Thursday night’s Democratic debate in Brooklyn between Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders got a bit contentious, but fell far short of the nasty exchanges between Hillary supporters and Bernie backers that have been firing up social media for months.
I did not have to dip very far into my Facebook “news” scroll to find some unflattering comments about Sanders and his supporters. Here’s one: “I have officially had it with Bernie Babies, as I stated yesterday, and now I’ve lost all respect I’ve ever had for Bernie Sanders. He is a fraud. A typical idealistic demagogue. Disgusting old man.”
And another: “I think people are finally getting tired of Bernie’s bitter, angry, intolerant old self. I hope Hillary smokes him from here on out. The old Socialist pimp needs to be shut down … permanently.”
Under a graphic listing Sanders’ alleged faults (“rude,” “arrogant,” “angry white man”) someone wrote, “Add hypocrite. I am so OVER this SOB.”
This vituperation sometimes spills into public view. Observing coverage of Wednesday night’s big Sanders rally in Manhattan, one prominent Clinton supporter tweeted: “Hate rally in Washington Square -- are they passing out armbands?”
This over-the-top disdain among Clinton’s militants is easily matched by the insults coming from Sanders’ troops. Sanders had to disavow the comments of one campaign surrogate who appeared to suggest Clinton is “a corporate whore.” On Facebook, Sanders partisans were not as quick to reject that characterization. “Calling her a whore is an insult to whores.” wrote one person. Another said, “Even honest people, like Bernie, sometimes need to disavow the truth for damage control.”
Responding to Clinton’s performance in the debate, one young woman commenting on the “Bernie Believers” Facebook page said, “She’s so irritating! … ASIDE from the fact that she’s a warmongering liar and a war criminal.” Another wrote, “I was trying not scream at the TV and prevent myself from actually hearing everything she said. And I failed.”
The meanest remarks from the Sanders side are often attributed to “Bernie Bros,” young men who rove the Internet, eager to flame Clinton supporters and throw misogynistic darts at the candidate herself. Sanders has been forced to put distance between himself and these particularly aggressive advocates. “We have many hundreds of thousands of supporters, and some of them have gone over the edge,” the Vermont senator told Ebony magazine. “I apologize for that.”
Vitriol is not new to politics, and it may be that, like the abundant viciousness on the political right, this dueling invective on the left is merely being amplified by the megaphone of social media. Awful and harsh as the language is, it may not indicate that there is an unbridgeable split among Democrats. Few, if any, Clinton supporters say they would not vote for Sanders were he to become the nominee, even if they hate the prospect. “I would have to vote for the SOB to save us from GOP control,” wrote one Sanders critic, begrudgingly, “but it would be a vote against sane gun laws and a vote for megalomaniacal, imbecilic rule.”
It is not uncommon, though, to hear Sanders’ most fervent backers insist that they could never vote for Clinton. One of their social media manifestos reads, “We’re not democrats, we’re not republican, we are Berniecrats. We will not vote for anyone but Bernie, even if that means we write him in.”
Judging from their Facebook posts, many of these folks loathe the Democratic Party nearly as much as they despise Republicans. In their eyes, Hillary Clinton is a phony, a vote stealer, a shill for corporate interests and a neoconservative imperialist. They are convinced that she would be as awful as Donald Trump or Ted Cruz if she were elected president, so they see no point in giving her their vote.
It is hard to know how widespread this affliction of political myopia may be among Democrat-leaning voters. Still, when November comes, I suspect most of those who are now feeling the Bern will soberly contemplate issues such as climate change, Supreme Court nominees, immigration and same-sex marriage. If their 74-year-old champion is not on the ballot, they will hold their noses and cast their ballots for the woman who beat him because they realize they could do so much worse.