I like Bernie Sanders. He’s affable, gregarious and has a genuine interest in tackling some of the more pernicious problems with American politics.But in my interactions with Sanders supporters both on and offline, I’m reminded of Mahatma Gandhi, and that’s not good for Bernie.
Prepare yourselves. I’m about to give you a first-hand guided tour of how my brain makes awesomely weird connections, and how the Gandhi connection isn’t a good thing for Sanders.
Prima facie, me being reminded of Gandhi by Bernie’s followers would seem to be a good thing. Gandhi pretty much wrote the book of coalition politics, passive resistance and sparking dialogue with people, even if they happen to be your oppressors. Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr. were the guiding stars of my college activism. As a young gay man in the late 1990’s I bore the weight of widespread disapproval for my “lifestyle” while still brimming with idealism. Years later, I still look to Gandhi and King to guide me on compassion, inclusion, and love.
The most important part of such love and compassion is acceptance. It means dealing with people right now, as they are and where they are, history and baggage in tow. You make an honest effort to deal with Donald Trump with the same quality of compassion that you do your mother. It’s not always successful with Trump or your mother. It’s a practice, not an end in itself.
I have a sign I hang on my wall; it says “The measure of love is to love without measure.” It sounds like something that Gandhi would say. Turns out, early Christian theologian St. Augustine beat him to the punch. I don’t believe the Hindu Gandhi would dismiss St. Augustine’s quote on the basis of his Christianity. I certainly don’t dismiss the content of King’s I Have a Dream Speech on the basis of King’s Christianity. The substance of the quote speaks for itself, and works outside the context in which it was originally embedded.
And while this connection between Gandhi and Christianity is the result of my own weird thinking, it is not the most prominent one. For it was Gandhi who said to Methodist missionary James E. McEldowney in his oft-quoted interview “I like your Christ. I do not like your Christians, they are so unlike your Christ.” This is the connection. This is how I view a particular portion of Sanders supporters. The 18 to 25-year-old undergraduate white demographic, where Sanders finds his most fervent support.
I like progressivism. I like what it stands for, I like the idea of making the playing field truly level, to take care of our citizens and offer as many opportunities as we can to all Americans. I do not, however, like progressives, they are so unprogressive … one might call them regressive.
Regressives have no sense of how progress has taken place anywhere. Progress is necessarily difficult. It’s messy. It has many moving parts and many fits and starts. It requires teamwork and coalitions and is often 2 steps forward and 1 step back. Most of all, progress is traumatic and triggering, almost always with no warning or disclaimer attached to it. Regressives lack this insight into the nature of progress.
Progress is made by consent, not by dragging the rest of the world along with you. And while social activism can bring be peaceful and loving, it can also be destructive and cruel. I’m specifically thinking of a YouTube video that I saw of a journalist on location at the University of Missouri this summer documenting protests in response to their university president’s racist remarks.
The First Amendment to the Constitution guarantees all citizens the right to peaceably assemble. The key word here is peaceably. The behavior captured on the video wasn’t violent per se, but it sure wasn’t peaceable. It ranged from passive-aggressive to fascist. A professor of journalism (oh, the irony) called on “muscle” to remove a journalist from an area where he was taking pictures for ESPN. That’s kind of the definition of fascism: you know ‘might makes right’. The protesters didn’t appear to have the slightest clue that it was the exact same Constitutional amendment that allowed them to assemble which allowed the photojournalist to take pictures of the protest.
The video was an unmitigated look into this generation’s equivocation of entitlement and rights under the guise of social justice. Yes, having a journalist take your photo in a public space without your permission is inconvenient. It can be traumatic and trigger a wellspring of emotions. However, rights are supposed to inconvenience people. Your right to a fair trial is supposed to inconvenience the police and prosecutor. It’s when your rights don’t inconvenience someone that there’s a problem. You know, like when young black men are gunned down by police officers for no good reason. That whole systemic racism thing that you actually gathered to protest at the University of Missouri, all 16 or so of you privileged white people and maybe 2 people of color. (N.B. The journalist they were attempting to wrangle was a person of color as well.)
Upon watching this video, I could not quantify the level of cognitive dissonance I experienced, other than to say that it was vast. Anger quickly replaced the dissonance. Progress isn’t made by keeping people away from your protest, it’s about including them and starting that dialogue and demonstrating the problem to the world. Protesting is about gather solidarity, not censorship.
But its not just the University of Missouri, it’s happening at college campuses across the country. It’s what I’m referring to as the systemic infantilization of this generation of college students. In fact, its this systemic infantilization that is giving regressives of all ages momentum. It’s also having the effect of pulling the Democrats further to the left then maybe parts of the Democratic coalition can go. And there’s only one other party available to these key demographics.
A large part of my decision not to vote for Sanders is how much of this small demographic’s entitlement/rights equivocation has leaked into the Sanders campaign. Yes, Bernie, I know that a lot of countries have universal health care. I also know that we are the example of what not to do with health care to the world, even after Obamacare. And an America where health care is guaranteed to all its citizens will undoubtedly be a better country. I support single payer insurance. It makes economic sense and there’s the also basic human dignity of not needlessly suffering from disease.
Liberal, progressive or regressive, we all know where “there” is. The central question of liberal politics isn’t where we should go, it’s how we get there.
The regressive left isn’t regressive because they aren’t looking forward. They’re regressive because they demand to go there and that you accompany them, rather than asking you to join. It’s annoying and a bit scary, given that Sanders’ campaign is a populist movement. It’s a fine line between a populist and fascist movement. Did they just not teach about the politics of World War II for an entire generation? Have these people not heard of Mussolini, Stalin or Pol Pot?
However, I’m not letting Sanders, or his campaign, off the hook for allowing this demographic to determine the direction of his campaign. Seasoned politicians ought to know better and campaigns ought to have a better understanding of the underlying demographics of the Democratic party.
Sanders’ campaign has largely downplayed his voting record on gun control, and Sanders supporters’ initial response to Black Lives Matter protesters last summer in Seattle indicated a focus on matters of most importance to white progressives, and not those of importance to black people. This is importance, not relevance. Of course, making the economy more fair is relevant to black people. They’re just a little pre-occupied with that whole systemic racism in police departments and the criminal justice system nationwide thing. The Seattle snafu was an early indication that the Sanders campaign was not particularly aware of the fragility of the coalition demographics of the Democratic party.
And while Sanders has made gains among women in all age demographics, he’s still not doing well with blacks and Hispanics. He’s not addressing the here and the now for these constituencies. Nor is he really offering them a seat at the table, so much as just parroting back their demands as campaign promises in an attempt to placate them. What Sanders should have been doing this whole time is engaging them. That’s what Hillary has been doing. That’s why she’s pretty much got the Democratic nomination on lockdown.
One thing I disagree with Clinton in regards to Sanders is her critique of Sanders as a single-issue candidate. He’s spoken plenty on multiple issues that he’d like to tackle, given the opportunity. Sanders is a single-demographic candidate. This spells doom for any presidential candidate, but particularly a Democratic one. This, and the plurality of regressives in Sanders camp certainly explains the level of vitriol I see in my Twitter feed at any given moment.
The responses to how the campaign is turning out so far are also frightening. People are literally threatening to boycott voting in the general election should Sanders fail to capture the nomination. To paraphrase Bill Maher: sometimes you really want the fish, but all that’s left is the chicken. Rather than walking away hungry, it’d be wiser to eat the chicken.
Once you peer behind the curtain in any given political system, you realize that the choices are never ideal. The question then becomes: Does it have to be this way? Well, if progressive policies became implemented, wouldn’t they become the status quo eventually? Would it then be the fault of the status quo that people still suffer? No moreso than the policies of the past, successful or failed. The job of the voter becomes to suss out what’s the best we can get from a leader right here and right now and then to vote according to their conscience.
So coming full circle and back to Gandhi. I’m asking of Sanders supporters to extend Clinton the same level of compassion that they would their own family, should she win the Democratic nomination. Give the woman a chance.