Bernie Sanders, a Post Mortem

“I move that Hillary Clinton be selected as the nominee of the Democratic Party.”

These words formally ended the broad based political revolution that Bernie Sanders, the senator from Vermont, had campaigned for so viciously.  Just like that.  In fact, Sanders’ political revolution ended the moment he failed to secure enough delegates.  His words as an acclamation for Hillary to be the nominee were more for show than anything else; an attempt to assuage the utter disappointment that persons are feeling about Sanders’ loss.

As I have listened to reports from commentators over the last few days, there has been a noticeable aghast towards the scores of “Bernie or Bust” people who aren’t happy that Hillary Clinton is the nominee for the Democratic National Party.  There are countless interviews of delegates at the DNC this week who have expressed tangible disgust towards Clinton as they lift up the ideals of Sanders.  The roundtable panel this morning on NPR’s The Diane Rehm show offered a tone of disdain as these delegates and others, citing that in 2008 how the party quickly unified around Barack Obama.  What this analysis does is fail to recognize the strong differences in which the country has found itself in eight years later.

For starters, the economy isn’t on a major decline.  As noted, the DNC is doing a great job of showing just how great America is in contrast to the dystopian fear fest that the Republican National Convention seemed to put on last week.  With unemployment at relatively low levels, a Brexit vote that hasn’t seemed to rock the American economy, a stock market that is higher than ever, gas prices have remaining relatively low and stabilized even in the summer driving months, the country is not emerging from the depths of a struggling Bush administration like it was eight years ago.  At that time, much of the electorate just wanted stability.  It wasn’t a time in which populist movements focused on ideals, but rather focused on stabilizing the economy.  Lest we forget, when Obama took office in 2009, the economy had not reached its nadir.  To compare the wants of Sanders supporters to Clinton supporters in 2008 reeks of bad political memory at best, and journalistic bias at worst.

Secondly, and perhaps more importantly, in my opinion, Ferguson hadn’t happened yet.  While racial incidents have never stopped happening in this country from its inception, one would have to go back to the Rodney King incident and LA Riots of 1992 for the last time that a sustained conversation about race happened nationally.  And since that time, the ways in which we talk about race have shifted dramatically.  Reconciliation is now a bad word.  The notion of white privilege is a common theme discussed.  Hell, even a serious conversation about reparations has happened in just the last two years!  And the influence of technology through social media has democratized voices in these conversations in exponential ways that denizens of 1992 could not even fathom.

Bernie_Sanders_DNC.When Bernie Sanders’ supporters are still struggling as to vote for Clinton in November, this post-Ferguson lens is one through which they are undoubtedly looking.

Sanders was the first candidate to embrace Black Lives Matters, not Clinton.  Granted he had to be brought there, but he got there quicker than Clinton. For millennials watching, this was a major bellwether for what a future political candidate could look like.  For a generation that seems rather interested in tearing down the system rather than working in it, Sanders offered some glimmer of hope that maybe there was a political candidate worth voting for.

I write this as the news that not one single police officer who had custody of Baltimore resident Freddie Gray will be held legally responsible by our criminal justice system.  For many in this country, black and white, Asian and Hispanic, old and young, rich and poor, across the sexual orientation spectrum, this is the evidence that the system does not work.  One famous refrain of Sanders was that the system is rigged.  The system is so rigged, that he, a self-avowed Independent, had to join the Democratic party just to have a fighting chance.  Against hard evidence that Freddie Gray was healthy prior to his arrest, and due to injuries he sustained while in custody, he died, yet not one single officer will suffer any legal consequences is simply an unconscionable state of affairs.  This is the system that Sanders was running against.

Whether people expected him to do something tangible when it came to indicting and sentencing police officers who either shoot and kill unarmed black men, or allow black citizens to die in their custody is a debatable subject.  But it was clear that Sanders knew that this system existed and that it was consequentially unfair to vast segments of the American populace.  Clinton, on the other hand, implicitly and continually puts forth a rhetoric that the system does work, it just needs reform and she’s the candidate for it.  What many commentators miss who have been glib about Sanders’ supporters not immediately coming to the fold, is that Clinton–and her husband Bill–aren’t just saying the system works, but they are the system itself.  For a couple that has been front and center when it comes to national Democratic party politics for 25 years, there’s no denying that they are the one’s who pull the strings and puppets on stage perform as directed.

For a disillusioned millennial generation, Sanders was a candidate many wanted to vote for.  And in the memory of most under 35 years of age, Barack Obama was a candidate in which many wanted to vote for.  I say this as opposed to the fact that George W. Bush was a candidate liberals and progressives voted against.  And that candidate who had the dubious classification of being “the lesser of two evils” was the unmemorable John Kerry.  The recent politics of the last 35 years have shown us that the party that wants their candidate to be vote against the other candidate, often don’t win the national election.  This cycle, the emergent mantra from converted Sanders supporters has joined that of long-term Clinton supporters: to not vote for Hillary is to elect Trump.  I can’t imagine a more depressing feeling to have when walking into a polling place.

November is still three months away.  Who knows what statements Trump might make before then.  You can hardly call them gaffes because they’re so intentionally incendiary.  Again, even in the writing of this, I received the CNN update that Trump called for Russia to hack Hillary Clinton’s emails.  I read this and realize my English vocabulary fails me searching for a word or phrase the capture the inane absurdity of that which is Donald Trump.

Presumptive Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders wave after speaking at a rally in Portsmouth, N.H. earlier this month
Presumptive Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders wave after speaking at a rally in Portsmouth, N.H. earlier this month

Clinton has major work to win over Sanders supporters and it is her job to do so.  Sanders did what he was supposed to do in his speech earlier this week at the DNC, as well as speaking for the Vermont delegation during the roll call vote effectively ending his campaign for a political revolution.  Clinton meanwhile has to muster what she can to tell Sanders’ supporters that she can and will, at least, radically reform the system.  This is in light of yet another email scandal that closely affects Clinton: we have evidence that the Democratic party machine was ultimately not fair to the Sanders campaign and that preferential treatment was given that ultimately negatively affected that campaign.  These are facts.  They are indisputable.  The irony is that Clinton has a problem with being seen as trustworthy while Donald Trump’s trust has yet to be questioned, yet the lies that proceed from his mouth are as numerable as the stars in the sky.

For revolutionaries, anything short of a revolution is a defeat.  To be happy that this is the most progressive platform that the DNP has presented at a convention is acquiescence.  And revolutionaries don’t acquiesce.  Granted, just exactly how revolutionary these supporters truly are is questionable even by my own definition of revolution, but I appreciate their gall and intractability on the issues.  We don’t get those progressive types that often.  Most Sanders supporters can give substance as to why they’re so doggedly against Clinton and why they hold such progressive political opinions.  The mirror image, however, is robotic like responses that often end in “…because he can make America great again.”

In a world where a black man can effectively be murdered by No One, a serial killer who has a body count as high as this country’s age, maybe we deserve Donald Trump.  Maybe our penance for having a rigged system is that we get the booby prize of a Donald Trump presidency.  I certainly don’t want that to happen.  But if as a country we lack the political will power to effect change for the least of these, then what other alternative do we honestly have.