On Heroes: Advice for Bernie Sanders Supporters in the Aftermath of the Democratic Primary
It's heartbreaking when our heroes disappoint us.
We feel betrayed, hurt, and crushed as if we were right there beside this person. It doesn't matter if this person is an athlete, musician, actor, actress, artist, author, or even politician. When we dedicate time into admiring someone we've never met, we become invested in that person and we expect them to live up to our admiration. We hold them is such high-esteem that we unrealistically expect them to be practically perfect in every way. Even if they slip up and do something wrong, we tend to brush it off as a one-time thing. If they slip up again, we laugh it off and note that everyone is human. However, there are cases when our hero reaches a point where he or she has become so far removed from the person we first idolized that we have no choice but to stop admiring this person. That becomes the time when we have to decide if we lose faith in just our hero or the entire system as a whole.
For myself, I endured this experience firsthand in the spring of 2011. As a fourth-year classroom teacher I had stumbled across Greg Mortenson's Three Cups of Tea. The book was an account of Mortenson's incredible 1993 adventure that led him from a near-death mountaineering experience in the Himalayas to founding a school for girls in Pakistan. The promotion of girls' education then became Mortenson's calling and in 1996 he created a nonprofit called the Central Asia Institute which helped establish over 60 schools for girls in both Pakistan and Afghanistan. Mortenson published Three Cups of Tea in 2006 and it became an inspirational best-seller. In 2009, Mortenson received the first of two consecutive Nobel Peace Prize nominations. As a teacher myself working to create a better world for those less fortunate, Greg Mortenson served as an inspirational role model.
And then, it all came crashing down. In April of 2011, 60 Minutes aired a special where fellow mountaineer and author Jon Krakauer provided evidence that Mortenson had fabricated many of the events that comprised the bulk of the narrative of Three Cups of Tea. In addition, Krakauer also reported that Mortenson had used the Central Asia Institute to enrich himself and promote his books without sharing royalties or speaking fees. This led to an investigation by the Montana attorney general's office as well as an eventual settlement where Mortenson repaid $1 million to the Central Asia Institute. He was stripped of his position as a voting board member but stayed on as an employee of the organization until retiring in November of 2015. A man who had once been a personal hero of mine had become reduced to a footnote of history, going out with no more than a whisper into the calm Montana night.
Two months from now, millions of Bernie Sanders supporters will become equally disappointed.
Because with Sanders, his supporters feel as if they have a special connection with him. They've been inspired by his vision of an America they wish to see. Sanders' candidacy truly has been a progressive wish list: Free universal healthcare, free college tuition, a nationwide $15 minimum wage, the breaking up of the Wall Street banks, and the legalization of marijuana just to name a few. If you were to create an ideal progressive platform, those are all things that the Sanders supporters, mostly White, affluent millennials, would strongly support. To actually hear a politician promote these policies and to come to believe that a "political revolution" would make these things possible has inspired Sanders' base, many of whom have felt disappointed over the past seven years. In their minds, the only reason we don't have all these policies already in place is simply because Bernie Sanders is not our president.
So Sanders supporters went all in on Bernie Sanders, flaws and all. He was seen as the little guy up against the political behemoth that was Hillary Clinton. No matter what he did, his supporters still believed in him. How he openly stole voter data from his opponent? Simple confusion. How he lied about newspaper endorsements? No biggie. How he promised to run a clean campaign but now attacks his opponent daily? Minor detail. How his campaign has had multiple FEC fundraising violations? Simple accounting error. How he lied about meeting with the Pope? Simple misunderstanding. No matter what dishonest deeds he or his supporters engaged in, it seemed that Sanders' reputation would remain intact and his supporters would continue to defend him no matter what had actually transpired.
But all that will change two months from now.
Because two months from now, the "political revolution" will fall flat and Hillary Clinton will be the Democratic nominee for President of the United States. That is not arrogance speaking, that is simple math. Sanders has been much more competitive than anyone imagined he would be, but he has no path to the nomination. He seems destined to lose New York, Pennsylvania, Maryland, New Jersey, and California by wide margins, states where the demographics don't match the strengths of the Sanders campaign. There is only one stateside caucus left in North Dakota, with the rest of the states having primaries. Hillary Clinton is up by more delegates now than Barack Obama ever was and that's after Sanders has won 7 out of the last 8 contests. As Nate Silver at fivethirtyeight.com so succinctly pointed out: Hillary Clinton is winning the states that look like the Democratic Party. Bernie Sanders will continue to march on, but in the end he will come up short in his quest to become the Democratic nominee for president.
When this happens, Sanders supporters will face a similar choice as I did after my hero let me down: Do I simply give up my work or do I find other sources to inspire me? Despite being crushed by the truth about Greg Mortenson, I trekked on and continued to teach in low-income schools. Because even though one of my heroes had let me down, that didn't mean there weren't other people who could become equally inspiring. Rather than focusing on best-selling authors, I found inspiration from the people around me who were bending over backwards to help address inequality in an education system determined to maintain the status quo. Like Greg Mortenson, they wanted to make a difference in the lives of others. Unlike Greg Mortenson, they didn't need to personally inflate their own ego by exaggerating their good deeds. They simply went out and did it.
Believe it or not, Bernie Sanders supporters will have the ability to do this exact same thing come June. They actually will have a candidate still in the race who supports many of the things that Bernie Sanders does. In fact, this candidate voted with Sanders 93% of the time when they were in the Senate together. This candidate wants to get us to universal health care, but thinks we should do it by strengthening the Affordable Care Act and building upon its success. This candidate doesn't simply want to make college more affordable but this candidate also wants to make paying off student loans more affordable as well. This candidate wants to have a $12 federal minimum wage as recommended by economic experts but will support cities and states should they wish to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour. This candidate even sees the value of declassifying marijuana in order to do studies on it in order to make the best decision in regard to its use both medically and recreationally. Like Bernie Sanders this candidate supports marriage equality, has a plan to rein in the abuses on Wall Street, wants to overturn Citizens United, and would pursue democracy as a primary foreign policy rather than going to war.
And that candidate's name is Hillary Clinton.
There will be a percentage of Sanders supporters who will simply tune out in two months, despite the evidence I've just provided. But those are the supporters who weren't going to vote anyway. However, for the bulk of Sanders supporters left, they need to realize that their irrational hatred for Hillary Clinton is simply that: irrational. These supporters, the majority of whom are millennials, have never not lived in a world where Hillary Clinton hasn't been smeared. If you hear something long enough you start to believe it. That's Nazi-type propaganda brought to you courtesy of today's Republican Party. It's the reason why Sanders supporters protest down-ballot fundraisers for Democratic candidates: because they simply want to believe that Hillary is hoarding the money for herself rather than helping to elect a Democratic congress. But like America saw in the Brooklyn debate, even Bernie Sanders himself could not give a specific example as to how Hillary Clinton has been corrupted by Wall Street. Republicans have been saying the same thing for twenty-five years and have accused her of being corrupt. And just like Bernie Sanders saw firsthand, there simply is no evidence to back that up.
So for Bernie Sanders supporters reading this, consider what will be at stake come the fall: a presidency, the ability to flip the Senate and make gains in the House, and the ability to alter the makeup of the Supreme Court for a generation. If you're one of the 20 million of Americans who has benefitted from the Affordable Care Act, you'll vote for Hillary Clinton. If you're a woman who thinks health care decisions should only be between you and your doctor, you'll vote for Hillary Clinton. If you're a worker who enjoys the rights provided to you by your union, you'll vote for Hillary Clinton. If you're a member of the LGBT community and you don't think states should be able to deny you services based on who you love, you'll vote for Hillary Clinton. If you're a parent with a son who registered for selective service and you don't want to see your child shipped overseas in another military quagmire, you'll vote for Hillary Clinton. If you believe that Muslim-Americans are just as Americans as you or me, you'll vote for Hillary Clinton. If you believe that Latino immigrants who have lived here their entire lives deserve an opportunity to come out of the shadows and have a clear pass to citizenship, you'll vote for Hillary Clinton. If you believe that African-American lives matter and that we need to take serious steps to address systemic racism, you'll vote for Hillary Clinton. And if you believe in a world where climate change is actually happening and is a threat to humankind, you'll vote for Hillary Clinton.
She might not be your personal hero. You might have to vote for her holding your nose, confessing your sin, cursing her name, flicking off your ballot, or doing whatever else you have to do to swallow your pride and do the right thing. But know this: she is a hero to many. She's a hero to the parents to eight million children who received health insurance thanks to her efforts. She's a hero to women lawyers everywhere for being named one of the top 100 lawyers in the country on two separate occasions and proving that women could succeed in a man's world. She's a hero to those in the civil rights movement for her undercover work to ensure school integration was properly occurring in Alabama. She's a hero to those who saw her use her role as First Lady to promote public policy, going much further than any previous First Lady ever had. She's a hero to every successful woman who at one point has been told that the way she appeared, the clothes she wore, the inflexions in her voice, or facial expressions she made simply were "unbecoming" of a true professional. Despite all that, she still endures constant criticism, lies, smears, sexism, and misogyny that no presidential candidate has ever had to endure. Through it all she has remained standing and in the process has become a hero to millions of Americans like myself.
To vote for her one single time in November is the least you can do.
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