As the last few primary results come in, it is now close to certain that Hilary Clinton will be the Democratic nominee for president. Sanders’ accomplishment has been gargantuan- as well as transforming the tone and focus of the entire Democratic platform, he has come from so far behind in the race he was dismissed as a joke at the start to nearly dethroning Hillary. For many of us observers around the world, the descent of Bernie is the descent of darkness on this election cycle, leaving two singularly uninspiring contenders.
Bernie, despite being a Jewish socialist, has similar values to American presidents of long ago, and would have represented a return to the radicalism and deep egalitarianism of America at it’s best. He also would lead a return to a less socially, internationally and ecologically violent country on many fronts. Sanders is on the NRA’s enemy list, is more prone to education than incarceration, more confrontational towards police abuses and racism, critical of fracking and the fossil fuel industry, and is much less supportive of military intervention on the international stage.
Why is Sanders losing? Well, no doubt it is largely because many voters are attracted to Clinton’s positives: she is a woman; she is experienced in the highest echelons of power; she will protect the interests of the neoliberal status quo. No doubt some truly believe she is progressive or a feminist or has some other ethical principles they admire at her core. That her core is none of these things but rather the pursuit of power itself- equally true of her opponent, Trump- will no doubt be clear to discerning historians of the future.
Calling the election “stolen” or “rigged” is probably an overstatement. It is reasonable to note, however, that both the mainstream media and the Democratic establishment had stacked the decks against Bernie from the beginning. The super delegates who were committed to Clinton before the primaries began also cast a long shadow over the last several weeks.
Sanders’ supporters are angry, and some have become belligerent and abusive. No doubt today the media will begin drawing parallels to Trump’s violent supporters. This is a somewhat overwrought comparison, of course. Sanders’ supporters and Trump’s supporters are angry, yes, and it’s true that they share some of the same grievances- poverty, corrupt politicians, a feeling of disenfranchisement. Trump’s supporters want to rid the US of immigrants and Muslims, to push back against what they see as damaging progressive values, and to solve white America’s problems by re-asserting white supremacy. Sander’s supporters want medicine and education for all, an end to political bribery, an end to subsidies for the super-wealthy, reduced militarism, and justice and equality for all, including non-white Americans. These are important differences.
Sanders himself is reportedly feeling bitter and acting irritably and combatively in the final days of his campaign. This is surely understandable. Sanders has been slogging away on the Senate floor for decades fighting for the same issues. Videos clearly showing him relentlessly hammering away for justice and reason in the halls of power, saying the same things year after year after year. Since running for President, he has seen a massive grassroots movement rise to support him- witness the massive crowds at his rallies in California, reportedly topping 60,000 people. His campaign has been marked by both principle and beauty- has anyone ever made campaign ads like his? An incredible roster of artists, academics, and activists rose to stand with Bernie, and despite his advanced age for a candidate- 74- his followers were marked more than anything by their youth.
At the same time, Sanders has watched as Clinton misrepresented him, clearly and knowingly lying about his positions. He has seen his campaign undermined in key ways by the machinations of the Democratic party. No doubt Sanders always felt his walk to the Presidency was a fragile thing and felt these tremors keenly, whether they were substantially responsible for the collapse of his campaign or not. Loss, for Sanders, is not just about him- it is about the victory of the establishment and “the 1%”. No wonder Sanders is bitter.
It appears the next president will be another Clinton. Clinton, friend to the wealthy, militarist, in favour of the death penalty, a promoter of fracking and fossil fuels, an architect of America’s addiction to incarceration, a supporter of disastrous overseas interventions. Clinton who changes her mind with the political winds. Secretive, dishonest Clinton. Clinton, who last month gave a speech on inequality wearing a $13,000 Armani jacket. Clinton: business as usual.
Sanders supporters are now adopting one of three postures: 1) they are fiercely insisting Sanders can still win; 2) they are embracing the “Sanders revolution” and focusing on how to carry forward the movement without relying on an Oval Office win; 3) they are overcome with depression and anger. The first response seems tainted with delusion; the third response is understandable but unproductive; the second is surely the best one. It is time for all of us to reflect on the importance of community activism and grassroots change versus the questionable hope offered by big politics.