WASHINGTON, July 14, 2016 — Bernie Sanders’ decision to endorse Hillary Clinton as their party’s presidential nominee was a surprise to no one but some of his supporters. The Vermont Senator had said he’d endorse his new party’s nominee, and after some important concessions on the Democratic Party platform, he had no good reason not to.
Rather, he had no good political reason not to. Politics is the art of compromise, and Sanders got more than half a loaf from Clinton. Keeping a promise to get what you want is the gold standard for honesty in modern American politics.
Not all of his supporters have taken it well. The hashtag #SandersSellout has been trending on Twitter since Tuesday:
“@BernieSanders I’m voting for trump he’s the only hope this country has now STOP HILLARY”
“@BernieSanders No thanks I’m going with #DExit I’ve had enough of #crookedhillary and will be voting #Trump”
“Used to be a Bernie fan but now that he’s joined Hillary, who supports everything he’s supposedly against, I’m a Trump fan”
“Bernie Sanders endorsing Hillary Clinton feels so much like when the girl you love starts dating the guy you hate most.”
“Revolution? I guess political revolution meant something different to Bernie. I was willing to fight corruption to the death. #NEVERHillary”
The antipathy to Clinton is common even among Democrats, and many who reluctantly plan to vote for her admit that she’s dishonest. Many who enthusiastically support her complain that this is unfair; if you think Clinton is dishonest, you’ve bought two decades of hostility and lies from the Clinton-hating, right-wing media.
Clinton’s honesty is attested to by Politifact, a website that assesses the accuracy of public statements and that has rated 51 percent of Clinton’s statements “true” or “mostly true.” In contrast, only 11 percent of Donald Trump’s statements receive those ratings; 58 percent of his statements are rated “false” or “pants on fire.”
The disparity between sites like Politifact and her reputation for dishonesty dismays Clinton’s fiercest supporters.
It should not. Politifact tests primarily statements of the type, “my opponent is opposed to medical care for women” and “I voted to fund better benefits for our troops.” Clinton’s dishonesty isn’t so petty. It’s much grander. It is existential.
Clinton’s dishonesty is the dishonesty of the inauthentic life.
Trump’s core, with all its warts, is proudly on display at all times. Trump has no filter. His speeches are rambling performances of something akin to free association. They go on interminably with almost inexplicable digressions, offering a fascinating, even compelling view into Donald Trump.
Clinton, on the other hand, is intensely private. She attempts to control all access, making even the simplest of contact with the public and the press into scripted events. Spontaneity is as foreign to her as introspective thoughtfulness is to Trump.
Clinton is all facade, and she remakes that facade as the need arises, often to disconcerting effect. The warrior for women’s rights who refused to be a Tammy Wynette, stand-by-your-man housewife also savagely suppressed her husband’s “bimbo eruptions” before they could damage her man or her political ambitions.
If she loves women in abstract, she hated the women who threatened her plans.
Clinton is the lawyer whose billing records went missing and then miraculously appeared on a table in the room next to her office. This is the woman who understands us because she left the White House broke and in debt, just like any woman at your local trailer park; “I’ve been unemployed and I’ve starved and I’ve hated it too.”
This is the professional who stands for competence and messed up badly and lied about it, the champion of equality who gave quarter-million dollar speeches at Goldman Sachs and won’t let anyone see what was in them. She and her husband pioneered new levels in remuneration for their speeches, demanding that private jets carry them to gigs only 70 miles away, who dug deep into cash-strapped universities and demanded that even charitable groups that wanted a bit of their star power pay full market price for it.
Clinton’s lies are lies of the inauthentic life, her every breath an act of hypocrisy. She says she has core principles when she has none. Other politicians lie when they open their mouths; Clinton lies even when she’s silent.
The Sanders supporters who feel betrayed don’t feel betrayed because he’s abandoned his policy goals; he betrayed them so that he could achieve those goals and move America in the direction that he promised he would. He betrayed them by embracing a lie to do it.
Trump’s policy positions are at this point vague. We know with some certainty that he wants to build a wall on our southern border, suspend and renegotiate our major trade treaties, and make America great again. Sanders isn’t with him on the wall, but they see eye-to-eye on the evils of “bad” trade deals.
That shouldn’t be enough to move Sanders supporters to Trump, but that’s where quite a few plan to go; more will either sit the election out or go with a third-party candidate.
What attracted them to Sanders wasn’t just free tuition and unfree trade, but their sense that Sanders, like Trump but totally unlike Hillary, was authentic. He was without artifice. Hillary Clinton, not Donald Trump, was his antithesis.
For many voters, politics isn’t about policy. It isn’t about economic models, the tax code or federal regulations on arsenic levels. All else equal, these things matter, but they matter less than our sense that politics and politicians have degenerated into a rigged sham. They look for authenticity more than tax proposals, and Bernie offered it. Hillary does not.
Trump, in his strange and bombastic way, does. Half of what comes out of his mouth may be “pants on fire” wrong, but that doesn’t matter to his voters. Trump isn’t lying so much as engaging in performance art, making up reality as he goes along. To his supporters, it doesn’t much matter. If his words are nonsense, to his supporters they reveal deeper truths; the man himself is authentic.
Sanders really has betrayed his supporters. He probably didn’t intend to, but he’s a creature of Washington. He sees his in terms of policy and does not understand that many of his supporters did not.
The ones who did not will never vote for Clinton. And that’s why she is one of the very few people in this country who could lose to Donald Trump.