I survived the presidency of George W. Bush. This shouldn’t be a surprise; in 2000, I was white, male, college-educated and working in a job with security and modest prospects for advancement independent of the ebbs and flows of the business cycle. I’m not saying I was invulnerable, but I was really far up on that particular food chain.
In other words, if things got to the point where someone like me was in trouble, then the world was probably too far gone ever to be saved, and all those Americans more vulnerable than I were well and truly screwed.
As it turns out, this is almost exactly what happened. By 2008, I had bought a house, paid off my student loans and regularly vacationed on some of the world’s nicest beaches. But a lot of people were losing their houses, the country was embroiled in two unwinnable wars, the economy was in the tank, income inequality was out of control, John Roberts and Samuel Alito joined the Supreme Count and tens of millions of vulnerable Americans were in demonstrably worse shape than before Bush took office.
I didn’t vote for Ralph Nader in 2000, and I hesitate to blame Nader voters too much for costing Al Gore an election that should have been a landslide victory in his favor rather than a close popular vote win and electoral vote loss. Still, the median Nader voter was a young, white, male, East Coast liberal – the kind of person whose privilege would let them, like me, get by just fine under a Republican presidency. Nader’s case then was that there was no real difference between Gore and Bush, a case no one in their right minds would make today.
I think about Nader now and feel compelled to write about this now, because now that Bernie Sanders has lost the Democratic presidential primary to Hillary Clinton, there’s a disturbing trend among some of his backers.
Not all of them, of course. The vast majority of Sanders voters are ready to support Clinton, according to the polls. Which makes a lot of sense – as I have written here, and as others have documented, there’s not that much space between the two of them ideologically. For the two years they were in the U.S. Senate together, they voted the same way 93 percent of the time.
There are also some holdouts putting a lot of faith in absentee California ballots and in “superdelegates” who have never once acted against the outcome of the pledged delegate race, hoping to see Sanders nominated at the Democratic convention next month. Those people are just delusional.
But there’s a dangerous third set of supporters who have accepted Sanders’s loss and, rather than support Clinton, are ready to burn the Democratic Party to the ground out of spite. Clinton is the last person they would every vote for; they will vote for Donald Trump, or for Green Party candidate Jill Stein, or go ahead and write in Sanders himself.
“Of course, I personally can survive the presidency of Donald Trump. I’m still a white, male, college-educated, job-secure homeowner. According to various internet calculators that track these things, Trump would even cut my taxes by quite a bit, so I’d even have that going for me. These “#BernieOrBust” folks are, by and large, coming from a similar place of privilege as I am. They are not personally going to be affected, at least not seriously, by the regressive policies of President Trump.”
I am not making these people up. More than 100,000 of them have signed a petition pledging not to vote for Clinton because, as they say, “Clinton’s policies are center-right, she carries too much baggage and she has too many enemies to win the general election.” Those are easily disproved falsehoods (she’s simply not “center-right”) or just plain dumb opinions, but they’re enough to create a potential Nader moment this fall. Like 2000’s Naderites, these Sanders dead-enders don’t see a difference between Clinton and Trump.
Democrats I have known and liked for years are now proudly “#NeverHillary.” One long-time good friend of mine insisted recently that Clinton was “rammed down our throats” by Democratic insiders, and despite Clinton’s wide popular-vote win and consistent lead in head-to-heads against Sanders, she only won because the party leadership was “ignoring the people and manipulating things for Hillary Clinton.”
Or this from a self-described progressive friend-of-a-friend on Facebook: “I don’t vote for family crime syndicates,” meaning the Clintons. Another: “If Trump gets in, we have a rough ride. If Clinton gets in, we have a rougher ride, and very likely we will be responsible for millions of deaths.”
When I posted a quick note last week to try to offer Sanders voters a sympathetic perspective, the sole comment I received was a blistering anti-Clinton screed from a regular, reliably liberal commenter.
He equated Barack Obama with Scott Walker – I know, I don’t get that either – and then wrote, “Enough of the failing imperialist’s empire of fascist conquest, there are other avenues to human survival on this planet. Hillary is the sure and certain road to further ruin.”
Don’t ask me to explain what that word salad even means or just how these people think Clinton is a bigger threat to national or international security than Donald Trump, a man who seems to understand geopolitics about as well as I understand these “#NeverHillary” wackos. I’m just pointing out that there is a real and concerted movement dedicated to making sure the legitimate Democratic nominee doesn’t win come November, a movement that either doesn’t believe there’s a difference between Clinton and Trump, or just doesn’t care.
Of course, I personally can survive the presidency of Donald Trump. I’m still a white, male, college-educated, job-secure homeowner. According to various internet calculators that track these things, Trump would even cut my taxes by quite a bit, so I’d even have that going for me.
These “#BernieOrBust” folks are, by and large, coming from a similar place of privilege as I am. They are not personally going to be affected, at least not seriously, by the regressive policies of President Trump.
Instead, they think, losing the White House in November will finally bring about some unspecified epiphany in the Democratic Party, something about how maybe now they’ll “listen to the people.” Who suffers harm in this scenario, the “#NeverHillary” contingent insists, is the Democratic Party leadership, the Debbie Wasserman-Schultzes of the world. This will be a juicy comeuppance for those elites!
However, that’s the furthest thing from reality. Those who suffer will, of course, be those most vulnerable, those just now barely recovered from what they went through under the Bush administration.
It won’t take too long for a President Trump, especially with a House dominated by Republicans who make a misshapen lump of steel look warm and human by comparison, to ratchet up the pain and suffering of tens of millions of Americans. Every step forward made under President Obama will be offset by a thousand steps backward. Terrible people will replace Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Anthony Kennedy on the Supreme Court. Everything from repealing the Affordable Care Act to tearing up the nuclear arms treaty with Iran will have real and frightening ramifications domestically and internationally.
Here’s the thing: These “#BernieOrBust”-ers don’t care. They actually see the failures and upheaval this country would experience under Trump to be a feature, not a bug. When Americans see how horrible Trump is, they say, they’ll flock to our side and progressive Democrats will sweep into power.
Let’s ask Gov. Tom Barrett how well that strategy works, shall we? I think he’s out back tending his flock of unicorns.
And while, yes, Democrats did reclaim power in Washington in the wave elections of 2006 and 2008, it took a literal natural disaster – Hurricane Katrina – atop all the Bush-made unnatural disasters to spur that upheaval. How many billions of dollars did all that cost? How many thousands of lives? And these people want to do that all again!
While yes, I do come from my own place of privilege, I spend every working day of my life with the distinctly underprivileged, the children of the Milwaukee Public Schools. While I don’t initiate talk of politics in my classroom, it’s hard to avoid it in years like this. And my students are scared to death of President Trump. They know that they are likely to be among those whose lives and livelihoods will be disrupted or destroyed under a Trump regime.
We can’t let that happen.
So this is my earnest plea, fellow Democrats and fellow liberals. You can still love Bernie Sanders. You can still agitate to make sure Clinton’s choice for vice president is someone who shares your ideology or doesn’t toe the corporate line or whatever you wish to be true of him or her. You can keep working hard to build a more progressive party structure with down-ballot candidates and state party leadership. You can still go to Philadelphia to sway the national party to change its platform to look more like the Sanders agenda and kill the “superdelegate” system dead while you’re at it.
But vote for Hillary Clinton on Nov. 8. Those who lack your privilege are counting on you to set yours aside and do the right thing.