The Unbearable Whiteness of “Bernie or Bust”
Threatening to vote third-party or sit out the election should Clinton become the Democratic nominee instead of Sanders risks throwing millions of women and minorities under the Republican bus. That’s not progressive — it’s selfish and privileged.
As we move inexorably toward Nov. 8, the only thing that comes close to scaring me as much as the possibility we’ll end up with Republican Donald Trump or Ted Cruz as president is that a certain class of progressives could help that happen, even on purpose.
I’m referring, of course, to the one-third of people supporting Democrat Bernie Sanders who say they won’t vote for fellow Democrat Hillary Clinton if she wins the nomination, according to a recent Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll, and instead will vote third-party, stay home or even vote for Trump. If they follow through on their threat and in large enough numbers, they could very well hand the election to the Republican, much as Ralph Nader’s candidacy cost Al Gore the 2000 election and gave us eight years of George W. Bush, from whose administration we still haven’t fully recovered.
Perhaps now would be a good time to point out that I’m not partial to Clinton or Sanders. Either would make a fine president, and there are legitimate arguments for and against both. And nothing I write here is directed at the rational two-thirds of Sanders’ supporters who would still vote for Clinton if she won the nomination.
But the political terrorism these mostly — if not almost entirely — heterosexual, white millennial “Bernie or bust” people are threatening is largely born of privilege. And even leaving aside what an egregious offense against simple reason and pragmatism it would be to throw away one’s vote on a hopeless third-party candidate or not to vote, all for the sake of selfish vanity, such an action could have disastrous consequences for those of us least able to weather four to eight years of Trump or Cruz.
I’m gay, mixed-race (albeit mostly white-looking) and married to a Venezuelan national of Chinese descent. Believe me when I say that we are in no position to have a president who would do everything in his power to undermine our marriage, make life as difficult as possible for the one of us who lacks US citizenship and speaks English as a third language, and embolden racist and homophobic bigots across the land.
But young, white, heterosexual and especially male and educated millennials, while likely to feel irritation or anger at Trump or Cruz, have nothing to worry about. They don’t have to worry about being deported, becoming victims of hate crimes or the appointment of one or more right-wing Supreme Court justices who reject the principle of stare decisis and would be eager to revisit same-sex marriage, abortion and civil rights.
To be sure, not all the Bernie-or-busters are white, male or heterosexual. But a huge majority, at least the most prominent ones, are all three of those things. And if you’ve had occasion to meet any online, you’ll know that the only thing matching their privilege is their myopic inability or obstinate refusal to recognize it and its role in their political positions.
Lately, Salon and Huffington Post in particular have provided a forum for these people, such as Walker Bragman, H.A. Goodman, Shane Ryan and others.
When I responded to one of Bragman’s Salon columns via Twitter and got into a brief online kerfuffle with him, one remark in particular jumped out at me: “We can survive 4 years” [of Trump or Cruz].” Or perhaps this headline and subhead, to a Salon column written by Ryan, put it more succinctly: “Just let the Republicans win. Maybe things need to get really bad before America wakes up.”
Whether intentionally or not, the “we” whom Bragman referred to in his tweet clearly did not refer to racial, sexual or religious minorities. And for Ryan to blithely wish for a Republican victory — and the whole racist, homophobic and misogynistic reign of terror that would come with it — makes him no better than any immigrant-bashing Trump supporter or gay-hating Cruz supporter. The same goes for anyone who would knowingly and willfully commit themselves to actions that would even indirectly put the likes of Cruz or Trump in office.
Anyone who thinks fears of Trump or Cruz are overblown need look no further than what has happened over the past year or two. The Supreme Court’s decision in Obergefell v. Hodges to legalize same-sex marriage has sparked a nationwide backlash as around half the states are considering “religious freedom” laws that would effectively create a First Amendment-protected right to discriminate against LGBT people, in a country where more than half the states still lack laws protecting us from housing, employment and public-accommodations discrimination. And Cruz has buddied up with Kevin Swanson, a Colorado Springs-based Christian pastor who routinely calls for LGBT people to be put to death.
Meanwhile, Trump’s rallies have seen numerous assaults on protestors — most of them people of color — and driven an uptick in harassment and assault against people of color and immigrants. His endorsements from white supremacists like David Duke speak volumes.
Perhaps it is clear now why many LGBT people and people of color are downright terrified of the prospect of Trump or Cruz as president. Just imagine either of these men empowered to issue executive orders, determine foreign policy, appoint Supreme Court justices and lower-court judges and generally determine the political mood of the country. Needless to say, any LGBT people hoping to flee oppression in Russia or Uganda and seek US asylum might want to make sure their plane tickets are exchangeable.
This brings me back to the Bernie-or-busters.
I would not expect straight people to share the same fear of Cruz that LGBT people do, nor would I expect US-born white people to fear Trump as much as people of color and immigrants. It’s simply not as personal for them as it is for us — LGBT rights, immigration and racial equality are simply planks on a political platform to them, not matters of life and death. But I would expect them to understand that we, not they, are the experts on these issues because we live them every day of our lives. That bears repeating to the white, heterosexual Bernie-or-bust people who have responded to my concerns about the potential repercussions of their actions for minorities by saying they don’t care about “social issues” and that we’re just being paranoid or fearmongering, or — as Bragman suggested to me in another tweet — that LGBT people have nothing to fear about a president who embraces pastors who want us dead because gay marriage is now legal.
It all speaks to a problem that many minorities have had with heterosexual and white progressives for a long time, long before Sanders ever came onto the scene. That is to say, they’ll talk a lot about economic justice for all and class issues, and that’s all good and well. But the minute we try to talk about our issues and experiences, especially as being relevant and important yet distinct from those of heterosexuals and whites, we’re treated as an afterthought at best and, at worst, ignored or shut down.
In my experience, Bernie-or-busters have often been quick to point out their pro-LGBT and anti-racist street cred. But as with so many white and heterosexual progressives, when asked to sacrifice a bit of their political purism for their most vulnerable fellow human beings, they become just as ignorant as any right-winger. In doing so, they become useful idiots for the very injustices they purportedly oppose.
If you see a Trump or Cruz presidency as no big deal or even as a desirable stepping stone to your revolution, then you can call yourself a lot of things — but “progressive” isn’t one of them.
Alaric DeArment is a journalist based in New York. He doesn’t ordinarily write about political topics, but felt compelled to in this case. His email is email@example.com.