In 2015 Bernie Sanders seemed to galvanize a movement towards progressivism the likes of which has never been seen in our country. For decades it has felt like the Democratic Party has drifted toward the right. A large portion of the left-leaning population was looking for something better, something that lined up more closely with their beliefs. Bernie not only fulfilled that need but did so in such passionate manner that he pulled a whole generation along with him. But Bernie lost in the 2016 Democratic primary to Hillary Clinton. He decided to run again in 2019. We are now in 2020. Bernie has been basically campaigning for 5 years and according to the Democratic primary polls, he is doing worse than what he did in the 2016 primary.
Bernie was born in 1941. He was a young man during the time of Martin Luther King Jr. His beliefs and how to achieve them were molded during a time when great people were mobilizing others to bring about social justice. Once Bernie had experienced the intoxicating high of being all in on a cause, he wanted more. He went looking for his version of utopia so he would have a goal. He turned toward socialism and communism to see how their societies worked. Bernie found many things to like but he also saw how they achieved their goals, things like enemy lists and targeted harassment. Now that he had information, he had to get into a position of power to begin making changes.
Bernie was first elected to office when he was 40 years old. But that position was Mayor of Burlington. He was able to showcase his progressive beliefs but wasn’t able to make changes on a significant scale. Sanders needed a position that gave him a broader scope. He ran for and won a senate seat in 1991, the position he holds today.
What Went Wrong?
While Bernie was working to move closer to his goals, time moved on, but Bernie never revised his approach. He stayed stuck in a revolution mentality. Even his terminology is reminiscent of the hippies in the 60’s. Bernie’s approach to his movement was to agitate the populace. To do that, he needed enemies. The rich, the establishment, the media, moderate Democrats, corporate Democrats… This worked during the days of MLK because it was right against wrong. But if you are trying to convince people that certain policies would be better than others you need cooperation to get them to vote the way you want them to.
Cooperation has never been a strong point for Bernie. He has never gotten along well with others in the senate. He has put Democrats in the position of making the hard votes while he protected his brand. He has repeatedly used the Democratic Party to help him get elected then dumped them as soon as he wins. This is the way he thinks. Agitate, revolution, enemy lists, targeted harassment, use others to get what you want, if you’re not for me you’re against me. And that is what he is passing on to his followers.
Those tactics would be problematic no matter who they were aimed at since the goal is to get votes but Bernie has decided to use the tactics against the Democratic Party, the people who have supported him all these years, the people he needs to win the Democratic nomination. There is no logical way to think that those revolutionary tactics could do anything other than fracture the party. They are not designed to build coalitions. They are designed to build enemies. How can they do anything else when you have to vilify so many people to motivate your own? How do you ever get your people to be willing to accept people you have vilified and how do you bring those who have been vilified into the fold?
The progressive movement would be better off without Bernie. He was good for it up to a certain point but it’s long past time for him to step aside to allow others to continue building the movement in a manner that works in today’s environment and with the ultimate goal of getting people to vote for progressive policies. Progressives need to learn to build coalitions rather than destroy, they need to learn to get along with others rather than alienate, they need to learn that even when they lose they can still shift the platform a little more to the left each time. And they need to learn that just because someone disagrees with them, it doesn’t mean that person is their enemy. It just means they need to work harder to show positive results. Little victories can translate into bigger victories. These are things that Bernie cannot teach because he was never any good at them.
Unfortunately, Bernie’s ego hasn’t let him step aside. That will probably cost him the Democratic nomination which will, in turn, cause such hatred among his supporters that it could cost the Democratic Party the presidency. And all because Bernie taught them to hate and attack rather than to band together and grow strong.