It may be hard to believe, but this potty-mouthed mad dog could be our next president. Say goodbye to any respect our country may have left in the rest of the world. Say goodbye to rational thought. Say goodbye to freedom of the press. Say goodbye stopping global climate change. Say goodbye to human rights, women's rights, minority rights, and just about any other humanitarian agenda you might have. The devil is among us. And all we can do is vote.
This Is How a Revolution Ends
The Democratic insurgent’s campaign is losing steam—but his supporters are not ready to give up.
But if Bernie Sanders’s revolution has run aground in California, which will be one of the last states to vote in the Democratic primary on June 7, he was not about to admit it here, where thousands gathered on a sun-drenched high-school football field of bright green turf.
“We are going to win here in California!” Sanders said, to defiant cheers. In the audience, a man waved a sign that says, “Oh HILL no!”
This is Sanders’s last stand, according to the official narrative of the corrupt corporate media, and if there is anything we have learned in the past year, it is the awesome power of the official narrative—the self-reinforcing drumbeat that dictates everything.
Sanders continued: “I believe that if we win here in California, and if we win the other five states that are voting on June 7, we’re going to go marching to the Democratic convention with a hell of a lot of momentum. I believe that if we do well here in California, we’ll march in with momentum and we’ll march out with the Democratic nomination!”
But then again, according to the official narrative, the primary is already over. Also according to the delegate count, which has Sanders’s opponent, Hillary Clinton, just 78 short of the 2,383 it takes to win the nomination. Also according to the Democratic voters, some 3 million more of whom have supported Clinton than Sanders over the past four months of voting. And also according to Clinton, who told CNN the other day, “I will be the nominee.”
But in the world Sanders’s supporters inhabit, this is all so much media manipulation. “Do you trust the media?” asked one of his introducers, the television host Cenk Uygur. “No!” yelled the crowd. “Do you believe they’ve treated Bernie Sanders fairly?” “Fuck the media!” yelled someone standing near the press riser. (Sanders was also introduced by two actors, Dick Van Dyke and Rosario Dawson.)
Sanders and his people have their own sets of rules. All you have to do is unskew the delegate counts, they explain, take out the superdelegates, imagine they all vote for Sanders, imagine certain primaries had been conducted according to different rules. Angry memes about missing votes and stolen precincts ricochet around social media. Did you see what happened in Nevada, when the party, Sanders’s supporters claim, changed the rules to keep them from getting more delegates at the state convention?
The game is rigged!
The Sanders movement has become impervious to reality. Some have even called into question the nature of reality itself: “Bernie Sanders’ ‘political revolution’ is political only inasmuch as thought is political,” a self-described “metamodernist creative writer” named Seth Abramson wrote in the Huffington Post a few days ago. “By the very nature of things—we might call it perceptual entropy—the impossible, once perceived, enters a chain of causation whose natural conclusion is realization.” By this logic, Abramson reasons, Sanders is actually winning. It’s, like, the Matrix, man, or something.
A 25-year-old art model named Vanna Mae Caldwell told me, “Here is what they don’t tell you: None of the superdelegates have actually voted yet!” California, she believes, is going to go for Sanders in a landslide, and then the Democratic convention—which she plans to attend, as a protester—“is going to be very interesting.” If Sanders does not get the nomination, Caldwell will not be able to bring herself to vote for either Clinton or Donald Trump, whom she sees as two sides of the same corporate coin; she’ll vote instead for the Green Party’s candidate, Jill Stein. “I’m Bernie or Bust,” she said proudly.
Caldwell discovered Sanders last year through Tumblr and YouTube videos. She is an active member of three different Sanders-boosting Facebook groups and livestreams once a week “to motivate people to vote for Bernie.” It has changed their lives, being a part of this movement. Something like that doesn’t just end. Does it?
“I would vote for Trump,” Duffy said. “At least he’s challenging the status quo. He sees we’ve been sold down the river and we’ve got to get it back. I prefer Bernie’s means to Trump’s! But Trump is being demonized in the press for similar reasons as Bernie is being ignored. They’re both challenging the system. We are people who don’t believe in the system! We want to make a new system where people take care of each other.”
Among the dozens of Sanders supporters I met over the course of two days, this was not a universal view. Perhaps half said they will reluctantly vote for Clinton in November. (A recent poll found that 72 percent of Sanders backers nationally would support Clinton; the Sanderistas who go to rallies are a more dedicated bunch.) The Bernie-or-Bust-ers tend to be young, male, and white; few describe themselves as Democrats, and many are new to voting. Women, people of color, and Democrats seem more open to Clinton.
More than once, I met couples debating the question. “I will not vote for Hillary Clinton,” vowed Eric Thiercof, a 20-year-old pool-maintenance worker. “No, no! Anyone but Trump!” interjected his girlfriend, Florencia Pina, a student.
As Sanders gave his usual 75-minute consciousness-raising diatribe in Santa Monica, the temperature dropped about 15 degrees, and people began to stream off the field. By the time he got to the climactic line—“In fact, we need a political revolution!”—the whole back half was empty, and the crowd was practically too sparse to give the requisite answering roar.
Maybe they knew it’s over after all.
This—Clinton and her challenger still duking it out for the Golden State, while Republicans rally around their presumptive nominee, Trump—is not what most people expected. But most people didn’t know Bernie Sanders.
Sanders has repeatedly said he will not play the spoiler—by running as an independent or backing a third-party candidate such as Stein. He says he will do everything in his power to defeat Trump. But many Democrats worry that by dragging out a contest he cannot win—and continuing to attack Clinton’s character, and the nomination process, in sharp terms—he is deepening the party’s divisions. The Washington Post’s Eugene Robinson called Sanders’s antics “reckless in the extreme,” in one of a litany of recent liberal commentaries fretting that he is now hurting Democrats’ general-election chances.
A spate of recent polls have shown Clinton tied with or slightly trailing Trump in November matchups, the apparent effect of a Republican Party that has unified and a Democratic Party that remains fractured. The Nevada convention chaos—which featured physical altercations and a continuing barrage of threats by Sanders supporters against the state party chairwoman—raised the possibility that even if Sanders eventually backs Clinton, some of his followers may be too embittered to follow his lead.
Most of the state’s Democratic establishment has come out for Clinton. But the popular governor, Jerry Brown, has not endorsed; a former independent with a quirky political profile, he has a bitter history with the Clintons, having run against Bill Clinton in a sharply acrimonious bid for the presidential nomination in 1992. Brown and Clinton met for an hour and a half in Sacramento on Monday; the prospect of an endorsement was not among the topics discussed, according to the governor’s office. A Democratic source in Sacramento told me Brown is considering endorsing Hillary Clinton but has not made up his mind. A poll of the state conducted earlier this month gave Clinton an 18-point lead over Sanders, but in a new poll released Thursday, that had narrowed to just two points.
The question is what it will take for Sanders to be satisfied with some sort of moral victory short of the nomination. This week, he was given five slots on the Democratic platform committee, which will allow him to influence what the party stands for—presumably an important goal. Sanders is also thought to be interested in reforms to the nominating process that he has derided as “rigged.”
Is Sanders—the onetime liberal gadfly whose views few of his colleagues heeded—simply enjoying the spotlight’s validating glow for as long as it lasts? Or is he as delusional as some of his dead-ender fans? It’s impossible to tell.
I asked Howard Dean, Sanders’s fellow Vermonter and onetime insurgent Democratic presidential candidate, whether he approved of the way Sanders is conducting himself these days. “No,” said Dean, who has endorsed Clinton. But he said he understood.
Near the end of Dean’s 2004 campaign, he told me, just before the Wisconsin primary, he had started to realize he was going to lose, and he was bitterly angry about it—the unfairness of the process, the way he’d been treated. Late that night, the phone rang in his hotel room in Milwaukee. It was Al Gore, the former vice president, who had endorsed him.
“I ranted and raved for 10 or 15 minutes,” Dean recalled. “And when finally I stop for breath, he says, ‘This is about the country. It’s not about you.’ That stopped me in my tracks.”
Dean quit the race the next day. Accepting defeat, he said, was a process. “Having been there, it’s a gradual landing you have to bring yourself into,” he said. The question, he suggested, is whether there is someone close to Sanders who can say to him what Gore said to Dean.
In Riverside on Tuesday afternoon, several hundred people filled a brightly lit college basketball gym and waited for Hillary Clinton to appear. Another 1,500 were stranded outside, across a cordon from a knot of left-wing protesters. One held a sign that said, “White Feminism Is Not Feminis—Keep White Imperialists Out of Riverside!” They chanted, “Hillary is a war criminal!”