When Bernie Bros Become Hillary Bros
A casual survey at the DNC reveals not youthful folly, but Millennial pragmatism.
You could call it the Twilight of the Bernie Bros: the young men (and women) who have animated the convention hall of the DNC with their incessant booing, cries of mistrust, and suggestions of delegate vote suppression. On Tuesday, their candidate officially lost the nominating race to Hillary Clinton in a roll-call vote, and on Wednesday, her campaign moved forward with the most public endorsement yet from the titular head of the Democratic party, President Obama. There will no doubt be forthcoming analysis about the effect this movement has, or hasn’t, had on the next three months of general election campaigning; about how precisely Clinton and Kaine have embraced or denied their progressive base. But for a community of young people who have found a home in this world of outsider camaraderie, this particular party—as they say—is over. Cue the lights.
So: Will they leave angry? Will they just stay home in November? Does Donald Trump actually have a shot to win the votes of one-time Sanders acolytes? Vice President Biden notably insisted on Tuesday that, “If you’re as moral and centered as you say you are, I know you can’t vote for Trump.”
Biden, ever the empathetic id of the Democratic party, may be onto something. For all the concerns about just how hard it may be to rally these crushed, frustrated young supporters and bring them back into the institutional fold, many of the young people I spoke with on the fringes of the convention had a remarkably sanguine attitude towards the road ahead—and what a Clinton candidacy means for the former Sanders coalition.
Swati Shastry, a student at Bryn Mawr college, explained that, “There’s a difference between critiquing the systems and powers that are in place—and being nihilistic and being pessimistic.”
Victor Garcia, a Sanders enthusiast who currently attends the University of California, Santa Barbara, conceded that “Secretary Clinton is the best we can do now,” but that it was up to the former Sanders supporters “to strive for better and to push her to do better.”
Many of these Millennials saw no particular problem in once loudly criticizing the status quo and now supporting an institutional candidate who very well may preserve it. This, apparently, is democracy in an age that’s equally fascinated with Snapchat and George R. R. Martin—forms of entertainment that are either very short and light on specifics, or very long and extraordinarily detailed. Contradiction is just part of the 21st-century political lexicon, and they are embracing it.
Kendrick Sampson, an actor and prominent Sanders booster, told me: “We have an either-or society … and that’s not how humans work.” He explained that, “You can only go so far with spreading awareness and yelling at people. But that’s important, to make sure you show people that you’re angry, that you’re fed up with the system and that it needs to change. And then you need to have a seat at the table. To influence policy … You can’t just have a fight, you have to have a solution.”
I asked Kashimana Ahua—a recently naturalized U.S. citizen from Nigeria and delegate to the convention from Minnesota, who was resplendent in Sanders buttons—why she wasn’t out on the streets protesting Clinton’s coronation, but instead inside the convention hall. “I’m both,” she said. “I can be out on the streets, and in the building. I believe you have to have both in order to make a change that helps everybody.”
Then she added: “We come from a generation… [where] we understand that you don’t have to be one or the other.”
As if proving this point, hours later Victor Garcia was to be found protesting on the streets—following his exit from the Youth Council meeting at the DNC. Here he was, literally, being both things: disruptive and dutiful. By way of an explanation, Garcia offered: “When there’s pressure in the streets, that gives you ammunition to use within a conference room.”
It remains unclear how long anyone can keep one foot outside of the established power structure and one foot inside it. If history is any guide, usually, at some point, you have to choose (see: Barack Obama’s journey from community organizer to the presidency). Perhaps suggesting that you don’t have to is naïve, or maybe it is truly is an indication that the coming years in American politics will see profound oscillations between traditional party players and those who wish to overthrow them.
Either way, the transmogrification from Bernie Bro to Hillary Bro, as Biden cautioned this week, will not exactly be immediate. “Think about it,” he said. “They went out and busted their neck for the better part of a year. They came close.” In other words, there is still reason to be concerned that all will not be quiet in the convention hall when Hillary Clinton takes the rostrum on Thursday night. The kids may be coming into the convention center from the streets, and they may also be surprisingly well-acclimated to the prospect of a Clinton candidacy. But don’t expect them to be sporting chestfuls of Clinton/Kaine 2016 flair just yet. I asked Ahua why she had no Hillary buttons in her arsenal of campaign paraphernalia. She responded: “I’m a Bernie pledged delegate. It’s going to take a minute.”