After gaining significant momentum from his victories in the American West, Senator Bernie Sanders continues to gallantly fight Hillary Clinton for the Democratic presidential nomination. However, as I’ve written before, Clinton’s nomination appears more and more inevitable after she swept nearly the entire South and generated support from over 450 superdelegates. Though Sanders has successfully imbued the overall Democratic primary with a renewed progressive energy, his failure to generate support from minority communities and older citizens may indeed halt his opportunities for long-term success, despite recent momentum.
My pessimism about his campaign stems more from my lack of faith in the current Democratic hierarchy than in Sanders himself. The Democratic establishment has already asked Sanders to begin toning down his campaign, with Maryland Senator Barbara Mikulski urging, “It will be almost impossible for Sen. Sanders to catch up. And he should do the math and draw his own conclusions” (Politico, “Democrats to Sanders: Time to wind it down,” 03.21.2016). While it is important to note that these sentiments were expressed before Sanders’s landslide victories in Hawaii, Alaska and Washington, there has been no indication that the establishment is going to change its tune about Sanders anytime soon.
Without the support of those controlling the Party’s agenda and financial resources, I don’t think Sanders will be nominated this July. I think it’s too late in the game for Sanders to redefine political pragmatism. I think it’s too late in the game for Sanders to achieve a mandate and reverse the endorsements of over 400 superdelegates.
Hopefully I’m wrong. However, despite my belief that Sanders is the best candidate running right now, a dangerous trend propagated recently within the stalwart wing of the supporter base of Sanders that must be properly critiqued and deconstructed.
While some would-be Democratic voters are bracing for a Clinton nomination, more diehard Sanders supporters have turned to an alternate plan should he have to concede. In response to the purported inevitability of Clinton’s nomination, Internet supporters of Sanders have launched a “Bernie or Bust” campaign. The basis of the movement asserts that if Sanders does not get nominated, people will either not vote or turn their support for Green Party candidate Dr. Jill Stein. Supporters of the campaign have cited “her stance on military intervention in the Middle East, fracking, the minimum wage, Wall Street regulation and campaign finance reform” (Yahoo! Politics, “Some Sanders supporters say it’s ‘Bernie or Bust’ and they will never vote for Hillary Clinton,” 03.26.2016). Within the last few weeks, I have found myself struggling with my position in this very camp.
Grappling with the complex political history of Hillary Clinton is a tough task for anyone who considers themselves to be a progressive, especially those disillusioned with the current political system and Democratic establishment. Whereas Clinton represents the status quo, Stein has promised the United States a “Green New Deal,” shown unwavering support for movements like Black Lives Matter and thoroughly rejected the neoconservative foreign policy that has dominated American relations over the past decade and a half. To invoke Cornel West’s Sanders endorsement, Stein is a long-distance runner in the fight for environmental and social justice, egalitarianism, civil rights and sustainable infrastructure.
While my beliefs resonate strongly with those of Stein’s, particularly her commitment to green social justice and economic equality, a vote for a third party this election cycle amounts to potential complicity in the election of Donald Trump or Ted Cruz. That is something I can’t have on my conscience. That is something no supporter of equality or justice should have on their conscience. If enough left-leaning individuals vote third-party in lieu of voting Democrat, that could lead to significant denting in Clinton’s supporter base, paving the way for a Republican president. The Left needs to, for better or for worse, unite behind whomever earns the Democratic nomination.
I am not against voting for third-party candidates, generally speaking. Third parties are an essential and healthy part of our democracy. I reject the popular notion that a vote for a third-party candidate is a “wasted vote.” However, there’s simply too much at stake this year to risk it.
Refusing to vote at all if Sanders isn’t nominated is equally as toxic. An article that ran in Quartz described the privileged position of Sanders supporters who say they will sit out the election or vote for Stein this November instead of voting for Hillary Clinton. The piece frames the very dangerous and violent reality many groups of people will face should Donald Trump become President of the United States.
The article goes on to detail that, “Trump excuses his followers who attack a homeless Hispanic man on the street…refused to distance himself from the Ku Klux Klan, supports banning Muslims from entering the US, advocates killing the families of terrorists, and is openly sexist. How privileged do you need to be to imagine that it’s a good idea to risk the actual lives of vulnerable Americans because you ‘hate’ Clinton so much that you vow to stay home if Sanders doesn’t get the nomination?” (Quartz, “Privilege is what allows Sanders supporters to say they’ll ‘never’ vote for Clinton,” 03.22.2016).
Furthermore, Ted Cruz’s comments about patrolling Muslim neighborhoods in the wake of the Brussels attacks and consistently virulent anti-LGBTQ+ rhetoric underscores the unfortunate and dismal reality that his presidency would only be marginally better.
Melissa Hillman’s piece serves as an effective exercise in speaking truth to power. For communities of color, queer folk and women, a Trump–or Cruz, for that matter–presidency is a real threat. The “Bernie or Bust” movement ignores the dangers that abandoning Clinton could spell for the most at-risk members of our society.
Moreover, the campaign underestimates how Trump’s lack of political qualifications could disastrously undermine the office of the presidency and the ability of the government to properly serve the people it is supposed to represent. Donald Trump is a pathological liar whose toxic beliefs often change within minutes of him dictating them. The absurd and utterly terrifying concept of a Trump presidency could very well become a reality in eight months if liberals and left-leaning moderates don’t back the Democratic nominee.
Hillary Clinton is a flawed candidate. Hillary Clinton is maybe not as liberal or consistent in her views as some would like. Hillary Clinton voted for the War in Iraq. Hillary Clinton has Wall Street ties. Hillary Clinton is relatively moderate on many positions that are near and dear to progressives’ hearts.
Hillary Clinton did not offer to pay the legal fees of a supporter who punched a black protester. Hillary Clinton did not speak at the same event as an evangelical pastor who called for the punishment of death for homosexuals. Hillary Clinton did not vow to bring back waterboarding. Hillary Clinton does not spew racist, sexist vitriol on a regular basis just to make headlines.
The perils are too grandiose and pervasive to ignore. I will vote for Hillary Clinton should she earn the Democratic nomination out of fear for the potentially irreversible damage a Trump or Cruz presidency could inflict on our nation. I encourage all who feel similarly to do the same.