I am growing weary of the superfluous yet at the same time deeply important clash between the #neverhillary Bernie supporters and the #nevertrump Bernie supporters. I’m not certain the split aligns perfectly with a millennial demographic or not, but somebody is either being somewhat politically naive or is incredibly ideologically pure about something. One puddle of wisdom (from my small reservoir of wisdom) that I have imparted to my millennial daughter on occasion, is that one of the things about life that sucks the most is you will have to sometimes do things you really don’t want to do. I’m pretty sure this is one of those times.
Here’s the thing. There’s a big difference between issues politics and electoral politics. The difference is that in issues politics it is necessary to demand 100% of what you want because that is the only way to get any of what you want. It’s you and your issue versus everybody else and their issue. There are multiple contestants in multiple battles so where you win you stay and where you don’t you move on. In modern electoral politics there are only two contestants (as far as is today’s reality) and the point comes (and it always comes) where you need other people’s supporters on your side to win, because your goal and reward is not a small victory in isolation but a majority victory in a contest decided by everyone. It is not a contest of you versus everyone else but of your coalition versus their coalition.
Compromise of ideologies is necessary in the electoral world and an anathema in the issues world. Many Bernie supporters come from the world of issues politics. They did not previously involve in electoral politics because they had no use for elections unless it directly affected their funding. Other than that they would only pursue an electoral victory if they had a champion for their issue(s). There have been single issues champions throughout the but rarely have there been any special leaders who could coalesce the numerous issues silo activists into a cohesive power bloc.
Issues activists are used to either getting what they want or leaving defeat behind and moving on to the next battle. They make black and white decisions. The concept of joining together in a coalition with the people who just caused you lose, who made you not get what you want, is utterly alien to them and feels dirty and immoral. So it’s not difficult to understand why they have trouble putting together movements. It’s just sad.
This phenomenon works in reverse as well, although people involved in electoral politics usually only drop in to work on issues when they feel burned out and made filthy by the deceits of electoral politics, and want to recharge and cleanse. Someone coming to issues politics from electoral politics will seek coalitions with what they consider to be like minded issues advocates, with similar issues. They don’t quite understand why the other issues groups leave the coalition once they get what they want. Then they remember why they were frustrated with issues activism to begin with and go back to electoral politics. To work in both electoral politics and issues politics concurrently takes some highly skilled compartmentalising, of which not everyone is capable.
This whole broken process has been a bane of the progressive movement for years, because it hasn’t really been a movement at all. It has been a bunch of separate progressive issues oriented advocacy groups all in competition with each other for grants and status and recognition. There is always a lot of rhetoric about coming together as one coherent progressive movement but it always dissolves into jealousy and competition for scarce resources. The scarcity of resources is intentional and part of a greater strategic initiative by right wing tricksters, but that’s another story.
These progressives have only come together in agreement when they have had a messiah figure to rally them. Gene McCarthy, George Mc Govern, Howard Dean and Dennis Kucinich, all to widely varying degrees, were able to bring a number of progressives together into some semblance of a movement, enough to have some modest influence on the Democratic Party. Bernie has been the latest, most successful and probably least likely of these standard bearers. The rub is these movements died off with the relevance of their leaders. Without the focus of the strong leader the coalition descends once again into the relative chaos of egotism and economically manipulated competition.
Bernie is, and always has been, aware of this. Warnings about life after Bernie have been clear parts of his speeches from the get go. He has spent most of his time and energy since it became apparent he would not win the nomination imploring that his followers continue on and forge a game changing movement. This is true, and necessary. He has implored them to remember that this is not about him but about us. This is true, and necessary. He has implored us to defeat Donald Trump by any and all means. This is true, and necessary. He is showing and/or reminding us that 30% of 100% is much more than 100% of nothing. This is true, necessary and perhaps his greatest lesson taught.
What I don’t understand is why so many of Bernie’s followers, who have followed him through the crucible of mainstream efforts to get in his way, have now stopped listening to him. Actually I do understand. The messiah has betrayed them. He has not delivered on their issue(s) so they are expressing their rage. They will try another tack later after they get over feeling suckered by promises of glory in a progressive paradise. To be clear though, this type of betrayal is not an unusual occurrence. It is seen, commonly, in the affairs of both parties and is not fixable from the top down. Let me repeat, it is not fixable from the top down but only from the bottom up. This is why Bernie is so adamant that his supporters not run away licking their wounds but stay and fight and elect Clinton despite themselves.
In order to have a bottom up re-evolutionary movement that succeeds the Sanders coalition must stay together and organize. To accomplish this it is critical that the activated millennials not get jaded and cynical and go back to their X-boxes. Bernie is trying his damnedest to impart the knowledge that this whole thing is bigger than him and must survive his primary loss. And the first step towards that accomplishment is to prevent the uniquely American fascism of Trump and his minions from ever getting enough control to do irreparable harm to our nation and thus the globe. That would take generations to recover from.
So listen up kiddos and ex hippies. You think you need an unconditional Bernie electoral victory, when what you really need is for the many wonderful progressive issues activists out there to drop their ego facades, overcome their economic jealousies, and form the powerful progressive movement that has always been there, dormant, and ready to flip the entire political landscape. I can help, but I’m old, as are my beautiful tye dyed peers. The mantel is now being passed from Bernie’s hippie contemporaries to Bernie’s hipster acolytes. We’ll all help actually, if you let us, we’re experienced protesters. And we still know how to roll an English joint.
Here’s a parable for us to end todays sermon. When Mom broke out the Ben and Jerry’s you told her you wanted 3 scoops of Cherry Garcia. She said no but you can each have a half scoop of chocolate chip cookie dough, because that’s all we have. Do you say no, I know you have some Cherry Garcia in there and it’s either the whole 3 scoops or nothing at all. Or, do you take the cookie dough and get at least a bit of a sweet taste in your mouth. If you all keep bugging mom maybe you’ll get some of that Cherry Garcia next time.
You weren’t that stuck up in school, were you?