Giving a Shit and “Bernie Would’ve Won”
On day 26 of the Russian Psy-Op Presidency, America is finally seeing the facade of Donald Trump’s White House start to crack, which is unusual by most presidential standards, but a lot longer than what anyone expected for the Orange Goblin himself. As I and many other people have been beating into the ground, Trump would not be the President today had Hillary Clinton run a campaign whose reach extended beyond a five mile radius of the Hamptons or Beverly Hills. Or maybe if her campaign wasn’t ideated by the Julia Roberts as imagined by the writers of Family Guy. Trump was so bad a candidate that the Republican elites were hunkering down and preparing for four more years of obstruction and Benghazi/e-mail investigations. The fact that he won spoke to a more commonsense view of politics and birthed the statement that has become a meme on the left.
Bernie would’ve won.
Bernie Sanders lost the Democratic primary by all metrics: delegates, popular vote, states won. He wasn’t even the most popular person among left-voting/registered Democrat voters. And also, as many people would be quick to remind you, he’s an old Jewish socialist, and United States voters would never vote for a left-leaning non-White person, except for the two times they did. But I digress. Polls said Sanders would have won, but polls were also saying Clinton was going to beat Trump. So why keep repeating that “Bernie would’ve won?”
I’d estimate 75 percent of politics is getting people to give a shit. It doesn’t matter what your message is. Charisma, engagement, looking someone in the eye and telling them you’re going to help them believably, those are the things that get people elected. Barack Obama, Ronald Reagan, John F. Kennedy, and Franklin Delano Roosevelt all won on the strength of their ability to galvanize a base in hard times. Their platforms were secondary, if they even mattered at all. Hell, Obama ran on such a leftist bent that he might have been considered Communist in the McCarthy era. He had Republicans so scared of following through* that they believed every single lie he told and everyone sort of ignored the fact that Obama was only slightly to the left of crypto-conservative Democrat fave Bill Clinton. A slogan and a message of hope can go a long, long way.
If you can’t inspire anyone, you have no chance of winning unless the other person is just as uninspirational as you are. The best example of two utterly exhausting and dull candidates running for the office of President was in 2000, when Al Gore distanced himself from the most popular Democratic President since JFK to run on a platform of -shrug- against the Large Adult Son of the last wildly unpopular Republican President. The result was indicative of the utter malaise. Gore won the popular vote, but after prolonged legal battles, George W. Bush won the Presidency with the Electoral College.
The 2016 election was more 2000 than 2008 or 1992 or 1980. The biggest difference is that Donald Trump did make people give a shit, but the problem was that a lot of them were fucking Nazis, or they lived in California and New York (having given a shit about not wanting to live under proto-fascism). The rest of the country felt like they were more underwhelmed by Trump, just as much as they were disgusted with Clinton. But Sanders, oh man, Sanders was inspirational, especially with young people. He had people excited to get out and vote for progressive causes and progressive candidates. He energized the base like no one else.
And yet he didn’t win the Democratic primary. How could someone who didn’t even win his primary win the Presidency against a candidate the person who did get the nomination couldn’t defeat? Well, the answer is twofold. First, Sanders didn’t get a fair shake in the primary process (primaries are based on momentum and media coverage, and a lot of Sanders’ base is not registered Democrat, thus disqualifying those voters in many states, including Pennsylvania), and two, his campaign strategy of actually visiting a wide swath of places voters live in swing states and not just slam dunk Democratic strongholds would have countered Trump’s tireless campaign schedule a lot better. He would’ve inspired people to give a shit, and not just the “White working class” either. Although really, poor/working class White people do matter, no matter what your handbooks on identity politics say.
Basically, Donald Trump got 62 million votes nationwide. Compare that to the 60 million that Mitt Romney and John McCain both got against Obama in the two prior elections, and you’ll see that Republican turnout had a slight uptick. It shouldn’t have been enough to beat the 65 million that Hillary Clinton got, but the way the votes were distributed in the US’ amazing slave-state protecting Electoral College system, well, it didn’t. Basically, Clinton polarized vote totals in liberal state strongholds and lost a bunch of battleground states that Obama won before her. She also LOST votes in key minority demographics to Trump compared to Obama’s margins over his Republican challengers. To wit, Trump did a better job winning over people in demographics he actively slandered and condescended to than Clinton did in demographics she was desperately trying to win over from Trump. Why did this happen? Again, because her campaign was embarrassingly self-centered and didn’t even think about visiting swing states with hurting economies and crippling drug addiction epidemics. You know who would have? You know who did?
Bernie Sanders did.
That’s where the work comes in theorizing that Sanders would have won, even if it is a bit flawed. For example, no one knows the extent of Russian interference in the election. The quantification of the rollback of minority voting rights thanks to the repeal of the Voting Rights Act, which is a FAR FAR FAR bigger hindrance to a fair election than Russian interference, is unclear. How many votes were not counted? How many voters were turned away because of restrictive and racist voter ID laws? Sanders winning was not a slam dunk, no matter what.
However, again, 75 percent of politics is getting people to give a shit. No one in the national stage was as good at getting people to give a shit as Sanders was, and his message reached not only to “coastal elites,” but also to economically depressed White working class voters in the Rust Belt, to systemically oppressed Black voters, to Native voters who don’t want pipelines fucking up their drinking water, to everyone who isn’t living off an investment plan, a trust fund, or a golden parachute. Getting people to give a shit is infectious. It matters more than antisemitic resistance. It matters more than old biases against socialism. If a Black man with the middle name “Hussain” could win the Presidency on a message and sheer populism, then an old Jewish man who’d have been in McCarthy’s crosshairs 50 years ago could have as well. The will of the people has overthrown kings, brought down empires, and changed economic systems. Never underestimate it.
*- It should also bear noticing that Obama’s race had a LOT to do with the Republican response. Post-racial America my fat, hairy ass.