Essay №10: The Zephyr Among the Storm
“What Happened” — Rodham, Sanders and the enabling of Sexism and White Privilege
For the last two months, I decided to deactivate my Facebook account for personal reasons. When I reactivated Facebook this week, I logged on only to be compelled into a Facebook argument on Hillary Clinton’s upcoming memoir on the 2016 election: “What Happened.” Usually, I would avoid such arguments, unless the conversation within the thread became so volatile and inflammatory that a new voice was necessary to ground the wings and adhere to perception rather than prejudice.
These are a few of the comments and rationale that are emboldened from Senator Sanders’ campaign (comments are from the same white male):
While I will not go into detail on the contradictory nature of this person’s comments — saying “we don’t want to hear from her…” and then asking her to “unite the base” — I will speak at length about how this mode of mental transportation is rooted in sexism and white privilege. And if this is the base, in which this Sanders supporter is asking Clinton to unite, I don’t want any part of a base that is built on the precipice of sexism and white privilege.
For reference, the excerpts in which many Sander’s supporters, including this one, are most upset about are these two leaked excerpts from the upcoming memoir:
While we will move into a conversation on populism and how it was used as a campaign strategy, I would like to put this as plainly as the Democratic Nominee does in these two excerpts: Sexism and white privilege are not and should never be used as a strategic political tool to court and manipulate votes.
To understand the sexism that Bernie Sanders and his supporters used to court votes and the sexism that surrounds Hillary Clinton — and that of any female candidate for president of the United States — is written in the results of the 2008 primary election for president. White men, narrowly backed Clinton in her 2008 race for president, paving the way for a campaign strategist to pray off her gender in future presidential aspirations. White men in the 2016 Democratic primary resisted her campaign by exponential margins.
The exit polls in Missouri, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Michigan in the 2008 primary compared to the results in 2016 are most illustrative of both white privilege and sexism. In 2008, Clinton won white men in Missouri, by a margin of 48 percent to Obama’s 39 percent; in North Carolina, 54 percent to Obama’s 40 percent; in Ohio, 55 percent to Obama’s 44 percent and; in Pennsylvania, 53 percent to Obama’s 46 percent. I choose these states to analyze because these were all considered to be swing states in the 2016 general election (barring Missouri). Michigan is a unique case because, in reference to the 2008 primary, a full profile of voters in the results is not entirely available. This is because former Senator John Edwards and then Senator Barack Obama withdrew their names from the primary race because of primary rules that had Michigan scheduling its primary too early. Nevertheless, a projection created by Five Thirty Eight would still have had Clinton winning white men and the state in the 2008 primary.
With the aforementioned numbers in mind, in the 2016 primary election for the Democratic nominee for president: in Missouri, Sanders won white men by a margin of 61 percent to Clinton’s 38 percent; in North Carolina, 58 percent to Clinton’s 36 percent; in Ohio, 57 percent to Clinton’s 42 percent; in Pennsylvania, Clinton won white people 51 percent to Sanders 47 percent (gender not specified) but lost men 50 percent to Sanders and 49 percent to Clinton and; in Michigan, Sanders won white men 62 percent to Clinton’s 37 percent. In addition, in every single one of these primaries, Clinton won women and black people over Sanders handily.
What these numbers alone tell us, is that the base that this Sanders supporter wishes Clinton to “unite,” is a base that is predominantly white and male. What these numbers also tell us, is that Bernie Sanders was able to bolster and narrowly tailor his message to not only white people but specifically white men. While Sanders campaigned strongly on the “1 percent,” he consistently lost votes from individuals who made less than $30,000 in income to Hillary — raising the question, did Sanders populist message only resonate with the middle to upper-class white college liberal male? Yes.
It is likely that a Sanders supporter will read this and tell me that this is false, and he did not go out of his way to court only white liberal college males as his base. With this predicted critique in mind, I’d like to turn to the South Carolina primary. Clinton won the South Carolina primary against Sanders by a margin of 73.5 percent to his 26.0 percent. In Sanders’ concession speech on South Carolina, he is quoted as saying, “Secretary Clinton cleaned our clock in the Deep South. No question about it. We got murdered there. That is the most conservative part of this great country. That’s the fact. But you know what? We’re out of the Deep South now. And we’re moving up.” What this statement by Senator Sanders illustrates, is a lack of diversity in the range of Sanders supporters. In the South Carolina primary, Bernie Sanders won white men 56 percent to Clinton’s 44 percent. Clinton won white women 60 percent to his 40 percent. She won black men 82 percent to his 18 percent. And finally, she won black women 89 percent to his 11 percent. Now I could base my argument exclusively on the South Carolina primary, but I will go further.
Diction and rhetoric matter and Mr. Sanders’ comments emboldened the exact base that he won overwhelmingly in South Carolina, white men. Specifically, white men who are in the age bracket of 17–29. A looming issue with Bernie supporters, like the one illustrated earlier, is that they are more insistent on talking about poverty, without discussing how their gender and white privilege helped embolden that poverty.
So what did Senator Sanders mean by “the Deep South?” According to the last time we updated the census, the “Deep South,” which Senator Sanders is referring to, is the same “Deep South” that was reported by the U.S. Census Bureau as, “[showing] black population [with] highest concentration in the South. People who reported as both Black and White more than doubled.” My guess is that Senator Sanders and his most loyal supporters will never admit this. But the data does not lie. For a candidate to embolden such an idea, whether knowingly or unknowingly, it allows white males (especially ones in college) to feel more comfortable in expressing ideas that are simply not supported by facts and enable a racist and sexist platform to court votes.
Figures 1 and 2 create a visual representation of the 2010 census data: showing black and white population concentration in the United States. Primary contests “moving up” out of the “Deep South” did help Senator Sanders. The reason? It’s more white, it is wealthier and more specifically, there are more white liberal college males between the ages of 17–29.
Populism is a campaign strategy used by both Senator Sanders and then candidate Donald Trump. Populism, unlike fascism, calls for the removal of the political establishment and is built on the precipice of anger and anti-establishment; without ever providing a specification for what should replace it. The problem with populists, aside from the violence they can perpetuate, is that they build their legitimacy on their viewpoint being the moral one. They divide the electorate on values, not political party. And they prey on the most fragile of egos — in 2016, frail white male masculinity was the most fragile.
To my final point, Bernie Sanders is not a Democrat. While there are many instances in which I could pull quotes and moments where Bernie claims that he is “anti-establishment” and torches the party from which he sought the nomination, I turn to a moment after the election of Donald Trump. I, as a Democrat, want nothing more than to retake state legislatures, the House, the Senate, Governorships, and the White House in the 2018 midterms and in 2020. I want to provide tax relief to families caring for aging relatives or family members with chronic illness or disability. I want to overturn Section 14b of the Federal Labor Standards Act and give persons with disabilities a fair wage. I want to reestablish the Voting Rights Act and overturn Shelby County v. Holder. I want to make sure that first responders have access and federal funding to naloxone. I want to empower communities to implement rehabilitation programs for drug users and addicts. I want to provide comprehensive support to survivors of sexual assault and increase prevention efforts by ensuring a fair process — those who report sexual assault should never fear that their voices will be dismissed. I want to introduce a carbon tax. I want to expand the Clean Power Plan and install solar panels across the country. I want to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by more than 80 percent by 2050. I want to expand telecommunications and internet access and close the digital divide. I want to cut tax subsidies to oil and gas companies. I want to bring down out-of-pocket costs like copays and deductibles. I want to reduce the cost of prescription drugs and defend and expand the Affordable Care Act. I want to create stability in the health care market by expanding access to rural Americans. I want to expand and defend access to reproductive health care. I want to increase the funding for community health centers. I want to expand Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security. I want to promote early diagnosis and reduce the stigma on mental health by integrating our mental and physical health care systems. I want to sign DACA into law. I want to do this and so much more. But in order to do this, we need to elect Democrats on the local, state and national level. In an increasingly more digitized world, digital campaigns are becoming more and more important in winning elections. While Bernie Sanders may support all these initiatives, he has done nothing post-election to help Democrats win seats in order to further these priorities. While being on the campaign trail of some governors and mayoral races may look like he is giving an effort, he decided that he would not hand over his email list to the Democratic National Committee after the election to further all of these priorities.
What this tells me, is that this has nothing to do with the United States of America and its’ citizens. This has nothing to do with beating Republicans or retaking the White House from Donald Trump. This is solely about the ego of Bernie Sanders. Populism is built upon using the fears of voters to stoke the ego of the populist — something Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump have in common. If Bernie Sanders really wants to defend these rights, institutions, policy aspirations, he will turn over his email list so that Democrats up and down the ballot can win in all levels of government. As a Democrat who has campaigned, turned over her email lists (in more ways than one) and has raised millions of dollars to further all of these policy aspirations, Hillary Clinton has much a reason to defend herself, these goals and the Democratic party as any other Democrat across the nation.
Populism can inject confidence into certain personalities that reign toxic and destructive on forthcoming elections, generations, and governments. Senator Sanders may not have intended to inject this confidence into this type of supporter, but he is as responsible for their actions and comments as President Trump is for injecting confidence into members of the KKK.
This brings me to my final point and warning. When a Sanders supporter says “we don’t want to hear from her,” remember that she is the zephyr among the storm. Her narrative and point of view of what happened in the 2016 election are as important as Senator Sanders’. You may disagree with her, and that is fine. But to lambast her for publishing her point of view of what happened is to enable sexism and white privilege to reign dominate across this country. Populism is a political tactic that preys on the insecurities of voters. Our democracy, our institutions, our friends, our co-workers, our families, our brothers and our sisters depend on the deviation from this political tactic.
But, as a former lawyer for the Children’s Defense Fund, a Former First Lady of Arkansans, a former First Lady of the United States, former Senator from New York, former Secretary of State and first woman to win the nomination for President of the United States of America and win the popular vote, I, as a proud Democrat, want to hear in Hillary Rodham Clinton’s voice, “What Happened.”
We believe that the American dream is big enough for everyone, for people of all races and religions, for men and women, for immigrants, for LGBT people and for people with disabilities. For everyone. -Hillary Rodham Clinton on November 9th, 2016