If you have Facebook, which I’m sure most of you do, you would have noticed many of your left-leaning friends wax analytical about American politics in the space of one night during the US Presidential Election. I was surprised as anyone when the states of Florida, Ohio and South Carolina fell to Donald Trump in what can be only described as one of the biggest upsets in recent electoral history. And then emerged the rats from the sinking ship. Those who jumped to Hillary’s camp when Bernie announced his intention to support her in July rose from the woodwork in venomous apologetics. Articles, from red-faced news sites such as the Huffington Post, The Guardian and the Washington Post, served to back this up. Calls for radicalisation and distancing from centrist politics, denouncements of democracy and the now-classic catchcry “Bernie Sanders would have won!” flooded Facebook feeds, amongst other posts declaring that one was absolutely shaking or literally speechless. Yet while the whinging and armchair analysis may have been hilarious at first, behind the scenes it harboured a slightly more nefarious agenda. This election highlights that when the left lose an election they were “meant to win”, a sudden push towards radicalism and authoritarianism in the face of supposedly failed democracy (See: Sour Grapes) emerges as a notable pattern. So lets look at the claims that these Bernie would have won and why they don’t quite hold up.
It was November 8th and most observers had settled down to accept another Clinton presidency. Polls were heavily in her favour, as were the Sportsbet odds, and the media had created a perfect bubble in which no one was possibly voting for Trump, and you know what? Just stay at home, don’t vote for him because he’s definitely not going to win. Ok? Good. But it wasn’t to be. The perfect fiction created by the conglomerates that be was shattered and we were left with a Trump presidency. Initially the response of the defeated was one of shock, disbelief, anger and confusion. Chicken Little claimed many a disciple that evening, with hysteria gripping left-leaning folk who warned of roving death squads out to beat up anyone who wasn’t part of Trump’s “vision for America”. But as the fear simmered down and the Trump Terror Team™ didn’t take up arms, a culprit needed to be named. No it wouldn’t be Trump’s fear mongering or his populism. It was to be liberal populism. Liberal populism (of the American kind) drove away the masses to the arms of the Republican Party and I tend to agree. Clinton was offering four, possibly eight, more years of Obama administration with a different face – something the American public didn’t want. So what is the answer to liberal populism? Why, social democratic populism, of course! Populism for everyone! We just weren’t left enough for the American people, obviously.
So what perpetuates this myth that Bernie would have somehow been a more viable candidate than Ms Clinton? Firstly his impressive polling early into his campaign is usually carted out and put against Trump’s in a laughably bad attempt to show that Bernie would have “trounced” (Huffington Post’s words, not mine) Trump in the election. This is problematic for a number of reasons. Firstly, Bernie didn’t really come up against proper opposition. Far from it. In fact it’s clear from the Democratic Primaries that Hillary took a very lenient approach towards Bernie. She had to. Clinton could not afford to take a harsh stance against Bernie without incurring a mass exodus of his almost rabid and fanatical following to Jill Stein or even Trump. So Bernie got off easy against Clinton and we can only imagine how he would have gone against the vicious Trump, who demonstrated how devastating he could be when he singlehandedly derailed Jeb Bush’s bid for the Republican nomination. And it’s not as if Bernie was squeaky clean; Trump would have destroyed him.
Secondly, we have Bernie’s record. Sanders being on welfare payments into his 30s and stealing electricity after missing payments may draw sympathy from young college kids (Bernie’s target audience) but not from middle class Americans who frequently complain about those who cheat the system. Then we have his support of a bill to ship nuclear waste from Vermont to a poor community in Texas, a community that was overwhelmingly Hispanic. Not the best look for a candidate who was already struggling to pick up the minority vote. A further hit comes from Bernie’s open support of Cuban dictator, the now deceased, Fidel Castro. So I guess to that Bernie could say “Bye-bye, Florida!” Not to mention his voting against a child abduction warning system and a bill to provide more funding to police would have been very easy targets for Donald Trump. I can see it now ‘Bernie Sanders doesn’t want to protect children!” “Bernie Sanders hates the police!” So the idea that poll numbers before Bernie actually faced proper opposition indicate that he could have simply defeated Trump is insane.
Finally, there is the argument that Sanders’ policies were much more appealing to the average white worker, the demographic where Clinton lost. I have my doubts that Bernie’s high taxes and his more collectivised approach the economy would win over many Americans whose almost built-in response to the slightest whiff of social democracy is to throw a tantrum. And rightfully so. Universal healthcare that came very close to being implemented in Vermont, Bernie’s home state, in 2014 ended up failing massively after it was projected to cost $4.3 billion. Which wouldn’t be that devastating if it weren’t for the fact that Vermont’s annual budget is only $4.9 billion. Additionally, Bernie’s platform targeting young college kids means nothing to the single mother who is working double shifts to make ends meet and who is now expected to pay higher taxes to fund Bernie’s poorly thought out schemes. Perhaps this is why Bernie only garnered 30% of the African American vote in the Democratic Primaries. Not to mention that support of the Black Lives Matter movement means very little to a redneck in a trucker cap that works in a factory.
So would Bernie have won if he were just given a chance by the omnipotent (not really) and corrupt (not really) DNC? We’ll never know. Though with Trump’s win I guess really anything is possible. But the idea that Sanders appealed to more people than Clinton’s empty liberal populism is completely ignorant and bizarre. The rats really did emerge from the sinking ship of Clinton campaign, saving their own skins and pretending they were in the camp of “I never liked either of them!” Sanders simply appealed to nobody except for your cosmopolitan college kid or those who would have come out to vote against Trump. So when you see your friend ramble on the web calling for more radical social policies in light of the defeat of Clinton, remember that the American people didn’t just reject the centre portion of the American left wing, they rejected the whole thing.