I recognize two related truths: (A) Money is power, and (B) Improvement of economic conditions, by itself, does not make bigoted people stop being bigots.
Example: one of the most wealthy people I know, someone with a literal vault of gold bars, is still sending chain emails about Obama being a secret Muslim terrorist who isn't even a US citizen. Why? Because she's been surrounded by white Republicans for decades who don't want to hurt her feelings by calling her or her views racist. We, probably all of us to varying degrees, value relationships with people more than the risk of alienating them, offending them, pissing them off, or "causing a scene," by calling them on their shit. (See also, The Terrible Bargain We Have Regretfully Struck)
Disclaimer, because I think it's important: I like much of what Bernie Sanders stands for. Economic inequality is one of the great injustices of our day.
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That said, let's take Bernie Sanders' recent New York Times op-ed. As if written fresh off the Democratic Primary campaign trail, he offered us essentially the same oft-repeated, re-purposed stump speech he gave at rally after rally:
"I am saddened, but not surprised, by the outcome. It is no shock to me that millions of people who voted for Mr. Trump did so because they are sick and tired of the economic, political and media status quo."Okay, but guess what, Bernie? I'm sick of the status quo too, but I didn't vote for a nightmare candidate. So why do I feel like you don't have empathy for me or the millions of other people who rejected your message? Why did many black voters, who consistently backed Clinton over you, reject your message?
Speaking for myself, I didn't see myself reflected in his message. I never know quite what he means by working people, regular people, or ordinary Americans, but I always come away thinking he's talking about white blue collar workers, probably male.
Take a recent Tweet:
I come from the white working class too and (a) Hillary Clinton spoke to me just fine, and (b) it would at this juncture be helpful for Bernie to consider that many of us fled the white working class because of abuse inflicted upon us for, in some way, being different.I come from the white working class, and I am deeply humiliated that the Democratic Party cannot talk to the people where I came from.— Bernie Sanders (@BernieSanders) November 14, 2016
It is a tricky, nuanced take. Of course not all white working class people are bigots, but it is irresponsible for a popular politician to try to capture the argument on Twitter. It came off to me as, intentional or not, stoking the embers of white populist rage.
The Democratic Establishment is to blame for all your problems, white people, but Bernie alone understands and can fix it! Which, sounds familiar doesn't it?
His goal seems to be to reach out to people who didn't vote, who voted for a 3rd party, or voted for Trump. Or, to people who are politically apathetic. Or, to people who rejected or feel alienated by "elite" Democrats. Or, to people who, if they are politically engaged, are pissed off for vague reasons they don't, can't, or won't fully articulate.
Consider Bernie's anti-Democratic Party message in light of recent advice on the best ways we, the populace, can reach out to our Congresspeople. We must be respectful, professional, brief, and prepared. We should email or call under some very specific guidelines. The bottom line: we as citizens must make our voices heard by reaching out to the people who ostensibly serve us.
Nowhere in this guide do I see the advice: "Elect an authoritarian nightmare who will wreak destruction upon women, immigrants, and people of color." But goddamn what a white thing to do and what a goddamn white rage-privilege thing to excuse it.
And so, I offer two final propositions:
A) Many people view the Democratic Party, especially now, as a firewall between ourselves and horrific misogynistic, white nationalist nightmare politicians.
B) That firewall should therefore not now be destroyed for the sake of making the Democratic Party more compelling to white people.People are hurting across the nation. This hurt includes, but is not limited to, working class white people. But, because white nationalism is one of the most enduring US Establishments, Bernie Sanders seems to want to tear down the Democratic Party and build it up as a white-working-class-centric institution and if that's not his aim he has a lot of work to do to make that more explicit.
The subtext to all of the white working class fetishism, and not just limited to Sanders, is that we should put implicit good faith trust in white working class people that they are not bigots or that, if they are, better jobs will make them not be.
But, and here's what I think scares people like me: You know what's more dangerous than a poor bigot, probably? A bigot with more money and a better job.
Yes, let's lift all boats economically. But, I reject the notion that we should put kid gloves on and coddle the white working class because it hurts their feelings when they're called bigots. It is not "elite" to call out bigotry. It's self-defense. White working class Trump supporters alone did not put Trump in the White House, but many of them specifically voted for a man who boasted about getting rid of "political correctness," a man who said telling the truth was more important than people's feelings, as he enabled neo-nazis throughout the country.
If white liberals and progressives want to abandon marginalized people and our complicated "identity politics" in favor of walking on eggshells around the delicate sensibilities of fragile-yet-abusive white people, we will most certainly lose in 2020, as well, because you can deal me (and likely millions of others) out.