As Usual, Bernie Sanders Tried to Ruin Everything
I commented to a friend a few days ago that it felt like we had all collectively aged a decade in the last four years. Biden’s inauguration was an uplifting relief, but it was cathartic and melancholy. It wasn’t truly celebratory, certainly not in the way Obama’s was. Watching it as virtually all Americans had to in isolation I was struck that it seemed muted. When J-Lo sang “get loud,” in a minor key it felt not like joy but almost muted relief. I volunteered for Biden’s campaign, I promoted and supported Kamala Harris online, and I spent my weekends helping voters get registered and then send in their ballots. This was my victory as much as it was Biden’s or Harris’. And I’m proud of the work I did. But I didn’t do the work to “win,” from a political perspective. I did it because we as a nation fell into fascism for four years and we needed to claw our way back to a semblance of democracy.
This is a story that starts back in 2016 or 2015. In fact, it starts well before that with Jim Crow and the failure by a lot of white Americans to truly understand how damaging white supremacy is to everyone. We paid for our myopia with the death of friends and relatives. Not everyone who watched Trump’s ascent to power — unelected though he was — survived his Presidency. What we watched from our living rooms and bedrooms on January 20th we watched without some 400k Americans most of whom would still be with us if not for Donald Trump.
In 2016 a number of Americans made a terrible decision based on bigotry and hate buoyed by white supremacy and fed by the egos of white men in power and as a result almost half a million Americans have died unnecessarily.
In 2016 the majority of Americans who voted cast their vote for Hillary Clinton. Some, like myself, did so jubilantly in the hopes that for the first time in history the majority of our population would be represented by someone who had actually experienced what most people live through rather than being ignored as a “special interest,” or “distraction.” Some cast their votes strategically knowing that Clinton would faithfully represent them and was the best choice even if they did not necessarily like her themselves. Some cast their votes not really for her but against Trump who had long shown himself to be a would be fascist with his open disdain for women and outright violent hostility towards people of colour.
During the 2016 campaign white men delighted in making openly misogynist remarks about Clinton and her supporters. It was considered not only acceptable but laudable to send women — particularly women of colour — rape and death threats and there was a sort of carnival attitude towards isolating women and methodically destroying their lives while publicly shaming them. Many of these women were private citizens and the constant threat was that if you — a woman — were open about your political position you could be fired, physically attacked, doxxed, and even see harm come to your children.
This is why #MeToo and the Women’s March erupted after Trump’s inauguration. Women, particularly women of colour had been pushed too far. These movements or movements like them had existed previously just as misogyny itself has a long history, but when Clinton won the popular vote but was still denied the Presidency even after American women had put up with two years of constant violent misogyny and open sexism simply for the defiant act of insisting on our status as people and voting as we chose it was the last straw.
For the first time in history we had a candidate that looked like us, who had dealt with menstruation and changed her name to her husband’s and had a child and dealt with the sort of judgement levelled only against women. For the first time in history we had someone who wouldn’t dismiss over half the population or pretend our concerns were nothing more than hormones. This was the first time ever that half the American population could expect to be heard.
But because American men are so inured in white supremacy and the hierarchies it enforces, our joy at finally having a voice had to be supressed.
The suppression did not start with Hillary Clinton’s nomination. It did not start even with Donald Trump’s absurd escalator descent. The suppression of women’s voices in the 2016 election started with Bernie Sanders and his embrace of his white male privilege.
According to the Jacobin, Bernie Sanders, who wrote essays suggesting that women’s sexuality boils down to rape fantasies and who argued against immigration on the basis that it keeps young white men from getting jobs and who included the n-word in his book and who is routinely quoted for his disdain of women and people of colour running for office, is as far left as a politician can get. And I have written in the past how this could be reasonably argued as long as you exclude from your definition of liberal any form of progressivism. If your definition of liberal or left includes any form of social liberalism then Bernie Sanders is not liberal. But if your definition concerns only economic considerations then he absolutely is. As long as you ignore his history with American Crystal Sugar, the NRA, and his practice of using campaign funds to buy his own book in bulk and charitable funds not for charity but to pay his family for questionable work contributions.
But this is the problem with Bernie Sanders. Bernie Sanders is absolutely performatively left. In between dismissing all concerns that did not apply to heteronormative white non-Hispanic men and insisting that there really was nothing wrong with our judicial system, Sanders made a habit of decrying big business and income disparity. Much of what he said in 2015 and 2016 at least outside of the clearly tone deaf remarks and dismissals was economically leftist. But in actuality he and his behaviour in the 2016 Democratic primary is what paved the way for Trump’s mercifully short-lived fascist regime.
The Democratic Party’s constituency is undergoing a shift and just how remarkable that shift is will depend on the survival of the Republican Party and whether or not a third major political Party emerges to either compliment or eclipse the GOP. But in 2015 the Democratic Party was the refuge of anyone who might be directly benefitted by Affirmative Action, Title IX, or the Civil Rights Act. White men were sometimes Democrats, and certainly there are women — particularly white women — in the Republican Party, but the Democratic Party was and will likely remain considerably more diverse and inclusive. The Democratic Party also made an effort to include women and people of colour in leadership positions. This is in part because representation matters and in part because women and people of colour work harder than white men because we have to overcome discrimination and white men don’t.
In 2008 the Democratic primary was largely between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. At the time Clinton was probably the more experienced person, but Obama truly was — at least at that historical inflection — the right person for the job. It wasn’t about tokenism or not having a popular white man at the time and try as everyone might there will not be a replication of Barack Obama’s meteoric rise, but this is not something that Bernie Sanders or his supporters have ever understood.
Clinton was popular in 2008 because she was an experienced politician dedicated to civil service with a strong network and a reputation for loyalty and empathy. Barack Obama was popular because he is brilliant, believed in faithful representation, and was also empathetic to a fault. If Obama had not been encouraged to run in 2008 Clinton would have won the Presidency and she would have been an excellent President. Her choices would definitely have been different than Obama’s and he relates a few areas where the two of them disagreed as she served as his Secretary of State, but in 2008 when both of them stood for the Democratic nomination they stood because they were both excellent choices for President. They did not do so because she is a woman and he is Black.
Obama had to be encouraged and asked to run by Democratic leadership, but those same leaders in 2012 had to explain to Bernie Sanders why he shouldn’t try to primary a Democratic President. Unlike Clinton and Obama, Sanders really has nothing to recommend him. In 2012 Sanders distaste with Obama was largely articulated as being about Obama’s failure to hold CEO’s accountable for the great recession. But in actuality, given Sanders’ previous statements about people of colour and attitudes towards Obama himself it was far more about the fact that having a young Black man in the Presidency piqued Sanders’ sense of entitlement.
Unlike Hillary and Obama, Sanders had nothing to make him popular with either the Democratic leadership or voters. He did not have a record of service, he did not have any major legislation to his name, he had taken credit for and continues to take credit for efforts including healthcare, increasing the minimum wage, and stimulus checks written and articulated by other legislators, but he himself did not have any successes to speak of, and while his rhetoric was quite popular with white men, it did not have the nuance or realism characteristic of speeches by Obama, Clinton, Harris, or Biden.
Sanders had only his white male privilege to run on but for an unexamined white man that was enough. As such, his “movement,” became nearly instantaneously populist. The white men in particular who supported Sanders had never been in a position where they were dismissed or overlooked in favour of someone less qualified. They had never had to watch as their hard work was attributed to someone else. They had never been told that their concerns about their safety were invalid not for any real reason, but because they came from them. And so to Sanders’ supporters it was absolutely nonsensical to believe that anyone would not support a white man who said he was liberal when all the other choices were not men or were not white.
Some of Sanders’ supporters left him when the populism and bigotry of the movement became overt, but many stood by him. And they did so for the very same reason that Trump supporters stood by him. White supremacy leads people to believe that there is something inherently wrong with women and people of colour and that the only viable means of such a person coming to power is through proximity to a white man. With Hillary this allowed them to erase her own career and even personhood relative to her husband and with Obama it just stoked resentment. Despite Sanders never having accomplished anything in a long career and despite his questionable words and actions in the past he was put forth as the pinnacle of progressive leadership particularly relative to female candidates and candidates of colour simply on the basis of his being a white man.
Sanders, despite being the oldest of the candidates both in 2016 and 2020 and having the least amount of accomplishments to his name was — unlike Obama, unlike Hillary, unlike Harris, unlike, Klobuchar, Gillibrand, Booker and even Yang — rated not on his accomplishments, but on some imagined and even yet unarticulated, “potential.”
Sanders did not revel in his privilege, but only because he seemed to either not understand it or believed it was his due.
The racism against Obama was clear and even during the primary Obama himself pointed out the disparity in expectations in just appearance for men and women commenting that Hillary Clinton and his own wife would have to have their hair and makeup started an hour or more before he himself even had to wake up. No such acknowledgement has ever emanated from the Sanders camp.
When unpledged delegates in large part did not choose to endorse Bernie Sanders he explained it as “elitism,” or “establishment,” behaviour. The so-called “establishment,” Democrats were “afraid,” that the “popular,” movement would be able to demand their due. But if that were true, given Sanders’ long career as a Vermont Representative and later Senator why had he never been able to pass a single significant piece of legislation? How much of that could really be down to shadowy “elites,” afraid of him? If he was really such a catalyst for change that he frightened the leadership Democrats then why did they continually hand him campaign funds and why did he never manage to accomplish anything? Sanders — old enough to be Obama’s father and having served in the Senate alone eleven years longer — was trying to cast himself as the same kind of up-and-coming DC outsider that Barack Obama truly was.
All on its own it would have been just a cheap political trick. If Obama hadn’t been Black and if white supremacist resentment hadn’t been on the rise throughout his Presidency and if fascism wasn’t actively reanimating around the world Bernie Sanders’ populist trick of stoking feelings of resentment and entitlement particularly among middle class, white, male voters would have fizzled much earlier than it had particularly because he tried to do it in the liberal Party. It caught on among supposedly liberal young people not because Sanders was actually liberal, but because in the Democratic Party women and people of colour were being rewarded for their effort at the same rate as white men.
To white men being equal or being expected to work as hard as someone who is not a white man feels like disenfranchisement.*
White men even white men who professed their liberalism chaffed at not being able to control women and people of colour and instead having to in some cases recognize them as their superiors. Bernie Sanders, was able to capitalize on that resentment particularly when a Black President was finishing his final term and a woman looked to be the most likely successor. White men, and those who buy into white supremacy, saw in both Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump a return to what they considered the proper order.
(*Paraphrased from here.)
Populism is the larval form of fascism because populism posits that the “establishment,” is dispossessing you of your wealth or rights or power and distributing that to some undeserving, “other.” The “other,” is often female or at least effeminate but it is almost always defined as not white or somehow foreign. Foreignness can mean immigrant or bilingual, often it includes BIPOC individuals even and especially indigenous peoples, sometimes it includes non-dominant religious groups like Muslims, Jews, and less frequently Catholics, but in this context it always means, “less than.” When Bernie Sanders and later Donald Trump complained about the elections being somehow rigged against them it wasn’t really about actual electoral fairness, but about what sort of people were allowed to vote.
With Trump the racist idea that non-white votes should be supressed and were not legitimate was pretty openly stated. Trump accused Nancy Pelosi of allowing three million illegal votes in her state (these were absentee ballots likely including my own which California counted after Election Day) implying that they were cast not by citizens like myself but by “illegal immigrants,” and in 2020 he specifically singled out Fulton County in Georgia because for one he lost it and it happens to have a very high Black demographic.
Sanders was never that bold, but he did make it clear that particularly women and people of colour in the Democratic leadership were suspect and should be routinely harassed. Despite Sanders coming from a reasonably well off background, owning three homes, and being himself a millionaire his supporters would routinely attack private citizens — sometimes even private citizens who were working minimum wage jobs — with accusations of “elitism.”
According to the narrative this was because such people were receiving benefits they didn’t deserve and therefore closer to power and wealth than those attacking them. But given it was mostly middle class to well off white men attacking women and often women of colour making considerably less that does not really add up. Nonetheless, it was considered for much of 2016 not just acceptable to harass BIPOC and women online and sometimes in person, but an actual civic duty. This decreased somewhat after the Women’s March and #MeToo, but harassment of female and BIPOC public figures never abated and when the Women’s March was largely appropriated by Sanders’ supporters it was swiftly abandoned by most intersectional feminists.
Both Sanders and Trump’s movements were ultimately about colonialism and white supremacy. One was particularly more overt than the other but both were designed to silence marginalized voices, appropriate any form of dissent including AntiFa, feminism, and weirdly even BLM, and re-establish and reinforce a hierarchy with only white men at the top.
There is not much difference between Trump and Sanders as politicians. Sanders seems to be a bit smarter and might have some shame if it were fully explained to him the extent of damage he has done, but neither has shown any form of contrition. In 2020 both Sanders and Trump were able to add particularly Hispanics to their coalitions and they did make an effort in outreach to both women and Black Americans, but in both these cases the point was not to become better leaders more ready to listen to and serve a wider and more diverse population, it was to get more votes and be able to diffuse accusations of bigotry by pointing to the political demographic equivalent of “my Black friend.” (Protip: If you only have one Black friend and feel the need to reference them every time it’s pointed out to you that you’re racist, then you are definitely racist.)
Both Sanders and Trump were similarly unpopular. They maintained bases of between 25–40% of whatever group might vote for them. In a multi-way race that did guarantee them a relatively decent shot at a plurality, but it made impossible for either of them to win a two-way race. But ultimately this is easily understood just on the basis of demographics. Sanders and Trump both ran on populist platforms appealing to white male resentment. White men make up about 30–35% of the American population. So if you add on white women who have bought into white supremacy for Trump and subtract actual progressives and the lower likelihood of white men to vote Democratic at all for Sanders their lack of popularity but consistent and very loud bases make perfect sense.
We got to have our fun at Trump’s expense. And it would appear that more fun is yet to come. Yes, he stoked a violent insurrection, some 400k Americans have died as a result of his abdication of responsibility, he separated families and imprisoned children, and he raped multiple women and at least one girl that we know of so there is no punishment he can receive that will rectify any of that, but at least we can make an example of him. At least we can finally laugh at him.
We haven’t yet got to have our fun with Bernie. Relative to Trump’s actual crimes, Sanders’ random acts of bigotry and entitlement pale in comparison. But Trump was reading from Sanders’ playbook. (Assuming that Trump can actually read. I’m still not convinced on that.) Sanders didn’t cause fascism nor is he solely responsible for Trump’s rise to power. But he’s certainly not blameless. Regardless of his protestations that the primary was somehow rigged it was very clear after South Carolina in both 2016 and 2020 that Sanders was not going to win either the pledged or unpledged delegates. In both cases he should have dropped out after South Carolina.
He did not.
In 2016 his excuse was that South Carolinians were some combination of racist “Southern Democrats,” and “uneducated Black voters,” and that also Hillary Clinton had remained in the 2008 contest. In 2020 his argument was yet again that ‘Black voters are stupid,’ thinly disguised with attempts to call out Biden ironically with the language used by Kamala Harris in the primary debates, but without actually crediting her. Additionally, in 2008, while Hillary lost South Carolina in late January and lost her lead in the primaries on Super Tuesday, the margin between her and Obama was far less than the margin between Sanders and her or Sanders and Biden. There was no rational reason for Sanders to remain in either the 2016 or the 2020 primaries after South Carolina.
But to Sanders, the numbers did not matter. Hillary conceded her race to Obama because the super delegates who had endorsed her decided en masse to switch to Obama. But the 2008 race was very close. Clinton had an early lead but Obama quickly caught up with her and the two were just about neck and neck until May. The super delegates switched to Obama only because it was clear that he had won the majority of popular support. Sanders and his supporters throughout 2016 repeatedly stated that they expected the same to happen for him because — once again according to them — Sanders was the “people’s candidate.” It is true that the reason the super delegates switched over to Obama in 2008 was because Obama had more grassroots support than Hillary and it was likely he would exceed her in the popular vote. Obama actually was the “people’s candidate.” Sanders though was never in this position. (On February 9, 2016 after winning the New Hampshire primary Sanders had the majority of pledged delegates, with 36 to Clinton’s 32. He lost that lead after the third primary contest on February 20th and never again took the lead.) Once again, Sanders’ base remains to this day largely white and largely male. That is a big chunk of the population, but it is not a majority.
Sanders in his primaries continually lost ground. Where microdonations in Obama’s 2008 primary represented individual financially strapped donors scraping together what little they could afford to be part of the movement electing a candidate they truly believed in, microdonations particularly in Sanders 2020 primary were often hundreds of dollars split into $3 or $27 dollar increments donated by rich or well off donors who wanted to make it appear to the Democratic Party that their candidate had more individual support than he actually did. Where Obama was neck and neck with Clinton throughout the entire primary, Sanders faired only marginally well in the early contests and in 2020 even planned to more or less fake a win declaring victory before the caucus was finished. And even there he managed to lose.
In 2008 Hillary and Obama held an awkward meeting after she conceded the race and shortly thereafter Hillary hit the trail campaigning with every ounce of zeal she did for herself to convince her own voters to support Obama and to bring independent and even some conservative voters into the fold. As she would later do on June 5, 2016 Obama clinched the “magic number” of pledged and super delegates on June 3, 2008. Hillary Clinton posted her concession on June 5, and endorsed Obama on June 7th. In pledged delegates she trailed Obama by 62. In contrast, while Clinton stayed in until the last primary and was only really defeated after the final one in 2008, in 2016 Sanders would have had to consistently overperform after February in order to even have a chance of winning. As such, not only was he absolutely numerically eliminated by June 5 before the last 7 contests, but he trailed Clinton by a whopping 289 pledged delegates. (After the last 7 contests that difference ballooned to 359.) Despite this vast difference Sanders did not technically concede and it took him until June 24th to even say that he would vote for Clinton rather than Trump. He did not endorse her until July 12th.
In 2008, Clinton could have theoretically run a blitz campaign on super delegates and made up the difference. It would have been incredibly damaging to both her and Obama’s political capital and likely would have cost the Democrats the Presidency, but it is something she could have successfully done if she was actually everything people snidely say about her. In contrast, Sanders would have had to flip an additional 397 super delegates. The “magic number,” in 2016 was 2383 and Clinton finished the primaries with 2205 pledged delegates to Sanders’ 1846. She only needed an additional 178 supers and some 572 had already stated their support for her. Sanders needed 537 and only had 140. Unlike Clinton in 2008, he had no rational path to the Democratic nomination, no support from either voters or leadership, and no indication that any of that would change. And yet where it took Clinton 4 days to formally and even enthusiastically endorse Barack Obama, Bernie Sanders dragged his feet uselessly for over a month and ultimately ended up telling Democrats not to vote for Clinton but to, “vote your conscience.” He also used the time to fly on a private jet and sell his book.
In 2020 Sanders reprised his selfish and egotistical behaviour first by telling Elizabeth Warren that women cannot be elected President and then lying that he had said that to her, planning to steal the Iowa caucus by announcing victory before all the results were in, letting his supporters tell other Democratic candidate supporters to “bend the knee,” trying to smear Biden with an allegation of sexual assault, once again complaining that South Carolinian Democratic voters were “uneducated,” but this time in more openly racist terminology, and allowing homophobic attacks to proliferate against Pete Buttigieg. And this of course was after Sanders supporters tried to paint Kamala Harris alternately as “a cop,” specifically calling her racist despite the fact that her career has been overtly anti-racist and trying to get “heels up Kamala,” to trend. The latter is especially horrifying in that beyond the obvious misogyny involved in trying to a reduce a woman to her real or imagined sexual past, the implication of the name was that she had 1.) slept her way to the top, and 2.) was a “jezebel.”
But despite Biden not performing as well as Hillary had in 2016 and Sanders still doing worse in 2020 than he had against Hillary, when once again it became clear that Sanders could not win the nomination he once again insisted on remaining in the race. Only when the pandemic made his Trump-like rallies a vector for disease did he drop out and even then he insisted on keeping his name on ballots, complained that the other candidates had dropped out (he had planned not on winning a majority, but a plurality), and while campaigning slightly more for Biden than he did for Hillary tried to demand a cabinet position and influence in the White House.
The absolute presumptuousness of Sanders’ continued insistence that he is relevant is probably best exemplified by the West Virginia debacle. West Virginia is very very white. It is, in fact 92% white (with a population of 1.81 million). Contrast this with South Carolina which is 63.5% white (with a population of 5.08 million). In the 2016 Democratic primary West Virginia went for Sanders. But it wasn’t just a matter of Sanders winning West Virginia. He won every county. Sanders netted 124,700 votes in West Virginia taking home a whopping 51.41% of the total 242,539 votes. West Virginia in 2016 has ever since been the explanation for why “Bernie woulda,” won the general.
But there’s some major problems with that presumption. And they are majorly racist problems. The standard line is that Sanders won West Virginia because he was against Obama’s energy policy and because Clinton had made a coal related gaff a few months earlier. However, there was also a concerted effort on the part of West Virginia Republicans to deliver the state to Bernie Sanders in the hopes that Donald Trump would face the weaker of the two Democratic opponents in the general election. Some 39% of those who voted for Sanders said they planned to vote for Trump in the general. This means West Virginian voters who actually may have backed Sanders in the general only amount to 76,067 or 40.88% of the corrected total. Hillary’s total also dropped but only by 9% leaving her with a total of 79,091 votes or 42.5% of the corrected total.
But of course, Republicans rigging the election in Sanders’ favour so they could possibly get the weaker opponent does not make Sanders or his supporters racist. That goes back to their treatment of South Carolinian Democrats. Despite South Carolina being a much larger state than West Virginia the Democratic primary in 2016 only netted 370,904 votes. But of those Hillary Clinton took home 272,379 or 73.44% and there was no indication that Republicans — or anyone else for that matter — had tried to intervene in her favour. And Hillary Clinton took every single county in South Carolina. (Joe Biden did something similar in 2020 but it wasn’t as dramatic of a blowout.) This was the state whose voters, primarily Black in the Democratic primary, Sanders and his supporters would repeatedly decry as stupid and uneducated.
Moreover, if Sanders questionable sweep of West Virginia counties indicated he should be able to win the general election then why didn’t Hillary Clinton’s or Biden’s far more significant sweeps of South Carolina indicate the same for them? Was it because South Carolina had not recently voted for a Democratic President? Because the same could be said of West Virginia. In both 2016 and 2020 the far more likely answer was that South Carolina was the first state in which Black Democrats voted en masse and thereby a reasonable indicator of the strategic direction of a major constituency in the Democratic Party. South Carolinians voting for Clinton and Biden were Black, but West Virginians voting for Bernie were white. Sanders and his supporters were perfectly happy to disregard, malign, and even attempt to disenfranchise Black voters who preferred a different Democratic candidate and were exercising what little electoral power would be granted to them within the labyrinthine voting system of a US Presidential election, but when it came to white voters who had voted for him even when it was an overt and open attempt to ensure no Democrat won they were willing to raise those voters to national prominence.
Bernie Sanders is not solely responsible for the rise of fascism or the stagnation of wages or the discrimination inherent in the healthcare system. He’s not alone responsible for voter suppression, gerrymandering, growing disengagement, or even the harassment of primarily Clinton supporters but also Biden, Harris, Klobuchar, Buttigieg, and Gillibrand supporters which he tacitly endorsed. It is possible that even without Sanders’ bogus claims that the primary was rigged or his offhand sexism or absurd, loud, and obnoxious rallies Donald Trump would have been every bit as autocratic, bigoted, and obscene as he turned out to be. Certainly well before anyone outside of a few “political junkies” knew about Sanders, Trump was publicly airing his racially charged animus against Obama. So while Sanders bore Obama a similar mixture of racially charged resentment and jealousy it can hardly be said that Trump’s own racism was the fault of Bernie Sanders. It was just parallel evolution. Two septuagenarian unaccomplished white men were angry that a young Black man with a brilliant and gorgeous wife became President and then had the temerity to be good at it.
But we would be so much further if Bernie Sanders had not attempted in particular his 2016 run. If Sanders had not run in 2016, Trump still would have been awful and Russia still would have interfered. But the last piece, Sanders splitting the liberal vote and convincing voters to vote third party or stay home would not have happened. It is likely that Hillary Clinton would have been our 45th President. Perhaps with her in office #MeToo might not have gone viral or the Women’s March would not have happened, but it is also likely that she would have dealt with Russia by now, our economy would not be in freefall, if she decided to negotiate with North Korea it wouldn’t have been such an embarrassing fiasco, we would have never left the Paris Climate Agreement, if families were detained at the border it would have been dealt with in an appropriate manner, and while the pandemic may have been unavoidable it’s likely that a President Hillary Clinton could have kept several hundred thousand of the Americans we lost in the pandemic alive or kept them from even contracting the disease in the first place.
Bernie’s ego and his inability to accept the accomplishments of women and people of colour are not solely responsible for Donald Trump’s absurd fiasco of a Presidency, but just as with the Affordable Healthcare Act, Bernie’s various actions and inactions really didn’t help.
So when last Wednesday we as a nation celebrated the bittersweet triumph of democracy and the first rays of dawn after a night of fascism and disease it didn’t escape anyone’s notice that once again, Bernie Sanders did his level best to communicate his displeasure. And before anyone suggests that Sanders chose his attire either because he always wears that parka and those mittens or didn’t understand that dressing up for an inauguration is expected, the pictures in the inset are from his campaign. He knows how to dress reasonably and he owns clothing that fits and does its best to flatter. He made a choice to look like an actual bag of trash at the inauguration.
And this is made all the more galling by the expectation that all the women present particularly the women of colour be dressed to the nines. Probably if Hillary Clinton had chosen to throw on a velour jogging suit they still would have let her in but tongues would have wagged and the same cannot be said for Amanda Gorman. (And yes, I know a few of you didn’t love her style choices, but I think we can agree she at least was put together.)
When Bernie Sanders sat there crass and cross in his nasty paper mask with his socks showing he wasn’t doing that because he was the absentminded professor who doesn’t really know how to dress, or because he was a “man of the people,” and didn’t like this “elite flaunting of wealth.” He was doing it because he could. They weren’t going to throw out a white male Senator cosplaying a trash bag regardless of how well he sold that character and he knew rather than having the public castigate him for his disdain for putting in the emotional work for half a day expected of women and BIPOC on a daily basis he would instead receive curmudgeonly grandpa points.
I was pretty mad when he half conceded to Biden not because he shouldn’t have, but because Hillary had him beaten far more concretely far earlier. But it’s almost nice that he was as dismissive and egotistical at Biden’s inauguration as he was at the Democratic National Convention in 2016. In this one instance it wasn’t about misogyny or racism so much as it was his unchecked ego and sense of entitlement.
But this is why the meme of him sitting there angry and resentful is circulating the internet. A few of his diehard supporters have suggested it’s because he’s “cute” or even popular, or tried to say his mittens were in support of the teacher who allegedly knitted them.* But no, that’s not the reason. We are likely going to have the catharsis of watching Trump go to jail for his crimes. We will definitely get to watch his fortune be decimated and his children ruined. And after what they did to our country it’s going to be excellent. But technically unless some of the redacted parts of the Mueller probe refer to Sanders, he didn’t commit any crimes. There’s arguably the thing where he used campaign funds to buy copies of his own book, but whether or not that’s properly criminal or just a bad look is questionable. Sanders is shady, but he’s probably not committed a crime.
*There has been some scuttlebutt that Biden wore a Rolex to the inauguration and that for *reasons* that’s terrible. As it turns out said watch was Beau’s. So if you are trying to defend Sanders over his charity mittens that we’ve never seen him wear anywhere else you don’t get to be mad about a father wearing his deceased son’s watch to likely the most important event of his life.
Despite Sanders and his supporters tormenting women and BIPOC voters for years and ushering in an era of fascism that nearly destroyed our country the only outlet we are going to have regarding what he did is mining this meme until the chair falls out from under him and he’s swallowed whole by a boa constrictor.
There’s a lot of sexist white men trying to man/whitesplain the Bernie meme as proof of his popularity but we’ve literally had two elections in which the most liberal people in the country took a look at him and went, “…nah.” A lot of my actually progressive friends are tired of the meme because they’re sick of seeing his face. Weirdly, a guy who was instrumental in directing targeted online harassment against BIPOC and women since 2015 is triggering to them.
I’m of a different mind. I clearly don’t like Sanders. I think it’s insane to call him liberal after the things he has and hasn’t done, but I like this meme because it is such a perfect demonstration of his entitlement, his unexamined privilege, his unchecked ego, his mediocrity, and his complicity — however incidental — in the rise of fascism. I have a lot less time for the white supremacist terrorists who tried to destroy our democracy on January 6, 2021, but as far as I’m concerned they wouldn’t have gotten to that point if Sanders and the worst of his supporters had been called out way back in 2015.
Sanders true and deserved place is on Melania’s awful mumu.