The coalition that opposes Donald Trump needs to get better at persuading fellow citizens and winning converts, rather than leaning so heavily on stigmatizing those who disagree with them. Chief among the problems with stigma as a political weapon?
It doesn’t work.
So I declared after election day. And today, to start exploring the subject more deeply, I offer a case study of stigma wielded both needlessly and counterproductively.
The backdrop is the intra-left debate about “identity politics.” Did they cost Democrats the 2016 election? Or not? Is that even the right question? The subject was on Bernie Sanders’s mind when a woman in the audience of a post-election speech he gave declared that she wanted to be the second Latina senator and asked for advice.
Sanders expressed agreement that the political process needs more people of color. Then, perhaps thinking of Hillary Clinton’s failed “I’m with her” campaign, he advised:
It is not good enough for somebody to say, “Hey, I’m a Latina, vote for me.” That is not good enough. I have to know whether that Latina is going to stand up with the working class of this country, and is going to take on the big money interests… This is where there is going to be division within the Democratic Party. It is not good enough for someone to say, “I’m a woman! Vote for me!’” No, that’s not good enough. What we need is a woman who has the guts to stand up to Wall Street, to the insurance companies, to the drug companies, to the fossil fuel industry.
Here’s where stigma begins to enter the picture. In The Washington Monthly, contributing writer Nancy LeTourneau argued that Sanders demeaned his Latina questioner.