This is the Election Cycle of the Angry White Person, Mostly Men. This particular kind of Angry White Person supports either Trump or Sanders, and is defined both by their privilege and by saying they’d rather stay home than vote for anyone else. A surprising number of Sanders supporters have said they will vote for Trump if it’s HRC/Trump. This phenomenon bears examining.
This is a certain type of Angry White Person, not all angry white people everywhere, just in case you’re feeling fragile and need a #notallwhitepeople or #notallmen. Or even a #notallSanderssupporters, because it most definitely is a subset, and a minor one at that, but so vocal, so active, so, well, LOUD, they’re impacting the election cycle as a whole. I may yet vote for Sanders myself, not that it matters, as I’m in California and our primary is like five minutes before the election.
This subset of Angry White People I’m talking about are attracted to either Trump or Sanders, period. Their personal politics will push them in one direction or the other, but the basic exchange between voter and candidacy is exactly the same.
Right now, white people are starting to lose their privilege (or, more accurately, fear they might lose it) as we strive as a culture for equilibrium. White people are being asked to examine their complicity in a system that’s racist, sexist, ableist, transphobic, etc. Many white people, especially men, are upset and angry that they, who believe they are good people– who ARE good people– who believe they are “not racist” and “not sexist,” are still associated with systemic oppression, still asked to examine their privilege. Unjustly accused, they believe, of being “the bad guy.”
Along come two angry white men, both of whom say “America’s problems are not your fault. YOU’RE the victim of an unjust system. You have every right to be angry! The system is rigged against you, so get angry and fight back!”
This is music to the ears of a certain type of white person. Trump lays it at the door of “political correctness” unjustly oppressing white men, and Sanders lays it at the door of an unjust economic system. I agree that economic injustice is a massive problem in the US, but that’s immaterial to the point I’m trying to make.
Many Sanders supporters are baffled when their fellow Sanders supporters say they would stay home and allow Trump to win or even vote for him themselves should the general election be Trump v HRC. Liberal and progressive politics center around championing the vulnerable, and in general, those voters recognize the danger that Trump– and the GOP in general– present to the vulnerable in the US. They understand that the perfect cannot be the enemy of the good when actual lives are at stake. They know that the luxury to pretend that Clinton is the same as Trump only comes with the kind of privilege that insulates one from the consequences of the election. They understand what Sanders’ support of feminism and anti-racism initiatives means.
But, as we’ve seen, not every Sanders supporter actually listens to Sanders, and many are so caught up in the message that they, as white people, are victims of an unjust economic system that they refuse to consider how the consequences of this election might impact people more vulnerable than they, making them “Bernie or Bust.” And while there are indeed “Bernie or Bust” people of color, the vast majority of them are white– the vast majority of Sanders’ supporters in general are white. It’s been a problem dogging the Sanders campaign from the beginning and the reason he’s not likely to win the nomination.
This particular type of Angry White Sanders Supporters are defined by their response when it’s suggested that they should “vote blue, no matter who” in the general election to protect the vulnerable against the real dangers of a Trump presidency. They reject, with angry indignation, the idea that the actual lives of the vulnerable should take precedence over what they’re mistakenly calling their “conscience,” but what is really “my anger is more important than the lives of the vulnerable.” They say, “If I’m Bernie or Bust, don’t blame me, blame Hillary Clinton,” which means exactly same thing: my feelings matter more than, to name just one example, protecting Muslims from the policies of Donald Trump or Ted Cruz. They’re more than willing to sacrifice the safety of vulnerable Americans if they don’t get precisely what they want. They see compromise as a line impossible to cross, no matter the cost– especially when the cost is one they themselves will not have to pay.
This kind of Angry White Person is excited to finally be in a place where they’re back in the center, where they’re The Victim, where they’re no longer associated with The Bad Guy, The Man, The White Male Monolith, The Patriarchy. They finally have a place that tells them that they’re the true victims of injustice.
Of course they aren’t going to vote for HRC; of course they’re going to believe whatever debunked propaganda they can find about her, of course they’re going to disparage her in sexist terms; of course they’re going to demonize her. There’s a certain kind of person who needs to believe the propaganda about her, because he’s enraptured by a world wherein white people, especially men, are the victims of an unjust system, not the architects and enforcers of one. He can’t– or he won’t– entertain the notion that white people can be both simultaneously. “Bernie or bust” = “my worldview at ALL costs.”
(And here it is again, in case you tend to confuse “people who do this” with “all you people do this”: #notallSanderssupporters #notallwhitepeople #notallmen.)
While White Anger is pretty much the alpha and omega of the Trump campaign, it’s only part of the Sanders campaign. Yet it’s such a vocal part that it’s become one of the most persistent negative aspects dogging it, doing Sanders much more harm than good.
There are two kinds of anger dominating Sanders followers: The first is the righteous anger over decades of economic injustice bolstered by every aspect of the oligarchy we foolishly made of the republic we were given. It’s an anger that recognizes that racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, ableism, Islamophobia, and every kind of injustice and bigotry are serious problems in and of themselves in addition to, not in opposition to, economic injustice, that recognizes the importance of intersectionality. These are people fighting for the vulnerable, whether their own intersectional identities fall into any of those categories or not. I believe these are the (somewhat silent) majority of Sanders supporters. I hope they are. I would count myself among them, no matter who I vote for in the primary. In the general, I will proudly cast my vote for either Democratic candidate, because these issues– these people– matter to me.
This brings me to the particular kind of White Anger I’m discussing– the second kind of anger dominating Sanders followers. It’s an anger that rejects any consideration of other issues, that rejects any consideration of others, period. The White Anger that revels in its own importance and cannot, even for a moment, entertain the notion of having to return to a place where their white privilege or their male privilege– their association with, and potential complicity with, systems of oppression– becomes important, instead refusing to leave the circle where they can claim that they are the ones against whom the gravest injustice has been committed, everyone else be damned. The people who would throw the vulnerable under the bus to preserve the illusion that they are the ones suffering the gravest injustice, deserving of the most urgent attention, and entitled not just to the front of the line, but to the entire line.