"They crying 'cause they can't get they life right".
Going from the Republican National Convention in Cleveland to Day One of the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia on Monday July 25th gave me a perspective I hadn't anticipated. I came away seeing more than a few similarities between Trump's hard-core supporters and those of Bernie Sanders. Other observers, including Donald Trump himself, have noted affinities between his and Sanders's outsider appeal, but it wasn't until I plunged into Bernie World on Monday, speaking with his people, marching with them, feeling their body heat, that I saw deeper, darker chords of kinship between the two groups of political "superfans".
The DNC was a highly scripted affair, and Day One in Philly was to be Bernie Day at the big show, the day Bernie Sanders was to speak in prime time from the Wells Fargo Arena, repeating his endorsement of Hillary Clinton as the first step to bringing about "party unity" for the Ds, that essence rare beloved of pundits in convention season. The wound or rift in the party caused by Bernie's "revolution" would be opened, acknowledged and sutured by 11PM.
The day didn't begin well, with Bernie's own delegates booing him at a pre-show meeting where he urged unity behind Hillary Clinton. Saint Bernard of the holy cause was a sell-out? Outrageous! The number two primary vote-getter rolled into town with 1,893 delegates, including 47 super delegates (to Hillary's 2,814, including 609 super delegates. The total needed to win the nomination was 2,383.) What this meant on the convention floor was that more than a third of the people there would be Bernie loyalists, even with Hillary's nomination a foregone conclusion. About the actual Bernie delegates in the hall, more in later posts, but the pain and outrage among Bernie's wider "people", with their hats and shirts and signs and their goddamned drum-circle drums, was palpable everywhere I went in Philadelphia on Monday, resentment a smell in the air.
On top of this, the big oops moment of the convention had happened the day before, Sunday, with the release of Democratic National Committee emails which, while they contained no proof of any overt act to block or harm Sanders's primary chances, still showed there was no love for the Johny-come-lately Democrat from Vermont among party insiders. They showed disdain. Chief disdainer DNC Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz had been forced to step down by the revelation, though her name was inconveniently printed on each and every one of more than 100,000 credentials badges for the four-day convention. For Sanders's supporters, this was almost-too-delicious/outrageous confirmation of the "rigged game" Bernie had been talking about throughout his campaign.
So by late afternoon, out in the street, the Bernie bros and Bernie sisters were on the march. I joined them as they marched the roughly five-mile route down Broad Street from City Hall to the Wells Fargo. This was, at least from a practical perspective, not the best idea on this particular day. A promised, slow-moving "heat dome" had arrived, (from Cleveland, in fact) and broad, treeless Broad Street was an anvil hammered by the July sun. We were all feeling the burn. Still, there were thousands of marchers (I estimated more than 5,000), and from millennials to grandmas, most I spoke to were cheerfully prepared for this grueling, Lawrence-of-Philadelphia 8K; they had sun block, they had good shoes, they were hydrated and would continue, responsibly, to hydrate, and, most importantly, their cause was the right one. How could they not march in protest of so monumental a fraud, of so despicable a betrayal?
"Hell no, D-N-C, we won't vote for Hil-la-ry!" was their chant, mild as revolutionary slogans go, but loudly shared, somewhere on the spectrum between a shout and a fine white whine. And it was a largely white crowd, not quite hitting the absolute zero point achieved the previous week by the Republican delegates, but close. There were lots of feels on display, and with the walloping heat and the growing humidity, the whole march often had the feeling of a big, group cry in a sweat lodge. With polls showing 90% of Bernie voters prepared to vote for Hillary in November, I asked these marchers, this seeming hard-core, about their apparently unreconstructed stance. "Never" said more than a few, "I'll never vote for her". Hillary was "corrupt", a "criminal", had "stolen" the election, was "just as bad as Trump" or, for a few, "worse than Trump".
I asked about Trump. Wasn't he a scary racist? An existential threat to the Republic? Wasn't it high time for the D-Team to, you know, make the plan, build the van, go after the bad guy and win? A large number refused to be taken in by this line of argument, asserting that there were more important things, from a, you know, moral standpoint than defeating Trump and Trump-ism. Tara, 48, who said she'd come "all the way from Minnesota" told me "that's what they want you to think. Trump's bad, but you have to make your voice heard. Hillary and the DNC stabbed Bernie in the back, we never had a chance." When I pointed out that Hillary had, in fact, received four million more votes in the primaries, she shot back "in a fixed election", her logic seeming to be that it was fixed because Hillary won because it was fixed. Will the circle be unbroken?
Reinhard, an older man from New York who didn't want give his age but walked faster than I could easily keep up with asked me "You think we can't see who's behind this? She locked up the super delegates, she has the banks, Wall Street, everybody. She's everything wrong with this system, we have to start all over again." Did she have anything to recommend her over Trump, especially in the wake of his dark and frightening acceptance speech the previous Thursday in Cleveland, I asked. "Nothing" he said.
In Cleveland, the Rs had painted Hillary as nothing less than Dr. Fu Manchu, an arch-criminal, had lustily chanted "Lock her up! Lock her up!" Here on Broad Street, she was also seen as a prodigy, a Napoleon Of Crime and Author Of Evil. The Bernies and the Trumpists had this in common, though the Bernies framed their hatred of her with less of a misogynist swagger.
As Bill Clinton was to point out on Tuesday night, with her record and experience, it's hard to run against the real Hillary Clinton, so the Republicans made a cartoon of her and ran against that, but the "Crooked Hillary" cartoon was alive and well among the "progressives" on Broad Street as well. Some carried signs decrying her one-time support for the Trans-Pacific Partnership, or TPP, (though the Democratic platform, Hillary's platform, now opposed it) some said "Count Every Vote", as if, with some notable exceptions, that hadn't, in fact, happened, resulting in Hillary's decisive (but not on Broad Street) primary win. One young Bernie bro (a young black man, one of three I saw in the march) carried a sign that read "Nominate Hillary? #DEMEXIT".
Many of the Bernie-ites I spoke to expressed a sense of being "disenfranchised", of not being "listened to" or "respected". The dangerous question of "respect" had also been big with the aggrieved Trumpen. When I asked the Bernie-ites if they'd had the chance to vote and they answered yes, I asked how that could equal "disenfranchisement". Their answers became vague, and they fell back on Hillary's "corruption". Their feeling of injury was core-strong and in many cases, argument-and even reason-proof. In this grievance and whine, I heard echoes of the people I'd met in Cleveland, the "We-The-People" people who wanted "their" country back. Something promised was not delivered, an entitlement was reneged on, and the kids were hurt. And angry.
I was surprised by the overt hate on display, and the hurt. Someone had wronged these people and was now, outrage of outrages, being rewarded for it. Later that night, my sister-in-law put on her best blaccent to describe the tears in the street. "They crying 'cause they can't get they life right", she said. She could have been speaking of the people I met in Cleveland.
The thousands of pro-Bernie protesters oozed down Broad Street to gather at last outside the gates of the Wells Fargo Arena, to gather at the more-than-reasonably-safe-bomb-distance-away spot designated for their protest, the spot separated from the vast arena parking lot, and therefore the delegates, by the kind of fine-meshed, heavy-duty riot fencing I first saw in Cleveland. Once assembled there, all they could do was to look like the great unwashed, to bang their drums and make noise, a stage, speakers, microphones having been ruled out. The weather was growing tropical-heavy, full of danger. After hours on the march in the sun, the heat and the smell of the crowd was piercing, and the collective sound they made had the plaintive, lowing notes of cattle in a stockyard.
Meanwhile, the washed, the credentialed few poured into the hall for the first night's proceedings, many of the Bernie delegates wearing, quelle courage, the cute green Robin Hood hats given out earlier in the day. To enter the convention they passed through airport-style security courtesy of real TSA agents, and walked the hot, soft asphalt of the Wells Fargo's vast parking lot. Baltimore Mayor and rising star Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, filling in for the disgraced Wasserman Schultz, (two last names being an apparent requirement for the gig) gaveled the Convention to order. The program included the lyrical, black-girl-magic of Michelle Obama and, as promised, as 11PM approached, the old-testament-via-Coney-Island thunderings of Bernie Sanders himself, who closed his speech, in what passed in him as a kind of softening:
"It is no secret that Hillary Clinton and I disagree on a number of issues. That’s what this campaign has been about. That’s what democracy is about. But I am happy to tell you that at the Democratic Platform Committee there was a significant coming together between the two campaigns and we produced, by far, the most progressive platform in the history of the Democratic Party. Among many other strong provisions, the Democratic Party now calls for breaking up the major financial institutions on Wall Street and the passage of a 21st Century Glass-Steagall Act. It also calls for strong opposition to job-killing free trade agreements like the Trans-Pacific Partnership.
Our job now is to see that platform implemented by a Democratic Senate, a Democratic House and a Hillary Clinton presidency – and I am going to do everything I can to make that happen.
I have known Hillary Clinton for 25 years. I remember her as a great first lady who broke precedent in terms of the role that a first lady was supposed to play as she helped lead the fight for universal health care. I served with her in the United States Senate and know her as a fierce advocate for the rights of children.
Hillary Clinton will make an outstanding president and I am proud to stand with her here tonight."
At this, a groan went up from the Bernie delegates in the hall, and a massive groan went up from the unwashed mass at the gates in the heat outside, and the skies blackened and a sudden, old-testament rain roared down and sent everyone running, rain black as tears chasing them, sheets of rain slapping the streets of Philadelphia in seeming reproach, although of what or of whom I could not be sure.
The disturbing echoes I'd heard on Broad Street before the skies opened would stay with me for days afterward, the echoes of the sacred cause betrayed, of the stab in the back, of entitlement disappointed, the buzzing echoes of hate and outrage that crackled like lightning between Cleveland and Philadelphia. We know from history's terrible example that this unreconstructed, unassimilated resentment is the soil of fascism. Do we have the will or the power to stop its fruit from growing?