July 23, 2016

Explaining Bernie-or-Busters

I find the Bernie or Bust crowd infuriatingly irrational. 

I've argued before that a Hillary Clinton presidency would be a boon to the progressive movement. I think my argument was well-reasoned and well-supported. But Bernie-or-Busters -- or simply, BoBs -- seem impervious to reason and evidence. Bernie or Bust is a religion, one in which Hillary Clinton plays the part of evil itself, while Bernie is some demigod sent to earth to save humanity. 

I'm hardly exaggerating. Here's what one BoB says about Hillary: “We are not going to vote for the demon named Hillary just because you are threatening us with the devil named Trump.” I have BoB Facebook friends who speak as though there is absolutely no difference between Hillary and Donald Trump: "I despise both of them. They are both disgusting and appalling beyond description. I have no answers." 

And here's a sampling of Bernie worship. "You give me hope and strength to keep living, Bernie Sanders." "Bernie, from where I was standing yesterday in Madison, you looked Olympian...I'm not much of a religious man by any stretch. But I promise you this: the almighty has smiled on you." "You have restored my hope in good and it gives me strength to fight for another day." "I get goose bumps just looking at you."

I like Bernie. I respect Bernie. Had he won the nomination, I'd have a Feel the Bern bumper sticker on my car right now. But Bernie is not Christ incarnate. In the Bush years he cast a significant vote for the gun lobby. In an interview with the New York Daily News he couldn't explain how he would carry out his plan to break up the banks. PolitiFact has rated a higher percentage of Bernie's statements as being false than it has for Hillary

And Hillary really isn't as bad as BoBs believe. She might be to the right of the Vermont socialist, but she's solidly left of center, and there's every reason to expect her to continue pushing the Obama agenda if elected. Obama, of course, is no dyed in the wool progressive but a left-leaning pragmatist. But for some reason BoBs have not demonized him. Although Obama would certainly fail any progressive purity test, BoBs nonetheless praise him for advancing important progressive policies

BoBs, it seems, can only be explained in psychological terms. I don't intend to deliver some smug psychoanalysis here, but I don't know how else to explain their jaw-dropping irrationality. I'm reminded of Ernest Becker, who eloquently argued that humans can't help but engage in transference, a term traditionally used to describe the process in which therapy patients unknowingly transfer the feelings of dependence and awe they once felt for their parents onto their therapist. Becker broadened the definition of transference, writing that deep down we're all essentially scared children, scared by the many uncertainties and cruelties of existence, and so we unconsciously go around adopting new transference figures. 

That is to say, in order to assuage our existential anxieties, we basically endow certain people with an exaggerated sense of goodness and power. We then put our trust in these figures, depend on them, and in so doing have our deepest anxieties relieved, just as children lean on their parents to relieve their deepest anxieties. Some people deal with their anxieties by leaning on the divine, others by leaning on romantic partners or celebrities or politicians. 

So I think many BoBs have done something like this. They've unconsciously made Bernie into a super-human. For them, Bernie really does approach moral perfection, and of course when you're on the side of pure goodness, you necessarily view your enemies -- e.g., Hillary Clinton in the primaries -- as manifestations of evil. And so now that the great Bern has fallen, BoBs can't help but continue seeing Hillary this way. Even though -- to repeat myself -- she's a solidly left of center candidate who would further the progressive cause. 

Sadly, the casualty of this holy war might not just be Hillary Clinton but the progressive movement itself and consequently the millions of Americans whose well-being depends upon this movement's success. 

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