The only people who were more excited about Bernie Sanders’s win in Nevada than Sanders and his supporters were Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin.
Trump wants a second term so that he can stay out of jail and kill American democracy once and for all. Putin wants a weakened America so that his Russia can regain status as an important player in the world’s politics. Both, rightly or wrongly, believe that of all the Democratic candidates, Bernie Sanders is the easiest one for Trump to beat.
Most democrats fear that if Bernie is the nominee, we’ll merely be choosing between oppressors.
Often we equate the Bernie wing with ideological purity, but it seems to me that argument can also be made of people who conflate democratic socialism, authoritarian socialism and communism.
I come at this with contradictory views about Sanders. I’m working through what a Sanders win would mean as much as everyone else is. And I think that like most things political, the result of a Bernie win is one of many shades of gray. But key to it is knowing to what extent, if any, Bernie has authoritarian tendencies.
I don’t want to offend anyone. But the reality is we didn’t ask hard questions in 2016 and we’re paying for it. If we agree on nothing else, let’s at least agree that we need answers to the scariest question. Are we choosing between democracy and tyranny or are we choosing our oppressor?
If Bernie is, as his surrogates claim, a democratic socialist, it’s possible his ideas can address socio-economic inequities that were institutionalized by Republicans and entrenched by Donald Trump.
It’s just as possible that Sanders may opt for a more authoritarian approach – especially if Congress is as resistant to his ideas as it is to Trump’s. It’s this possibility that concerns me. And that concern grew when we learned that Sanders knew about Russian efforts to help his campaign for a month before he said anything.
To be fair, his response was near perfect – except for the part where he blamed the Washington Post.
I saw him dismiss concerns about Castro because he had this really awesome literacy program, I’m more uneasy about him than I ever was, and the same is true of the prospect of including Russia in NATO. We heard that before from Donald Trump.
Anyone who says they know with certainty if Sanders is, in fact, a democratic Socialist, or an authoritarian version isn’t telling the truth. Sanders does conflate supporters of other candidates with establishment Republicans in a way that’s similar to Trump’s deep state references.
A moment came when it looked like the twin pillars of authoritarianism – extreme left and extreme right – were beginning a stare-down. Some pundits suggest Bernie doesn’t need to build a consensus beyond his base. He has enough support there. Everyone else, like the older African American women who do the work it takes to win elections, and to a far lesser extent educated white women who are alienated by Trump, ultimately don’t matter. They’ll take it because they don’t have any other options.
Of course, that assumption was wrongfully made before and Donald Trump’s presidency was the result.
Meanwhile, there is talk of lists segregating the Trump loyalists from the “deep” state in the civil service. This prospect of a politicized civil service has implications too numerous to list. Suffice to say party affiliation and real or imagined loyalty to dear leader would define all aspects of life. You could be deemed insufficiently loyal simply because you know someone who is deemed disloyal.
It’s like McCarthy woke from the dead and married Clarence Thomas.
We’re running out of second chances. Trump is hollowing American democracy out. His followers are all too happy to bully and threaten anyone perceived to be disloyal to Trump into submission, as reflected in death threats the Ukraine whistleblower’s lawyer is getting solely for doing his job protecting the whistle blower’s legal rights.
Bernie says he envisions a more equitable America that addresses climate change, brings the American dream back and expects the wealthy to pay its share in taxes. And there are people who are with him for that. If he wins, they’ll be happy. If not, they’ll still vote for the person who wins the nomination because they, like most Democrats, see defeating Trump as the most important moral imperative of this election.
But there are other kinds of Bernie supporters.
As Megan McCardle explained, there are three broad categories of Bernie Supporters. Aside from the realist-idealist who will vote blue no matter who but hope it’s Bernie; there are bandwagoners who are also more likely to vote blue no matter who; and then there are the revolutionaries.
It’s the revolutionaries who “resemble the new voters President Trump brought into the GOP”. McCardle met them in person, independently confirming some accounts I’ve been told by some individuals who went to Bernie rallies.
I suspect it’s the revolutionaries who resort to bullying and intimidation, often on line, but not exclusively.
You may have heard of them as Bernie Bros and Bernie or Bust people. Either they get Bernie or they’ll wait for revolution the way some Evangelicals wait for the end days. They don’t think of Trump as all that bad, just as Bernie doesn’t think Castro is all that bad. In the words of one Bernie or Bust supporter;
“Donald Trump is not worse, for one reason: He’ll destroy it faster than they will. And then we can rebuild.”
The threat to America democracy got more complicated as Bernie Sanders won Nevada. It’s not because healthcare or a more equitable economic policy automatically means the end of democracy and freedom. It’s because we don’t know how much of the Sanders base is comprised of revolutionaries whose approach is more consistent with authoritarianism.
If you lived through the cold war, I could tell you a million times there is a difference between Soviet communism and democratic socialism or social democracy. It won’t matter, just as it won’t matter if we tell younger voters that while they have valid concerns, it’s possible that Bernie is as authoritarian and uncaring as Trump. (Both are seen as authentic by their followers.)
Younger voters feel the sting of an economic system that has no good place for them. They hear of the possibility of a system that will give them economic opportunities and remove the fear of financial ruin if they get sick or have an accident.
Some of them will vote blue because they see the destruction by Trump and are just as repulsed as most of America. But even if democratic forces prevail this time with the help of realistic Bernie supporters, it’s all but certain they’ll change sides if we don’t address their concerns in ways that produce concrete results.
Ms. Woodbury has a graduate degree in political science, with a minor in law. She is a qualified expert on political theory with a specific interest in the nexus between political theories and models and human rights.
Based on her interest in human rights and the threats that authoritarian regimes are to them, Ms. Woodbury’s masters thesis examined the influence of politics on the enforcement of international criminal law was cited in several academic studies.
Published work includes case summaries for the War Crimes Research Office.
She has an extensive background doing legal research in international and domestic law.
Ms. Woodbury’s work for politicusUSA includes articles on voting rights, the right to asylum and other civil/human rights.