Author’s note: with a Bernie Sanders candidacy again looming over the Democratic Party and the country as a whole, here is part two of of my 2016 look at the ugly side of Sanders and many of his supporters, a side that may sabotage hopes of defeating Trump in 2020 if left unchecked.
The entire series of disturbing events surrounding the Democratic Party’s state convention in Nevada, discussed in Part I, provides excellent insight into the condition I am labeling Sanders Derangement Syndrome. Weeks away from their national convention in Philadelphia, Democrats are right to worry about Sanders and his supporters: their willingness to use low-level violence and threats of disruption as political terrorism is both insidious and unacceptable, in addition to being incompatible with American political values and democracy. A detailed exploration here in Part II of just what Sanders Derangement Syndrome is will shed light on just how serious a threat it is to American democracy, a serious threat overshadowed and not given appropriate attention because of the larger spectacle of the Trump phenomenon.
Originally published on LinkedIn Pulse June 20, 2016
JERUSALEM — Having seen a full range display from the Sanders campaign recently in a number of telling ways, and, specifically, having gone through in detail the events surrounding the Nevada Democratic Party’s state convention controversies, we can now describe how the whole Nevada situation is an excellent prism through which to understand Sanders, his campaign, and his supporters on a more general level. Specifically, this means we can break down the very real phenomenon I am labeling Sanders Derangement Syndrome.
If there’s one thing that I am learning during this election cycle is that in many ways the far-left and the far-right do not “cancel each other out,” they simply both make things much worse in their own, sometimes similar, ways and can even feed off of each other, much like Hamas and Likud and other like-minded non-moderates feed off of each other in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Sanders and the Rise of the Tea Party of the Left
There were times during the Bush years and some of the Obama years when I really questioned whether Democrats had any spine, and I even considered registering as an independent a few times. But with the rise of the Tea Party, I increasingly grew proud to call myself a Democrat because of the Republican Party’s descent into extreme irrationality and silliness and the Democrats’ refusal to follow suit, with my party choosing rationality and compromise over hostility to facts and favoring results over “principles”.
But now I look at Sanders and his Sandernistas, and I have become horrified: they truly have become our own version of the Tea Party, cocooned in an alternative reality of “alternative” “news” media outlets like AlterNet.org, Salon.com, and USuncut (among others) that constantly praise Bernie Sanders as the second coming and political Messiah for America, preventing the permeation of much of anything that does not fit their worldview or agenda; such outlets constantly demonize Hillary Clinton and moderates in the most extreme manner while buoying false hopes and delusional expectations. Wrapped snug as babies in this blanket of generally one-sided coverage, Sanders supporters have become hostile to facts, context, and nuance; they are brimming with anger and ideology at the expense of being level-headed and exhibiting any shred of practicality, and are determined to push their views without compromise and to both “Bern” the system in the hopes of a clean start and “Bern” those with whom they disagree as punishment for holding different views.
This type of nonsense brought the Republican Party to the brink of self-destruction this spring, helped to bring about the rise of Donald Trump and see to his successful hostile hijacking of the Party “Establishment” and apparatus, and history shows us that the Tea Party may have cost Republicans control of the Senate and may have been a deciding factor in Romney’s 2012 defeat at the hands of Obama. I tremble for the damage this type of nonsense might do to the Democratic Party. I am a proud Democrat today in part because I am so proud of Democrats’ pragmatism, respect for data and context, and willingness to compromise; the Sandinista wing of the Democratic Party rejects all of this. Furthermore, Sanders and his people are engaging in a series of behaviors that are dangerous for the health of democracy. And all this and much more was on display throughout the Nevada state convention drama, which is fully emblematic of Sanders, his campaign, and his supporters.
Sanders Derangement Syndrome
Specifically, we have the clear symptoms of Sanders Derangement Syndrome:
1.) Sanders and his fans exhibit blatant hypocrisy:
a.) Bernie and his supporters claim to be champions of democracy, but have no problems favoring undemocratic means when it suits them
Just to recap what we discussed in Part I: Clinton won Nevada by over 5%, and Sanders supporters didn’t have any problem disenfranchising the voters of Clark County (home of Las Vegas and most of the state’s delegates) when Clinton’s supporters failed to organize at the subsequent county convention, giving Sanders more state delegates from there going to the state convention even though Clinton won the county by almost 10 percentage points. Some Sanders supporters happily talked about their (mistaken) prospects of being able to win the state in defiance of the voters. In the same vein, Sanders has been complaining about the undemocratic nature of superdelegates for months, but now has no problem courting them to pick him and overturn the clear majority of voters, who have favored Clinton over Sanders by a margin of about three million votes as of May 19th no matter how you calculate it (and even if superdelegates were allocated proportionately to the votes, he’d still be losing by a lot).
And while Bernie is happy to complain about superdelegates and closed primaries (primaries where, e.g., only Democrats can vote in a Democratic primary), he has said precious little about caucuses, which are abominations of democracy that involve public peer pressure, favor the passionate and outspoken, and discriminate against the working class, producing a result that generally does not actually represent the will of voters statewide like primaries do. As a case in point, the Washington State caucuses produced a Bernie win over Hillary, 74% to 27%, with 230,000 participants, which was the basis for how the state awarded its delegates; in a nonbinding primary, Clinton won over Sanders, roughly 52%-47%, with over 800,000 participants, and that contest was obviously a better representation of the will of the people, with people being able to vote all day, quickly, and privately, and with far, far more people voting. Likewise in Nebraska, where Sanders won 57%-43% with about 33,000 participants in that state’s caucus, and which was the basis for the state awarding its delegates; in the non-binding state primary, Clinton won 53% to 47% with over 80,000 participants. It’s pretty easy to see why Sanders is so quiet on caucuses: like most politicians, he’s pretty mum on things that benefit him (note to Sanders supporters: this is something that particularly irks non-Sanders supporters since his mantra is basically “I’m a holier-than-thou political white knight, not like other politicians!”). In fact, mostly because of caucuses favoring passionate Bernie-supporting-types, being less democratic, and having far lower voter turnout than primaries, Sanders has earned many more delegates than he would have otherwise and more delegates than the percent of the vote he has won, rending laughable the claim that the overall system is “rigged” against him.
b.) Sanders and his supporters condemn most other politicians and their tactics, but then copy those tactics when such tactics are convenient for them
I know there is some overlap here from part a.), but we can point to when Clinton’s campaign outorganized the Sanders people at the state convention, after the Sanders people outorganized the Clinton people at the Clark County convention; yet even as Sandernistas did not even give pause to the idea that they had won more delegates out of organization than they should have won based on the caucus votes, they went into a holy rage when they were outorganized in turn and lost that advantage at the state convention even though that restored things to what the will of the voters had initially set. The issue with superdelegates, as explained above, reflects the same principle.
Another reflection of this principle involves how Sanders criticized Clinton’s votes and positions as pretty much black-and-white, right and wrong, on anything from Iraq to the TPP; but when Sanders is attacked for his record of not being as tough on guns as he could be, he expects people to take into account that Vermont is a rural state; in other words, he is saying “My controversial positions deserve a nuanced understanding, but Clinton’s do not.” Sanders was also quick to condemn Trump for violence at Trump’s rallies, but then hypocritically issued the statement he issued in response to his own supporters’ actions in Nevada that I discussed in Part I absolving himself and his campaign. He claims that his is a campaign of high-minded principles that will avoid personal attacks, but constantly engages in indirect personal attacks on Clinton’s character and credibility by association and implication and is more than content to let his surrogates and supporters do his dirty work, rarely reigning them in.
In other words, while Sanders claims to transcend politics, he’s still a politician who’s pretty good at politics and is quite capable of giving unfair jabs and engaging in distortions, just like many other “Establishment” politicians he criticizes.
2.) Sanders supporters are obsessed with absurd conspiracy theories that they think specifically target them and their candidate: “The Whole World Is Against Us!” (or, “Losing Is Never Bernie’s fault!”)
During the Obama years, much of the right could (and still can) be characterized by an insane sense of perpetual victimhood, that they were the victims of massive conspiracies and everybody and everything was out to get them. This was one of the great contrasts between the Republicans and the Democrats: the mainstream left generally avoided such paranoid, conspiratorial mentalities. In part thanks to Sanders and his supporters, as well as a rising culture of highlighting “microaggression,” the left is now catching up rapidly to the right. I’ve been proud for some time that the right was a bunch of whiny people with an overinflated sense of victimhood and that my left presented a real contrast to this. It’s now much harder for me to say that today (not that there aren’t many Americans, particularly minorities, that are entitled to a real sense of victimhood because of very real and present grievances, but white college-attending/graduate Millennials—a very large portion of Bernie’s base—are generally not among American society’s greatest victims).
But how you fight these battles, and what you choose to fight over, is important and says a lot about you and your crowd. And I’m very sorry to say that Sanders and his Sandernistas are at the very forefront of helping the left close the gap with the right with their own growing hyperbolic outrage on often questionable or relatively tangential issues/incidents, if it hasn’t already. As I’ve noted before, Sanders and his supporters constantly explain in nearly identical, hackneyed responses that all setbacks and defeats are a conspiracy against them, the effort of the “Establishment” media/political elites; they claim thinking people only support Sanders, and everyone else has been brainwashed; it’s up for Sanders and his supporters’ missionary zeal to convert the stupid heathens and “Bernie-splain” the truth to them, including Republicans, who will be with Bernie once they see the light. And in his effort to campaign on a sense of perpetual, partly-imaginary victimhood, he resembles all-too-much one Donald J. Trump. Sanders and his supporters constantly feel as if they are unfairly treated when, in fact, they are often treated with a lot more tolerance and their candidate treated much more gently by Clinton, her campaign, the Democratic Party, and the media than they realize; if anything, “the system” has demonstrably given Sanders a relative advantage with its many caucuses in states demographically favorable to him that skewed delegates even more towards him and with a calendar that started with states like Iowa and New Hampshire that were also very favorable to him.
Yet in Nevada, Sanders superdelegate Erin Bilbray was quick to level wild charges of “disenfranchisement” when the state Party chief Roberta Lange calmly swatted such a conspiratorial accusation away, noting that it was the Sanders camp’s own disorganization, lack of long-term planning, and inability to effectively engage existing avenues and persuade enough people that were the reasons they were not seeing the outcome they had desired. But for far too many Sandernistas, everything that happened in Nevada is “proof” of a massive “conspiracy” and they, personally, are victims of “the Establishment.”
3.) Sanders and his supporters can’t even entertain the idea that they don’t represent most Americans despite mountains of evidence that they don’t
It seems as if they are almost incapable of conceiving that they just don’t have a message and a candidate that is as appealing as Clinton’s and that most Americans, particularly African-Americans and Hispanics by incredibly wide margins, prefer Hillary Clinton and have entirely reasonable and data-backed foundations for concluding that Clinton is a more capable leader with a more accomplishable agenda and a more effective plan for implementing it, thus making her a leader that will help them and the country much more than Sanders and his incredibly idealistic platform and approaches that are far less likely to succeed; it doesn’t occur to Sandernistas that most Americans are not receptive to an informed understanding of Sanders and his agenda and methods, and that by far most Democrats by a margin of millions simply prefer her to him and not because they are brainwashed (if anything, Clinton supporters have a much more nuanced and data-driven mentality about politics than Sanders supporters). In fact, a major mantra of Sanders and his campaign is that, ispo facto, the more people that turn out to vote, the better it is for Sanders, that Sanders will win with high turnout but Hillary will triumph when there is low turnout; this is demonstrably incorrect (just see my discussion of Washington/Nebraska above as two examples).
Thus, when Nevada’s state convention awarded two delegates to Clinton that gave her the 20-15 edge over Sanders that reflected the actual caucus numbers and the initial projection based on those numbers, Bernie Bros and Bernie Sistahs howled at the unacceptable idea that somehow they did not come out on top. They “feel” they are the majority and “the will of the people” even without any serious numbers or evidence to prove this.
In reality, there is no mass Bernie Sanders “movement,” just a common coalition of the leftist opposition within the left that is challenging the more centrist and mainstream Democratic Party, a coalition that rises here and there in various election cycles, “from George McGovern to Jerry Brown to Bill Bradley to Howard Dean,” even if this one is more to left and exceeded expectations.
4.) Sanders and his supporters have a wildly inflated view of their self-importance and self-entitlement, and partly as a result his supporters take political disagreements in a deeply personal way that leads to deeply personal attacks as a response
Sanders supporters really tend to take everything very personally; they feel that they are victims (one wonders how so many young voters who haven’t lived long enough to generally have experienced too much hardship, that are participating in all this as part of a cozy-college-existence extracurricular social activity, feel so deeply aggrieved), feel personally hurt by reasonable criticism of Sanders, take it as a personal insult when you challenge anything about their worldview, and respond with personal attacks, harassment, and vicious insults to almost any challenge or criticism directed at them or their candidate; for Bernie supporters, it’s all about them, their feelings, what they want, their issues, to the exclusion of any others(’). And for Bernie, it’s all about his candidacy; he clearly feels entitled to force his agenda on a Democratic Party and Democratic voters even though a majority supported a different candidacy, with different ideas and a different approach, just as his supporters feel perfectly entitled to force their candidate and agenda on a majority of voters who picked Clinton and her agenda, Nevada just being one salient example.
Another important point to make is that Sanders was not even a Democrat when the year 2015 began, and he was proud of the fact that for years he was not part of the Democratic Party as an independent (small “d”) democratic socialist, having actively campaigned against Democrats repeatedly. And most of Sanders supporters come from voters who are not actually Democrats, but left-leaning independents: from many exit polls, it’s clear that Clinton won Democrats by about 2-1 throughout the primaries and caucuses, while Sanders won non-Democrats who voted in the Democratic contests (independents and some Republicans) by about the same margin (keep in mind these independents are generally left-leaning to begin with and are not actually representative of true independents who don’t lean right or left, with whom Sanders struggles, and struggles almost equally as much as Clinton). In fact, Sanders only won more Democrats than Clinton in 2 of the 27 states surveyed: his home state of Vermont and neighboring New Hampshire. So Sanders—only a recently-minted Democrat who has generally avoided fundraising for his fellow Democrats—and his non-Democrats feel they are entitled to control the Democratic Party and its direction. Talk about chutzpah…
That registered Democrats think and feel otherwise is merely inconvenient; because they are Bernie Sanders supporters, and because they know Bernie Sanders is “right,” the majority must be with them. This mentality puts the utmost importance on themselves as individuals, how they feel, what they think; what others think is irrelevant, and the idea that a majority of Americans would dare to disagree is explained away as smokescreens of the political/media “Establishment.” Hence, Sanders supporters get really, really angry when there are voting irregularities (which they term voter “suppression” as if it was directed to benefit Clinton though there is no evidence for such a charge to be leveled), and assume that any irregularities, which are common in elections, are deliberately targeting them and are the difference between victory and defeat.
For Sanders supporters, it’s all about them, what they think and want, and how fast they want it; other voters with similar views but preferring different methods, and others with dissimilar views, who together clearly outnumber Sandernistas, are not even considered, and ridiculous ideas of bringing people with fundamentally different views on board in matter of months are confidently bandied about, even though there is no such precedent in American history. Sandernistas also arrogantly assume that they are the future of a Democratic party to which many of them are not even really attached in any deep sense.
Their certainty that they speak for “the people” without even taking time to understand what and how people other than themselves think and feel is unquestionably one of the most off-putting things about Sanders supporters.
The Nevada drama sums this up nicely: at the state convention, Sanders supporters assumed they had a majority of legitimate delegates in the room (they did not) and that it was dirty tricks (it wasn’t) directed at personally disenfranchising them (they weren’t) that made the difference (it wasn’t), that they are so important as to be the object of a mass conspiracy (they aren’t) and they took it so personally and lashed out in such a deeply personal way in response. This particular type of delusional narcissism is rampant throughout Sanders, his campaign, and his supporters.
5). Sanders and his supporters constantly project and feed off of wildly unrealistic expectations on a massively delusional and fantastical level
I’m sorry, but to anyone who’s been paying attention to the details of American politics for the last eight years, if you think there is even a remote chance in the very near future that any of Sanders’ three main policy pillars of his campaign—1.) single-payer government run healthcare for all, 2.) free public college for all, and 3.) a massive tax increase on particularly the wealthy and corporations but also the middle class to pay for the first two pillars—you are simply delusional and peddling and subscribing to fantasy of the sort that only serves to dash hopes and increase cynicism once the inevitable letdown occurs. As I have noted before, America is a conservative country—with 47 out of 50 states with more self-identified conservatives than self-identified liberals—and Bernie keeps talking as if the millions of Americans who outnumber him and his followers simply don’t exist. Expectations that even today in 2016 that a man who puts “(democratic) socialist” proudly before his name actually has a chance in a general election race are also delusional.
Yet for Sanders supporters, visions of sugarplums danced in their heads along with visions of imminent free college, single-payer health care, massive punitive taxes on the rich, and political revolution, all arm-in-arm with the victorious Bernie Sanders candidacy both in the primaries and in the general election; feeding such expectations is particularly unforgivable on Sanders’ part (especially so late into the primaries), but with his constantly reinforcing these expectations and beliefs among his many enthusiastic followers, one truly wonders how they will cope with or without therapy when the inevitable reality becomes clear even to them.
When it came to the Nevada convention, Bernie’s campaign had led supporters to believe they could “win” and/or expect to overturn the rules, people, and system in a matter of days and weeks, all while they were a minority; if that’s not the definition of being delusional, I don’t know what is.
6.) Sanders and his supporters subscribe to an extremist narrative and an extremist worldview
If you listen to Sanders and especially his supporters, how warped their vision of the world is becomes ever so clear. Basically, Sanders thinks that the really REALLY bad rich Americans and EVIL Wall Street have bought the “corporate” media and the “Establishment” politicians to serve their interests. He does not allow for the reality that they are, in part, the engine of much of America’s economic success even considering their massive transgressions; he does not say they have too much influence influence or a seat at the table that is too big; rather, the entire system, including the leadership of the Democratic Party, are part of a “corrupt campaign finance system” and a “rigged economy” and a “rigged” party nomination process. The “corporate” media keeps people uninformed and in the dark on all this and if only the media told the truth and if Bernie missionaries were then to make their case to people with fundamentally different beliefs, if only the masses rose and put the wealthiest Americans in their place and limited their ability to corrupt the system with their money, then a clear majority of Americans would support Bernie Sanders, democratic socialism, and Bernie’s policies and methods, which would fix pretty much everything. Other problems like racism would melt away once corruption and the wealthy are curtailed.
In this view, the primary evils in society are capitalism and the people and institutions who benefit the most from a capitalist system. Only the “alternative” media give Bernie a fair shake. Hillary Clinton is a major force promoting this corrupt system and therefore is a major part of the problem. Using military intervention to stop mass killing is hopeless, and the current domestic system is also hopeless. With Sanders peddling this to his devotees, is it any wonder that many of them think that whenever Sanders loses, foul play and cheating MUST be to blame? That they have no faith in the current system? That there MUST a “corporate” media conspiracy or cover-up, a “Bernie blackout?” That Hillary deserves to be called SHillary, a warmonger, and far worse? And her supporters also? That there’s “no difference” between the Democratic Party and the Republican Party, or Clinton or Trump? That liberal moderates are now somehow exposed as part of the right?
This view overemphasizes the importance of Wall Street and the wealthy in contributing to America’s problems even as they are clearly far from blameless. This view fails to make basic, obvious distinctions in a self-serving manner. This view makes his supporters think that any outcome which does not result in a Bernie victory is illegitimate, that they and their candidate are perpetual victims in a system rigged against them. This view makes his supporters think that dealing with inequality and corruption is a silver bullet for the rest of America’s woes. And this view fails to acknowledge that very real progress has been made from working within the system, instead making people believe that nothing positive can happen with our public institutions and creating an unrealistically cynical view that breeds further hopelessness and makes it even harder for actual elected leaders to mobilize support for real reforms that can help real people; to put it another way, Bernie turns people off when it comes to the system, the success of which depends on people’s engagement with it, and it creates a cycle of inaction and anger that only leads to worse outcomes and more anger. And all this just feeds further into the hopeless, cynical views that are peddled by Sanders and consumed by his supporters, regardless of reality. As an Atlantic piece notes:
“…anger and frustration are far more likely to create chaos and confusion than they are to facilitate a productive discussion about common goals—like keeping a Republican out of the White House.”
Twitter meme, totals as of late May
This view also fails to take into consideration that by every metric (and even if the system awarded delegates differently, including if every state held primaries open to independents), Bernie Sanders lost and lost “fair and square,” to use even the words of Bill Maher, a strong Bernie Sanders supporter; it fails to take into account that no matter how just you feel your cause is and how self-righteously you behave, “sometimes you just lose.” Yep, despite flaws, the system worked, awarding the nomination to the candidate with the broadest support and the most votes by far.
Yep, in “Bernieworld,” pretty much every politician is a corrupt hack; the media, wealthy, and corporations control pretty much everything and brainwash everyone; the rich and corporations are what primarily stand in the way of solving our problems; and only a democratic socialist revolution and candidate can save the day, with anything less being meaningless. Such a mentality is not only unhelpful and unproductive, but decidedly dangerous for the health of any democracy, from the ancient Roman Republic to the republic of the United States today.
And this extremist worldview and mentality is well-illustrated by Bernie’s supporters’ explanations and accusations swirling around Nevada, the DNC, Chairwoman Lange, and Bernie’s own statement on the Nevada state convention.
7.) Sanders and especially his supporters have an incredibly selective intake and total disregard for information that runs counter to their narrative
Without a doubt, one of the most annoying things about Bernie Sanders and his supporters is that they constantly make their case using arguments that are easily refutable or made far less compelling with information that is easily and readily accessible and hardly in dispute. “Bernie as a socialist has a real chance to win the general election!” (but voters are more likely to vote for a Muslim, a homosexual, a black candidate, a Mormon, or an atheist than a socialist, with the hypothetical socialist earning less support than any other candidate category). “Bernie has relatively high favorable ratings!” (but he is new to the general public and has not been really attacked on many of his biggest weakness by any major candidate or organization, and Republicans are laying off Sanders [Trump is even encouraging him] with hopes that he will weaken Clinton or somehow be the nominee, a situation in which Republicans see a far better chance to win in November). “General election polls show Bernie is the better candidate!” (but polls at this stage are wildly and demonstrably historically inaccurate). “The public is behind big parts of Bernie’s agenda like free college and single-payer healthcare!” (except when members of that public are shown how much their taxes will increase as a result, when support drops dramatically to 17% and 15%, respectively). “Independents love Bernie!” (but only left-leaning independents, not truly middle-of-the-road or conservative ones). “The system is rigged against Bernie!” (except because of caucuses Bernie has more delegates than if those states held far more fair and participatory primaries). “Hillary voted ‘for the Iraq war!’” (she actually voted to authorize the president to use force if necessary, and implicitly as a last resort, to disarm Saddam Hussein of WMD and enforce United Nations Security Council resolutions). “Bernie wins most working class voters!” (but only if you completely factor out African-Americans and Latinos, who overwhelmingly support Clinton, and ignore that older white working class voters support her over Sanders, too). The list goes on and on…
Thus, even in a contest in which he lost the caucus vote, in Nevada, Sanders and his supporters were able to whine that they were being robbed, whine about their delegates being disqualified, and accuse the state’s Democratic Party of foul play even though it was Sanders supporters themselves who had failed to organize properly or follow the rules, even though Clinton won the caucus by over 5%, even though Sanders’ own people sent the wrong information to their prospective delegates about deadlines. Of course their complaints and Bernie’s own complaints fail to mention any of these facts, fitting into a clear trend of selectivity and misrepresentation.
Melina Mara/Washington Post via Getty
Conclusion: A Liberal Tea Party Is Still a Tea Party, And Must Still Be Called Out And Fought As One
In the end, then, we have a compelling and clear idea of the symptoms and manifestations of Sanders Derangement Syndrome: a blithe combination of the following characteristics exhibited by Sanders and/or his supporters:
1.) hypocrisy when it comes to democracy, tactics, and politics
2.) a conspiracy-oriented mindset that allows for all manners of explanations for Bernie’s losses other than that he actually lost and was the less appealing candidate
3.) incorrectly assuming that they speak for “the people,” this not being the case being inconceivable to them
4.) a narcissistic sense of self-importance and self-entitlement that helps lead to a vindictive personalization of political discussion
5.) holding onto a set of wildly unrealistic expectations to the extent that Sanders supporters live in an alternate reality
6.) the articulation of an extreme narrative and an extreme worldview
7.) both a strong disregard for and an inability to incorporate facts and context unfavorable to their positions
If this sounds familiar, it should: these are exactly the type of symptoms exhibited on the right by those in the Tea Party. Much like how whatever we would want to call the syndrome that led to the creation of Tea Party spread rapidly like a virus and created a horde of zombies that was dangerous to anything in its proximity, Sandernistas infected with Sanders Derangement Syndrome have descended upon America, the left, and the Democratic Party and are wreaking havoc and damaging all in their path. Ultimately, like with Trump, the responsibility is not as much with the candidate but with the voters themselves but that still does not absolve Sanders of his responsibilities for channeling such an unhelpful and unproductive group of voters and encouraging their worst tendencies. And with these crowds rising on both the right and the left, the ability of society to discuss its differences is simply deteriorating.
Just like Trump with his fans, these people were not created by Sanders, but he did bring many of them into the political process and looking at both Trump’s and Sanders’ more extreme supporters, the argument that it is always better when more people participate in democracy looks problematic at best; the fringes are better off being on the sidelines than in derailing those who are actually more interested in governing than in making noise and disrupting. It is Sanders more than any other single person, then, who can and must do something to harness these people and their passions in a productive way that thus far he has spectacularly failed to do, and it is doubtful as to whether even he will be able to do so, so extreme and myopic are Sandernistas.
I understand that what I said may be offensive to some, and that I may be ruffling some feathers. But I don’t care; the time for platitudes and pretending obvious problems are not problems is long past, if it ever existed; few people outside the Tea Party would agree that its emergence and the participation of its ranks in politics has been a good thing, and that we weren’t all better off with them stewing in irrelevance. Well, the same is true about how hardcore Sandernistas are viewed outside their own camp. There is no doubt that, rather than releasing a force upon the American body politic that will help advance meaningful and workable reform, Sanders has helped to unleash a force as unhelpful and unproductive as the Tea Party, in style if not so much with some of their intentions and end-goals.
Sanders Derangement Syndrome is a virus that must be treated as an infection, especially since it infects so many young people that could be the future of American politics. Maybe Obama and more practical minority voters are the future, and I hope that this is the case; but if Sanders and the angry white liberal hoi polloi that has so strongly contributed to the breakdown in civility and rationality in the Democratic Party’s presidential nomination contest are the harbinger of things to come, we’re in even more trouble on the left nationally than we have been over the majority of Obama’s presidency. And that thought, even in the year of Trump, is terrifying in its own right.
I have written before about how the ancient Roman Republic shows us how bad precedents, once set, can destroy a democracy from within, and have recently taken great pains to discuss Donald Trump and the precedents he is setting in this context. Without a doubt, Bernie Sanders is a far better human being than Trump and represents far less of a problem than Trump. But that does not mean that Sanders and his supporters have not set some disturbing precedents that must be called out and dealt with in their own right, regardless of the many separate and often more alarming maladies with which Trump has infected our body politic.
For anyone who thinks I am being hyperbolic or paranoid, I point the reader to the Nevada Democratic Party’s state convention and Bernie Sanders’ response to his own supporters disruptions and death threats: it is truly a textbook example of the wider phenomenon I’ve identified as Sanders Derangement Syndrome; combined with the “penchant for extra-parliamentary behavior — indeed, actual violence” his supporters exhibited in Nevada, it’s not unreasonable to view Sandernistas as a serious threat with which one cannot reason. They are indicating they will behave as political terrorists willing to use low-level violence to intimidate the majority whom they could not persuade into granting them concessions they did not and could not earn democratically; with Nevada set up as a potential coming attraction for the Democrats’ national convention taking place in Philadelphia this July, Sanders himself is still vowing to take his fight to the national convention floor, potentially inflicting serious harm on the Clinton campaign and indirectly aiding Trump, the Republicans, and their chances of victory at a time when the fate of Western democracy for the foreseeable future may be at stake.
For years and especially since the so-called “Gingrich Revolution,” the right has falsely caricatured the left as a disruptive angry mob; now that disruptive angry left has finally arrived. Call it whatever you want, but it’s real and it’s here and it is a problem that demands attention; we ignore it at our own and our collective peril, and perhaps why I have been so strident in calling all this out for what it is is because too many others are ignoring this serious problem, distracted by the antics of Trump and his flock, without whom this would be the darkest emerging trend of our current unfortunate and calamitous election cycle.
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