Hillary Clinton, former Democratic presidential nominee and the first woman to win the popular vote in the U.S. general election, will release a memoir on the events of 2016 later this month. But excerpts from the book are already garnering wide attention. Clinton has written many books before, examining her tenures as First Lady, and then as Secretary of State under former President Barack Obama. But What Happened promises to be special because Clinton herself has acknowledged that it will be an unfiltered representation of herself. For the first time ever, with nothing to lose, Clinton will not be burdened with the task of sweepingly moderating and repackaging herself to appeal to the members of a patriarchal nation.
Predictably enough, the book is already being criticized across the political spectrum for a number of reasons, some more valid than others. Most notably, many claim fixating on the Russian hacking and former FBI Director James Comey’s scandals distracts the Democratic Party from key issues and further alienates Democratic lawmakers from voters. But on Tuesday, fresh criticism came from the left with the release of a new excerpt in which Clinton discusses her rival in the presidential primary, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT).
In either case, Clinton is right about one thing — the Democratic Party’s identity is in crisis, and for better or for worse, a lot of this is because of Sanders and his role in reshaping the direction of the party’s discussion on marginalized identities.
In the excerpt, Clinton also hits Sanders for not being a Democrat and tackles the sexism of some of his supporters, bringing him to task about the divisiveness of their words and behaviors. “His attacks caused lasting damage, making it harder to unify progressives,” she wrote. And of his supporters’ words and actions, she added, “It got ugly and more than a little sexist.”
The discussion of sexism in the primaries is inherently polarizing and emotionally charged. Clinton’s new, defiant spirit shows through just in the fact that she’s daring to weigh in. And considering how ironically marginalized women’s voices are in discussions of sexism, it’s deeply important that she’s the one initiating it.
That being said, I don’t agree with all of her analysis. Sanders brought important ideas to the table for the Democratic Party, such as universal health care, wealth inequality and education as a right — policies that would disproportionately benefit marginalized and low-income Americans. These ideas — as well as a campaign centered on grassroots engagement and cleansing national politics of special interests and corporate corruption — energized a generation of Americans who will canvas, vote and even run for office for years to come. While Sanders’ campaign stirred up debate and disagreement in the party, he shifted the party’s platform to favor once unheard of policies — a path to universal healthcare, decriminalization of marijuana and higher education for all — that could enfranchise millions of Americans.
He helped the Democratic Party make progress on its core values, and progress will always be worth some conflict and struggle.
Some of his supporters, however, warrant a discussion of their own. The internalized idea that economic inequity and a purportedly evil political establishment are America’s sole problems, and that racial inequality, discrimination against the LGBTQ community and the national crisis around women’s rights would all evaporate into thin air in a hypothetical, socialist America is nonsense. More than that, it’s offensive to everyone who faces identity-based oppression, which is easy to label and write off as “identity politics” — rather than recognize it as the lived experiences of millions of Americans — only when one has never experienced this oppression firsthand.
Identity-based oppression, economic inequity and bureaucratic corruption coexist as flaws of today’s political system, but a serious problem emerges when a charismatic politician’s rhetoric leads voters to believe there’s only one kind of problem in America, and that talk of all other forms is a “distraction” and a “waste of time.” And intentional or not, that’s exactly what Sanders’ rhetoric did.
The faction of white, heterosexual, male Bernie supporters, dubbed “Bernie Bros” by their critics, who loathe “social justice warriors” for “distracting” us all with purportedly unimportant matters like respecting gender identity and protecting trans people, share this view with supporters of President Donald Trump.
Of course, there is a difference between these Trump voters and the “Bernie Bro” wing of Sanders’ supporters. Sanders’ supporters loathe those they perceive as “SJW”s for focusing on identity rather than crusading for socialism. Trump’s supporters loathe “SJW”s because they perceive discussions of identity-based oppression toward the marginalized as oppressive toward white people.
And Clinton is also right about another thing. There’s a quiet, pernicious sexism in the Sanders supporters who frequently tout their action-less “pro-choice” stances to deflect from accusations of sexism, but still disregard abortion rights and family planning resources as important issues relative to the economy. The United States has the highest maternal mortality rates in the industrialized world, and lawmakers in states across the country are fighting with increased success for the right to force women to give birth, but this “women’s issue” is irrelevant in the world of “Bernie Bros.” Without listening to women’s voices on this issue, they swiftly treat those who dare to call attention to it to a lofty lecture on the broken American economy.
California’s Democratic primary took place three weeks after I turned 18, and to say I was ecstatic to cast my first vote for Bernie Sanders would be an understatement. But hindsight is 20/20 — which is, incidentally, the year the next presidential election will take place — and I would not cast my ballot for him again. Today, the Democratic Party is deeply divided about whether or not identity issues matter, about whether or not abortion and gay rights are things worth fighting for or compromising on to win elections and elect economic progressives. And in no small part, this is because of Sanders.
As a young woman, I watched another woman — a woman who made women’s rights, LGBTQ rights and immigration reform the focuses of her campaign and dedicated more than 40 years of public service to crusading for women’s rights — torn down by a renewed loathing of “social justice warrior” culture that Sanders’ campaign breathed life into. Clinton’s words in her new book speak deeply and personally to me, and because of them I will never forget this particular moment in our nation’s history.
Kylie Cheung is a sophomore majoring in journalism and political science. She is also the editorial director of the Daily Trojan. Her column,“You Do Uterus,” runs every Thursday.