less safe for those he’s attacked along the way. Other Republican candidates might have shared his views on these social issues, but none of them had such a rowdy base.
“Bernie or Bust” advocates need to realize that to Clinton supporters, they appear willing to die on the cross of economic issues rather than prevent Donald Trump from ruining millions of lives with potentially disastrous domestic and foreign policy.
Conversely, though, Hillary’s fans must at least acknowledge the main argument Sanders’ supporters have made against their candidate: that she’s representative of what they consider to be a broken political establishment. Funded by super PACs and wholly backed by the Democratic Party, Clinton has made no effort to hide her status as a Washington insider—in fact, she’s trumpeted it as experience that will allow her, unlike Sanders, to get things done. But it’s the way that “getting things done” works that irks economic progressives. They’re bothered by the 1% growing richer while wages and middle class income stagnate; they’re bothered by crushing student loan debt and a job market that isn’t terribly favorable to recent college grads (Sanders’ core constituency); and above all, they’re bothered by Hillary Clinton’s apparent alliance with big money and special interests, which will deny them a significant voice in governing the country and addressing what they see as vital economic and political concerns.
These concerns, as Bragman correctly states, affect everyone, but voting, as with all decision-making, is a terribly subjective endeavor, and Bernie Sanders’ voters subjectively find the marriage of politics and finance abhorrent because it affects them the more so than any other issue. While there are doubtless some sexist Bernie supporters, it’s far more likely that the majority are merely prioritizing what they see as the bigger, more all-encompassing evil. Their concerns shouldn’t be dismissed as selfish any more than any other voters’, because at the end of the day, we all decide in our own self-interest—the only differences are what we each consider to constitute “self” and “interest.”
So we appear to be at an impasse. Hillary’s supporters think Bernie’s are, at best, misguided and, at worst, privileged assholes; Bernie’s supporters think Hillary’s are missing the point that greater economic equality and the removal of money from politics would help everyone, and that Clinton won’t bring this about. Meanwhile, Donald Trump hungrily watching the growing vitriol of this divide and encourages its deepening. He’s already playing up the systemic unfairness with which Bernie has dealt and trying to use it to attract Sanders supporters or, at the very least, to get them to stay home on Election Day. If the general election pits Trump against a highly unlikable Clinton and his strategy regarding Bernie supporters works to keep turnout down, he could win. And the idea of a volatile, mercurial, bigoted reality TV star running this country—representing it in world affairs, possessing the power to start wars, bringing our worst impulses out of the shadows—should scare everyone.
That’s why I’m proposing a compromise strategy, and it begins with an assertion that Bernie-or-Busters will hate: Hillary Clinton is objectively better than Donald Trump, and Bernie’s supporters should cautiously rally behind her in November while continuing to bolster their preferred candidate, his ideals, and his coffers. The worst possible outcome of this strategy is that Clinton is indicted before the election, but that nightmare scenario can be mitigated if Sanders keeps his engine idling and ready to go; it’s unprecedented, but it seems as though a party could replace its presidential nominee after the convention should special circumstances arise. If that were to happen, Sanders could slide back into the race, and suddenly Trump would have to run against a candidate he will have been praising for the past several months, a candidate who polls incredibly well against him.
The far more likely outcome of my proposal, though, is that Hillary Clinton rides a broad coalition of progressives, mainstream Democrats, and centrist, fiscally conservative Republicans into the Oval Office. For the short term, the potentially existential threats against Hispanics and Muslim-Americans are allayed, and the social progressive agenda can continue to move forward. But the real key to this compromise comes after Clinton’s inauguration: economic progressives must keep up the momentum they’ve built in this election cycle. Clearly, their anti-establishment points are being heard—in fact, Trump and Bernie supporters represent two sides of the same, angry coin—and the Democratic Party, if it wishes to consolidate power, will have to bring them into the fold.
That starts at the Democratic National Convention, where progressives need to have a loud voice in the crafting of the party’s platform, leveraging their numbers and sizable influence. It continues in the general election, when, in addition to voting for Hillary, progressives need to do all they can to wrest control of both the House and the Senate from Republican hands so that FDR-type change is even possible (there’s no chance the New Deal would’ve happened if the Democrats didn’t control Congress and the White House). And if the policies that progressives want to see don’t materialize over the course of Clinton’s first term, it crescendoes into a revolution in 2020—in the form of a primary challenge to the incumbent Hillary.
Would, say, an Elizabeth Warren-led uprising weaken the Democratic Party? Probably. But it also wouldn’t hand the presidency to Donald Trump, who probably can’t replicate his unbelievable 2016 campaign. And the Republican Party, at least on a national level, seems unlikely to recover quickly enough from this year’s fiasco to pose a significant threat, particularly as the non-white population of America continues to grow.
If there’s one positive thing to glean from the 2016 presidential election, it’s that large swaths of the American electorate have displayed real passion for their preferred policies and candidates. Passion is vital to a robust political culture, but unchecked, it can lead to some nasty results. Here’s hoping that cooler heads prevail on the Democratic side of the equation, social and economic progressives realize their goals are not mutually exclusive, and the country doesn’t fall into the hands of its most prominent narcissist.