I’ve been a little bummed out about everyone’s favorite self-identified socialist, Senator Bernie Sanders, lately. Not because he lost the Iowa Democratic Caucus Monday night, but because of his supporters.

Let me backtrack: I like Sanders. I’ve liked him for years. I remember seeing him on my local news station, which covers the area of New York I live in, and most of Vermont. Burlington, where Sanders served as mayor, is less than an hour from my house. His platform aligns with my views and his efforts to buck the status quo appeal to my frustrations with American politics. I’ll be voting for him in New York’s Democratic primary in April.

But Sanders isn’t perfect, and he isn’t immune to criticism—something many Sanders supporters, at least those who populate social media, either don’t understand or refuse to accept.

Whenever I see an article published by a major media outlet about Sanders that does not deify him—and I see them daily—the comments section on the piece is awash with what an article in The Atlantic termed, the Berniebro.

“The Berniebro asks what you thought of the first Democratic debate, then interrupts to say that you shouldn’t confuse Clinton’s soundbites for actual substance,” the article by Robinson Meyer reads. “By the way, the Berniebro adds, he was really impressed with Bernie.”

Meyer’s article focused specifically on white, male, educated types, but the social media comments I’m talking about don’t come from any kind of supporter in particular. Their message is nearly always some variation of: This is just a hit piece by the mainstream, establishment, corporate-owned media. A Sanders fan will inevitably say the author of the article has been bought out and is now just a shill for Hillary Clinton, Sanders’ rival for the Democratic nomination.

Take an NPR article, published Tuesday, that fact-checked the widely-spread claim that a series of coin tosses decided the Iowa caucus. One of the top comments on NPR’s Facebook post of the article—which debunked the misreported myth that Clinton won the caucus because of the coin tosses—reads: “NPR should change name to CPR ‘Clinton Public Radio.’ She could drive a bus into a daycare and y’all would spin it. Bernie Sanders has the will of the people behind him.”

Anyone who read that article with clear eyes would see that it’s anything but shilling for Clinton; it only tries to set the record straight on a complex and misrepresented situation.

Similarly, we find high up in the comments on economist Paul Krugman’s critical January column on Sanders in The New York Times: “Whether you like Bernie or not, everyone by now knows that Krugman is an establishment POS shill for the Clintons and always will be. Surprised he still has a job to be honest with you.”

Krugman’s column concerns itself with questioning the lack of detail in some of Sanders’ proposed policies—deserved questioning, in my opinion, considering the Senator’s ethos as a no-bullshit anti-politician. With proposals as ambitious as establishing a single-payer healthcare system in America, developed and thorough plans are critical, and should be expected of a candidate like Sanders. Branding scrutiny like Krugman’s as establishmentarian-Clinton-shilling showcases glaring cognitive dissonance, in which people demand the picking apart of one candidate’s past and positions but rage against doing the same of another’s. Sanders supporters should welcome increased scrutiny toward their man—that’s what serious contenders for the presidency get.

Even Ta-Nehisi Coates, acclaimed writer and the zeitgeist’s current public intellectual of choice, was unable to escape the onslaught of blind Bernie loyalists. When Coates wrote an article for The Atlantic about Sanders’ opposition to Black reparations, one of the first comments I saw on it said Coates had been bought out by Clinton. C’mon.

What makes all the media-shilling-for-Clinton comments so absurd is that it’s in the media’s interest to depict Clinton v. Sanders as a tight contest. Journalists love a horserace; readers want excitement. And while, to some degree, we have an exciting race on our hands now, the media narrative still does and should favor Sanders. He’s an underdog. He’s the insurgent. He’s giving Clinton a scare.

A New York Magazine piece on Tuesday explored this media critique, saying in its headline that “Bernie Sanders Won Iowa Because the Media Says He Did”—something clear to anyone paying attention to which narrative most outlets chose to run with. “In the pundit class’s defense, it is a damn good story,” Eric Levitz writes in the article. “A septuagenarian socialist, who trailed by 40 points in Iowa at the race’s start, takes on his party’s handpicked candidate with absolutely zero Establishment support and builds a million Millennial movement that propels him to a virtual tie? Who doesn’t want to see the next episode of this drama?” To suggest that the media is in Clinton’s corner is an illogical excuse used by Sanders supporters too caught up in their “political revolution” to recognize the senator’s flaws.

One moment during Donald Trump’s rally in Burlington last month—which I attended in the same way spectators gather around a car crash—reminds me of these Sanders supporters. It wasn’t when Trump called out, “Who’s gonna pay for the wall,” and his supporters boomed back, “Mexico!” It wasn’t when, after presenting my ticket, a campaign staffer in a pinstriped suit asked me, “Do you support Donald Trump,” fully intent on turning me away if I answered anything but the affirmative. And it was not when one of my friends was thrown out mid-rally and another almost saw the same fate, for doing nothing more than raising his hands in the shape of a heart.

It was when I turned around in my seat to watch a woman assail someone she suspected of disloyalty toward “The Donald,” pointing and screaming until security escorted the accused out. I can still sense the rabidity with which she hammered her finger in the air and cried out, the paranoia I felt creeping through the crowd. Forget Trump’s rhetoric—the scariest thing there were his supporters. That’s what I see in Sanders’ social media hivemind of #FeelTheBern. I guess you could say I’m a little #BernedOut.

Tagged: Bernie Sanders


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