As a total poli-geek, I can’t help but follow politics from all over the place to a certain degree. It’s a part of my nature and I always find what happens elsewhere interesting, for the lessons they might teach us and for ideas. But sometimes I watch politics in other countries for more practical reasons, the big one being how it might affect us here at home. Right at the top of that list is the United States, our neighbours to the South. Whether if we like to think about it or not, what happens in American politics does have a big impact on us in Canada. Who they elect, the policies they run on and their approach do end up touching us and force us to react. For Canadians, American elections can really matter.
Nothing taught us that more than what happened in 2016 with the election of Donald Trump. We’ve felt the impacts of that election, through direct policy attacks and massive sideswipes, as “America First” took over the White House. That election has made this one in 2020 all the more important and the US has a lot riding on what happens, along with the rest of the World. So I have been watching the goings on there with keen interest, especially what happened last yesterday on Super Tuesday:
Yesterday didn’t go as many thought it would just a few days ago, and this fluid Democratic Presidential race has been wild to watch. But while this is a campaign to choose the person who will take on Donald Trump, I believe this race is something that can prove to be more dangerous if it continues down the path we’re seeing now. What do I mean? Well I’ll point to these two pieces as a jumping off point:
I should premise everything I have to say from hear on out with a disclaimer: in 2016, I was a happy Bernie Sanders supporter. While I didn’t agree with him on everything, I appreciated his honest, straight to the point manner and I felt that he would make a better foil to Donald Trump than Hillary Clinton. That feeling had nothing to do with his ideological leanings, as a lot of what he’s running on are things that we’ve had for a few generations now. That feeling just had more to do with the fact that I felt he understood the moment better, the sentiment in the land and that his empathetic approach would get the job done.
But a lot has changed since that time. In 2020, the sentiment is not the same out there. Donald Trump has completely taken over his party and is entrenched. We’ve seen the mood in the electorate get more divisive, fueled by divisive rhetoric from Trump and crew. And while Bernie is still running on the same things, something has changed from his team and certain people who support him this time around, something that really changes the calculus for me. Instead of trying to speak to the better angels of voters, some of those backing Bernie this time are trying to further stoke that division. They are talking about revolutionary change, making certain groups “pay”, using over-the-top vulgar language and just simply being asses.
We’ve seen bits and pieces of that around the fringes of this campaign but what we haven’t seen a lot of is Bernie distancing himself from it, which has bothered me. Instead we’ve seen him try to ingratiate himself to some of these groups, some of whom have called themselves the “Dirtbag Left”. The fact that some have blown a collective gasket over the use of that term, a term that those who were interviewed described themselves as, is just a further example of how further and further detached they are becoming from reality when it comes to any criticism for, well, anything.
Instead of repudiating the approach and tenor of Trump’s campaign and presidency, Sanders and his team have seemingly tried to mirror it, turning up the rhetoric beyond the unhealthy point where it already was. Instead of pointing to good examples of social democratic governments in countries like Denmark and Norway when getting attacked for his views, Bernie has doubled down on his comments on Castro’s Cuba. Instead of trying to bring as many people into his tent, opening the doors to people who may not agree with him, he’s tried to “other” his way to the nomination. It’s not healthy for the body politic and it’s just not good in my view.
And the results have born out how this approach hasn’t worked. While I don’t believe in comparing results from the 2016 primary to this years, because the situation and dynamic is so different, you can see that Sanders has under performed. While the electorate has grown in almost every contest, in some significantly, Bernie’s share of the vote hasn’t. It’s not fair to expect him to hit percentages he hit in a two-person race when he’s now been in races with many more contestants, but he still hasn’t done as well as he should have. He should have done better in New Hampshire. He should have won Minnesota. He should have done better than last time in the South, where he was terrible in 2016. And it was fair to expect that after all the hyping about it, he should have won Texas. His is a campaign that’s been all about “growing the base”, yet he’s failed to do that.
There are many reasons why that might be, but my theory is that it has more to do with the tone that’s surrounded his campaign lately and the circus that some of his supporters have created. It’s created this “Trump of the Left” kind of campaign, which isn’t going to work in this environment. It’s true that running a Clinton 2.0 campaign won’t work either (which is part of the challenge of Joe Biden to show he won’t do, that he’s learned from that), but doubling-down on the insanity of the Trump approach is not going to help either. Going that way, it’s no guarantee that he’ll win, but win or lose, it’s only going to push Americans further into their polarized corners, which could be the biggest problem for the future.
So yeah, in 2020 I’m not high on any candidate at all, I don’t see any perfect choices out there, but I’m increasingly convinced that Bernie isn’t it either. If I had my way, he never would have run this time to begin with and would have used his considerable resources and networks to back a candidate of the future, but that didn’t happen. For me, as a neighbour in a country that has a lot riding on this campaign, I don’t want to see this partisan insanity continue to ramp up as it has. Saying that you’re bringing a revolution may make for a create applause line in a rally, but right now it’s probably the last thing the United States needs. 2016 already brought a revolution, and how exactly has that worked out for everyone?
I’m not suggesting that everything go back to the way it was before 2016 because that was far from perfect. But I am suggesting there has to be some middle ground between revolution and status quo circa 2016. Right now there is too much riding on this campaign, too much riding on what could happen in the Fall and in my mind when it comes to who the Democratic candidate is, I don’t see “who can beat Trump?” is the biggest issue. I believe that any of the remaining candidates could be Trump in the Fall. But what matters is not just getting the win but how you win it. Are you going to win it by bringing people together, lowering the temperature and speaking to everyone’s better angels? Or are you going to win by any means necessary, even if that means burning the country to the ground in the process?
Right now, it seems that Sanders is aiming for latter and I’m not cool with that. 2016 Bernie didn’t do that and I’m afraid for some of those who supported him last time, the lesson they took from that campaign is they messed up by not doing so. So yeah, I’m not “feeling the Bern” right now. If anything, I’m feeling “Bern-ed out”. The stakes of this campaign are too high to screw this up and if they continue down the path that they are on now with this same tone and approach, the Sanders campaign are in the process of doing just that. I’d hope that the reflect on that before it’s too late.