Will the Bernie Bros Burn Down the Democratic Party?
A specter is haunting the Democratic Party: the specter of Bernie Bros.
What is a Bernie Bro, exactly? Where along the cline of various political creatures does one fall?
The Bernie Bro's natural habitat is the internet. In the wild — meaning on Twitter, or poking around in the depraved brush of Reddit — the stalwart of the socialist septuagenarian truffles for unconverted Democrats to their cause. Spotting a Sanders skeptic, or Joe Biden–supporter, they descend with ravening ferocity, unleashing broadsides that recall Maoist struggle sessions.
Mainstream journalists, despite their friendliness with the Democratic Party, have found themselves on the receiving end of this collective vituperation. They've used the occasion to warn off Democratic voters as to the danger of nominating a presidential candidate like Sanders, who inspires such mercurial partisans.
Bret Stephens of the New York Times, describes Bernie's cohort of angry young men as fanatics who see "more moderate Democrats not as kindred spirits or potential converts but as sellouts, even traitors — the proverbial enemy within." NBC host Chuck Todd called Bernie's informal online defenders a "digital brown shirt brigade." Hillary Clinton roused herself from a chardonnay-induced stupor in Chappaqua to whinge about "online Bernie Bros and their relentless attacks on lots of his competitors, particularly the women." Even R&B crooner John Legend bleated, "Bernie supporters do quite the disservice to your candidate," further beseeching them to "not to drive people away with your nastiness."
Bernie's Democratic rivals are getting in on the decrying game.
Former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg, the oofy Johnny-come-lately of the field, just released a compilation attack ad featuring aggressive pro-Bernie messages, including one from liberal writer David Klion warning his fellow leftists "who are flirting with Bloomberg" that their names are "going on lists."
Just ahead of the Nevada caucus, the state's influential Culinary Workers Union denounced online Sandernistas for their vicious and personal pile-on after the collective expressed concern that Medicare for All would outlaw its negotiated health insurance plan. For representing the pecuniary interests of its members, two top officials of union were thanked with a barrage of invective and the leaking of their personal information. "We respect Senator Sanders a lot. We do. We know he's always been great with the labor and everything. But I think in situations like this he knows what's going on in this country and he knows this is very dangerous," commented the union's secretary-treasurer, Geoconda Arguello-Kline.
Seeking a toehold to arrest his plummeting candidacy, Joe Biden came to the Culinary Union's defense, seizing on the bad publicity for his top Democratic rival. "You know me well enough to know if any of my supporters did that, I'd disown them. Flat disown them," he declared, with all the courage of a candidate whose most passionate supporters are an awkward troupe of Backstreet Boys imitators.
Taken as a whole, these complaints, which come off more like sneering tut-tutting from on high than friendly advice, don't seem to be quelling enthusiasm for the senator. Bernie's gotten a plurality of votes in the race's only two contests. He'll likely win Nevada despite the misgivings of the state's well membered union.
And, most notably, the battery of criticism won't matter a lick to Sanders's fervent promoters.
All of this brickbat-loaded chastising will have the opposite intended effect: it will only further entrench the intransigent and irreverent attitudes of Bernie Bros. Sanders's message isn't socialism alone; it's socialism as a hard panacea for elite corruption. Bloomberg and Clinton — prime beneficiaries of our cliquish and rigged economic system that operates under the veneer of meritocracy — aren't locked-in-arms allies of Sanders's earnest progressivism. They're obstacles to it.
Some Sanders detractors have drawn a through line between the vulgarity of the "very online left" and that of the quick-to-anger MAGAites. But that analogy is ill fitting. The president inspires passion, to be sure. Yet Trump devotees aren't ideologically driven. Donald Trump's rough attitudinal mixture of nationalism, cultural conservatism, and hard-nosed realism isn't strictly an ideology. Trumpism, if there's such a thing, isn't ideas-less, either. It's just not as coherent and consistent as pure socialism.
In that sense, Bernie's legions are more reminiscent of the followers of the former Texas congressman Ron Paul, whose quixotic bids for the White House spread libertarianism to the masses. Paul's gentle, country-doctorish message of liberty inspired Bastiat reading circles and bullion exchanges. But it also led to short-lived spasms of mobbish behavior.
This is the inevitable result of ideology, which economist Richard Spady defined as the type of thinking that "willfully projects its own first principles on its subject matter and actively seeks, perhaps unconsciously, material changes to bring social realities into conformity with these first principles."
Doctrinaire libertarians and perfervid socialists are of a piece in ideological allegiance. To compromise means to violate the self-claimed certainty. This is the motivating spirit behind the vitriolic Bernie Bros. Anything less than full socialization of the health care industry is murder. A penny's worth of corporate money, like a drop of blood in a hypodescent society, is an irremediable sign of venality. Compromise candidates, like socialist-lite Elizabeth Warren, would invoke faute de mieux feelings, so they are verboten in service to higher cause.
Sanders must win, or the glorious democratic-socialist future is lost. Bernie Bros have their entire ideological identity affixed to this providential vision. So they'll bully, abuse, harass, degrade, shout down, insult, and tear apart whoever stands in their way.
And the Democratic establishment can only sit and watch.