I’m a Hillary supporter. I now support a Bernie candidacy.
A political identity that became tied to my emotions, is finding a different outlet.
Iowa caucuses are this Monday, February 3 and Bernie is surging. Fivethirtyeight’s primary model shows Sanders chances of winning the whole primary up 5 points in recent days up to 31 percent, after several recent high quality polls, Monmouth and Civiqs show him pulling ahead to second or first. That makes Bernie in a statistical tie with Joe Biden for winning Iowa. Bernie is also running ahead in New Hampshire and the model gives him a 49 percent chance of winning there. It is still a very competitive environment particularly in Iowa, where multiple rounds of voting could scramble the outcome in unpredictable ways.
I supported Hillary in 2016. I believed it was time for a woman president. I agree with a lot of Bernie’s policies. I think it’s time that we moved to a single payer system like Medicare for All. This month, because of Trump, war with Iran became a salient topic and I appreciated Bernies’ consistent stance against military adventurism. I have had my disagreements (often acrimonious) with Bernie‘s supporters, but I am also friends with a lot of Bernie supporters. I remember one time, I attended a journalists panel where the topic of sexism in elections came up. The panelists had a long and nuanced discussion about women running today and how much Hillary Clinton’s loss weighs on this election. Right after this discussion a member of the audience, a white woman, demanded to know why they in the media were ignoring Bernie Sanders, why they didn’t shine a spotlight on his challenges, why they and the cabal of party leaders were keeping ‘the people’ down. “Shame on you!,” she shouted until they finally cut off her mic.
I wanted to highlight this contrast not because it is representative of all Bernie supporters, I’ve had many civil discussions with them, but because of how I personally react when confronted like this. I am not someone who has any kind of power in the Democratic establishment. I’m not a member of the elite media. If I were running for office somewhere I might care what the ‘elite’ think about me, but from my perch, I don’t feel at all threatened by this kind of oppression. In fact the way she brought it up seemed entitled. Why can’t we have a discussion about the significance of sexism without someone, a woman no less, claiming a different kind of oppression?
I biked to work for many years before I finally saved enough money to buy my first car. I have always been a very safe cyclist; helmet, bike lights, visible clothes. One day a brand new SUV pulled up next to my bike and a group of boys, teenagers probably but they could’ve been young adults, started shouting asian slurs out their window. They poked fun at my masculinity and demanded angrily that I get off the road. Then they cut me off and forced me off onto the sidewalk before driving off hollering fiercely in my general direction. I was not hurt. Not this time.
This incident and the anger and emasculation I felt afterwards is what brings me to the polls. It is what Hillary Clinton speaks about when she talks about oppression. But more importantly it is the kind of rage that Trump stirs the pot with. The white anger that those teenage boys had at me, and mine back at them, those are the two emotions I most associate with the Trump presidency. This is not the only time I’ve been resentful towards specific white men though; the reason I had to ride a bicycle in a dangerous street, the reason I was working so late that I had to cycle home after dark. I was overworked and underpaid while my boss was enjoying his cruise vacation. This was a different resentment, a simmering one, a feeling of never being worthwhile, never appreciated, always just barely not good enough. This is the anger Bernie Sanders speaks to.
I’ve been reading excerpts from Ezra Kleins new book, Why We’re Polarized. He makes a point about stacking identities, that the more identities you have in common with your party; Democrat, Asian-American, minority, college-educated, atheist; the harder it is to break with your side and see the other side as partners. However, I am made up of many identities. I am also a non-unionized, exploited production worker, someone with crappy healthcare, and someone with aging parents who depends on a social safety net. What identity is salient to me is very much based on my emotions at the time. Donald Trump is a master at awakening this hot gendered/racial anger. Every day he wakes up and humiliates someone based on characteristics they are born with. Trump stirs the pot, but Hillary Clinton drew from the same well, making white, Christian, blue-collar, non-college, men view that part of their identity as salient. The sexism issue that plagued Hillary on every stop with every reporter only underscores this. Hillary lost in competing against Trump in that space.
I will not tell you that anger is a categorically bad emotion. Anger can drive you to make changes in your life, anger can focus your attention, anger can be a creative force as much as a destructive force. The anger that Donald Trump stirs up is unhealthy, for both sides. This anger is not just unhealthy, its completely impotent. I can’t do anything about those teenage boys and how they feel threatened by me. I can’t not work with white people, they’re everywhere. Likewise, those boys can’t stop me from living, working and cycling down a dark street.
Bernie Sanders finds a different anger. The anger at my health plan, the anger at being paid so poorly while my boss gets to leave for his second cruise vacation in six months. It’s still anger. It’s a simmering but potentially productive emotion. I can do something to convince people to unionize. I can talk to my white counterparts about healthcare and social security and how it helps me personally. Bernie is the candidate who can cut across political identities while keeping the emotion alive and simmering. I believe that Bernie can be a unifying candidate who has the potential to change what people believe is salient in their political selves. Bernie can beat Trump because he is not playing the same game.