There has been a surge in outbreaks of violence at Donald Trump rallies over the last few months; violence that in no small measure are being encouraged by the candidate himself. It has even been suggested that such incidents are being wholesale underwritten by the Trump campaign, up to and including now famous offers to cover his supporters’ legal fees if they are arrested and charged with assault. What these displays have done that is positive, however, if anything truly positive can come from a riot, is to provoke a wide national discussion about civility, or the lack of it, in the current presidential election cycle. But while Trump is pilloried in the national media for his supporters’ epileptic outbursts of rage, another type of violence has been going on for months unchecked and virtually unreported.
The crusade to elect Bernie Sanders the 45th President of the United States, and it is a crusade, has generated its own ranks of angry supporters engaging in vitriol which has often devolved into downright hate and abuse. It is not the streets or in his opponent’s campaign rallies that these zealots wander, but on the pages of Facebook, Twitter feeds and blog articles written on the premise that any attempt to stop Bernie Sanders is a useless, ill-fated, stupid and futile gesture. Hillary Clinton is a monster. This can be easily demonstrated even to the meanest observer by the fact that she gave paid speeches (that’s right…speeches) before Wall Street executives. She and her husband have a foundation. A foundation! Surely there can be no greater disqualifier to the nation’s highest office than being associated with a foundation. But there is. Worst of all, her campaign has money, lots of it, and it comes from just the worst sort of people. Nobody is quite sure who entirely, but the mere existence of a PAC to Sanders is damning enough.
These and other exhortations that in their totality sound eerily like passages from Quotations of Chairman Mao have made the Sanders campaign into a virtual caricature of itself. People have come to expect wide-eyed throngs at rallies for the candidate. What has been unexpected, the upset in Michigan and run of low delegate contests in the West notwithstanding is that Sanders is rapidly losing any hope of securing the nomination. National perceptions of Bernie Sanders, which translates into votes and the resultant delegate math, may at this stage have left his campaign hopelessly crippled, or more to the point mortally wounded. Like the ill-fated emperor in Julius Caesar, those who are the most steadfast and loyal, those who are closest to him, may be the very ones that wielded the daggers.
Back in July, I wrote a brief observation that garnered little attention which stated using no offensive terminology that I was just not feeling the Bernie Sanders mojo and I wasn’t. I’m still not and that is the fine point of it. To be a Bernie Sanders supporter is to be all about political revolution. It’s not about fixing or reforming Washington politics or ending the crippling gridlock that has plagued Congress for years. It’s not about compromise or bipartisanship. It’s about blowing up the system completely. It’s about approaching every issue that confronts this nation, from the environment to taxes, Middle East policy to guns, healthcare to energy, as a simple matter of income inequality. You aren’t even a Bernie Sanders supporter. You’re a believer. It is a movement that claims to be an honest, sincere and legitimate effort by Sanders to upend the system in Washington. But by the same token, every political candidate in every election, regardless of party or ideology, says that Washington is broken, corrupt beyond repair and needs to be ripped out like a moldy, old rug. So…you want to be President? Well, strange line of work you want to be going into, then.
I should like to state unequivocally that I wrote this long before his campaign and its accompanying hashtag became a national sensation on social media to propel the self-described democratic socialist to national prominence. It was clear at least to this observer that the entire Sanders campaign appeared to be little more than a figment of MSNBC’s fevered imagination. The classic, liberal Democratic candidate, with a curious and somewhat uncomfortable appeal almost exclusively to progressive, college educated white voters under 40, lay firmly in the fact that he wasn’t even a Democrat. Bernie Sanders had only become a Democrat in 2015, being an independent and a member of the old Liberty Union party prior to that. The move looked cynical. It appeared quite clear to almost everyone at the time that running as a Democrat was the only way he logically compete for the Presidency. How quickly we forget.
Of course, no discussion of Sanders’ quixotic campaign would be complete without noting the endless hashtag advocacy mentioned earlier that has become a hemorrhoid on the rear end of political discourse on social media. It is unbelievably irritating and nothing seems to relieve the “Berning Sensation” to coin an overused phrase. Virtually anything can be said, regardless of how outlandish or offensive, if one simply follows the statement with #FeelTheBern. It’s like Catholic indulgences in the Middle Ages. There is no sin that cannot be expunged with just a simple hashtag expressing the love and support you feel for your beloved candidate. You could put a picture of your child holding her new puppy or a statement wishing someone a speedy recovery after an appendectomy and invariably some moron would come along to post “F*** YOU! #FeelTheBern”.
A friend of mine recently described Bernie Sanders online media enthusiasts as “smug, entitled, clueless, and overall annoying”. Another friend showed me a screen print from a so-called “liberal chat room” demonstrating how she was subjected to interminable abuse from male Sanders supporters incensed at Clinton’s interruptions of the Revolutionary Leader at a televised debate, something permissible to him but never to the unrighteous. Even on her own Facebook page, my friend found herself on the receiving end of needless haranguing after posting an article from the blog Blue Nation Review that had the heretical temerity to question Sanders’ integrity. Any argument that was brought up to defend the author’s viewpoints or, heaven forbid, show any support for Hillary Clinton, was met with a barrage of insults and name-calling more suited to an elementary playground. One especially passive-aggressive Sanders supporter went so far as to dismiss any statement favoring Clinton as illogical and made only because my friend had “an emotional investment” in Clinton. Only by divorcing herself from emotions could she make a rational argument, which naturally would bring her around to Sanders. It was like listening to Spock with no Dr. McCoy to even him out.
On November 7, 2012 Rachel Maddow said: “…In this country, we have a two-party system in government. And the idea is supposed to be that the two sides both come up with ways to confront and fix the real problems facing our country. They both propose possible solutions to our real problems. And we debate between those possible solutions. And by the process of debate, we pick the best idea. That competition between good ideas from both sides about real problems in the real country should result in our country having better choices, better options, than if only one side is really working on the hard stuff.” This is the problem so many Sanders supporters fail to comprehend. There is one small obstruction to the glorious revolution that will reshape the future of America: the Republican Party. Like it or not, there is a firmly entrenched, well-funded and frankly rather numerous party that stands in solid opposition to everything both Democratic candidates want and stand for. For her part, Hillary Clinton, as unpopular as the notion may be with the progressive activist wing of her party, is keenly aware of that fact. Bernie Sanders, however, seems only keenly aware of Hillary Clinton.
This past January, in an installment of “The Last Word with Lawrence O’Donnell”, MSNBC asked for representatives to appear from both campaigns to discuss foreign policy. The Clinton campaign sent Christopher Hill, a lifelong diplomat who served as deputy Secretary of State, former US Ambassador to Iraq, Korea and Poland and is currently dean of the Korbel School of International Studies at the University of Denver. The Sanders campaign sent…nobody. Thom Hartmann, a progressive radio commentator, volunteered to offer his thoughts as a supporter. Does anybody see the problem here? Again, this is a cult of personality. The Bernie Sanders message is about domestic oligarchy and doesn’t concern itself with the intricacies, nuances and sheer complexity of American foreign policy. It’s just about War and Peace broadly. Occasionally it may drift to his opponent’s vote on the Iraq War in 2002 if he’s in a particularly feisty mood. But that’s really it. Fundamentally, the Sanders view on foreign policy is the same as his take on domestic issues: Are the rich or corporations involved? Then it’s not important.
Regardless of whether one believes in the ideas of his campaign or not, the question of judging Sanders as a candidate on the merits has become a dangerous game if one wants to tackle it online. There is genuine violence that occurs every day in the relative physical safety of social media. It is violence directed against Hillary Clinton and anyone who supports her that has been generated by many backers of Bernie Sanders. Although obviously not all Sanders supporters are like this, online cooler heads are very much in the minority. Primarily driven by young, college educated white men, the so-called “Berniebros” or “Berniebots” do not allow for the possibility of eventual party unity and that it a concern that must be discussed immediately, before Donald Trump locks up the Republican nomination. These fanatical Sanders supporters, who are legion on social media, are so caught up with the cult of personality that is his campaign (or crusade, or revolution, depending on your perspective), that they cannot conceive of an America that does not include a President Sanders after the election. The “Bernie or Bust” crowd from within the Sanders movement, sworn to vote for him or nobody, has enormous pitfalls inherent within it. As Bill Maher noted, “They’re revolting against the plutocracy. No, actually you’ll be helping elect a plutocrat who’s revolting.” It is, to use Trump’s own words, “a mess…a disaster” just waiting to happen.
The bile from these “Berniebots” is often directed straight at women and people of color. One begins to wonder if the Sanders campaign feels such people support Clinton because they are women or people of color and therefore are corporate trolls like she is who must be eradicated. There are strong racial overtones in this rhetoric that cannot be ignored. Statements such as “We are now moving out of the Deep South and into states more favorable to us” do not subtly imply that “us” are generally white and that is no way to build a coalition for victory in November. The “Berniebots” are approaching the election with all the enthusiasm and poor judgment of a fraternity keger and are beginning to rival Trump’s campaign for rancor. It is time for such people to be called out for what they are: mindless diehards who in their zeal may hand the White House to the GOP if their attacks continue to divide the Democrats. It is the Last Stand of White Male Privilege and it is coming from the left. Martin Luther King and Robert F. Kennedy died trying to stave off this kind of division almost 50 years ago. It’s very disheartening to think that perhaps they were spared in not being able to see the great progressive movement come off the rails like this.
Say what you will, but Hillary Clinton supporters do not even come close to this kind of anger. Any objective observer can go on Facebook and Twitter and see whose supporters are the loudest and most petulant. Remember that she has a campaign. Bernie Sanders has a movement, perhaps even a cult by the Oxford definition standard. Certainly he has a revolution and thus believers and followers. Any opponents to the cause are thus being inordinately harassed, harangued and abused in an attempt to purge heretics from the pure faith and it needs to stop. Bernie Sanders is a good, decent and thoughtful man who wants only the best for his country. He needs to tell the more fanatical elements of his movement to back off, relax and remember who the enemy really is.
Hint: it’s NOT Hillary Clinton. It’s a loudmouth carnival barker with a bad toupee who will be very, very dangerous if allowed to reach the White House.