We expected his victory in Vermont and New Hampshire but not by this latest, large percentage. We can understand how his message of radical change appeals to young people and to our increasingly large population of disenfranchised white people—disenfranchised by a political system that ignores them in the same way it has always tried to ignore other minorities. But this is a minority that is not used to being ignored.
Behind Sanders’ recent victories, and the cause of them, is the disintegration of our political process, endlessly played upon and exaggerated by a media that has no solution for it and no sense of responsibility for the rage and despair these stories induce, and a federal government that ceaselessly exacerbates our fears, as in today’s wire service story of a threatened attack by Isis.
And behind these events are the long-term, corrosive effects of gun violence, the continuing and escalating attacks on women, Hollywood’s merciless exploitation of our fears… and, I’m afraid, the failure of us in the women’s movement to bring to bear the persistence and courage that propelled and continues to propel the civil rights movement, and that facilitated the election of President Obama.
And again, behind all this, is the culture’s age-old disparaging of age. Oddly enough, this has not been a problem for Sanders although the prejudice reduces the influence of nearly all older women. An old grandfather is more acceptable than a younger grandmother because of our unexamined horror of female power. We generally do not accept authority in women, and Hilary Clinton is the embodiment of authority, hard-won through decades of fighting in the trenches.
Young people may not understand the elaborate dance of politics in this country, and especially in Congress, where only nuanced compromise and a steady sense of humor—which Bernie conspicuously lacks—can possibly bring our warring factions together to achieve a goal for the common good. No one should underestimate the personal pain caused to a politician of integrity—as Hilary Clinton is—by these essential, and inevitable, compromises. It is easy to think, without experience, that a new, untried leader can simply bulldoze his way through. It won’t happen, as history shows us. The unfortunate idealist may find himself sitting on top of a calcified system that does not allow for change, except, perhaps, though compromise. Or revolution. And this country is allergic to revolution, to the radical ideas and the sacrifices required to even attempt to knock a system down.
It is instructive that the political leadership in Vermont does not support Bernie Sanders. They witnessed his decades-long service in their legislature, marked by a lack of initiative, commitment or passion. Obsessed by one or two ideas, he has not been able to broaden his perspective to include the incredibly complex ideas that all who seek to govern must study and understand. How many of the young people who repeat his slogan, “income distribution,” have ever found that phrase in their vocabulary before now, or supported the social movements that attempt to ally poverty, discrimination and violence?
The situation is almost certain to change in the next weeks when the constituencies that have long supported Hilary Clinton, Hispanics and African-Americans, begin to vote in the states where because of their numbers they wield influence. And it is not too late for us women to wake up and realize what a woman president could do for all of us.
But this is a terrifying time, for many reasons. Foremost are the horrors that would be unleashed upon us by our benighted electing of an amateur—of either party.
[February 13: A slightly longer version of this piece is now available on Medium.]