There are five stages of grief, political or otherwise.
This occurred when Black voters decimated him in South Carolina, turning the tables on a campaign that was riding high from winning Iowa and New Hampshire, two overwhelmingly white states with the total population of Brooklyn and Queens. Of course, no one should have believed in those initial pyrrhic victories, but Sanders supporters so wanted to make Iowa and New Hampshire leading indicators. They weren’t.
Super Tuesday reiterated what Black folks said in South Carolina: We support Biden, the Democrat. As a result, Bernie ended up playing Deontay Wilder to Biden’s Tyson Fury, as he took left and rights to the dome throughout the primary night.
Boxing announcer voice: Biden with an Alabama and Arkansas jab; sets up a Maine and Massachusetts double right cross! Sanders with a giant rally in Massachusetts, Biden dances around Sanders and is now throwing Minnesota, North Carolina, and Oklahoma body shots, while Sanders gets in some California, Colorado and Vermont lefts that didn’t have the effect he thought they’d have. And here we are in the later rounds, and it’s Biden with Tennessee and Texas right hooks, while Sanders only can toss out a weakened Utah, and it’s Biden in a unanimous decision.
The anger manifested itself inside Bernie’s camp with the usual tropes and conspiracy theories… “The Democratic establishment did this…they did that…” The Too Dumb theories… “People are too dumb to know that Bernie’s policies are this or that…” Or, the not so subtle anti-black racism, “black people in the South are just tools and will vote for whoever their ministers, politicians, barber, etc. tell them.”
Then came bargaining. This is the stage where Sanders folks start posting every anti-Biden article, post, tweet, hashtag #WheresJoe or #JoeIsARapist, they could find, or the favorite that a vote for Biden automatically re-elected Trump, all to convince themselves that if a geriatric Biden would just keeled over already, their hero Bernie would come in and swoop the nomination from the evil Democratic establishment.
I have something bad to tell Sanders supporters.
It wasn’t gonna happen.
Never. Never ever.
And now that Bernie Sanders has dropped out the race, Sanders supporters need to quickly travel through the final stages of grief, depression and acceptance, because if they want to win the long-term war, then they’ll have to give up this particular battle.
Sanders is a transformational movement candidate, and like all transformational movement candidates (think Barry Goldwater in the 1960s for the Republicans), there’s always a cult of personality element to their leadership. Human beings are attracted to people, whether they be ministers, athletes, con artists or politicians, who seem to speak directly to them. We’ll tithe and support their ‘minister,’ or purchase obscenely priced athletic gear with their names on them, invest money in the Bernie Madoffs of the world, or declare #BernieorBust at the idea that someone else might win.
This cult of personality surrounding Sanders is detrimental to the Sanders movement, not because it annoys Democrats who don’t like Sanders as a person, but because the longer Sanders remains as their godlike figure for his followers, the more his ideas will get lost when he ultimately goes away. And he has wonderful ideas. That means it’s imperative that Sanders folks break out of the “Bernie bubble” they find themselves in.
Breaking the Bernie bubble means taking a real hard look at what went wrong while avoiding the pity party. I’ll do it for you. Bernie needed better people. He needed better black people. He needed to decentralize the focus of the campaign away from himself and toward those better people. He needed to break the Bernie bubble by telling his followers that not everyone who didn’t support him was the enemy. That big crowds are nice, but as my friend said, ‘Aunties don’t go to rallies.’ And you need aunties. Lots of them. He needed to learn how to make his policies seem real to real black folks, not theoretical black people.
As much as the left would like socialism to be a thing as a term, it has never resonated with black folks en masse. Okay, cool. Call it something else. Obamaism. Robesonism. RichardPryorism. Same policies, marketed differently to a specific black folks demographic. Think better. Think blacker.
Recognize that you’re going to need a Democrat running in a Democratic party. And that you can’t think that you’re gonna throw out the term, ‘Democratic establishment’ and not think you’re insulting thousands of black Democratic officials who’ve devoted their lives to the party and ordinary black folks who’ve struggled to create political power for their communities.
The test of this movement is whether Sanders supporters will pick up the pieces and move beyond the man to focus on the movement. You thank Bernie, give him a nice gold watch and then move on. Because that’s what happened to Goldwater.
Goldwater had the same cult of personality around him, devotees who thought he could do no wrong, and yet those same supporters recognized that their conservative movement needed to be one that was vertical, not top-down. Yeah, they rallied around their true believer in Ronald Reagan and created their own cult of personality around him, but the more important part of their movement was convincing the white working class, traditional Democratic voters, to root for their boss. To vote for their whiteness. And it’s worked for the conservatives for over forty years.
They also went after the judicial system. They ran candidates all the way up from school board to governor. They added propositions that moved their ideology forward. They created odious laws based on conservative and corporatist think tanks like the America Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). In other words, they stamped their conservative movement on as much as possible.
I consider that conservative movement to be evil. I consider it to be anti-American. I consider it to be racist, xenophobic and misogynist at its core. But it doesn’t matter what I think about it. It was successful.
If the Sanders movement wants to change it, and I do believe they can, then they’ll have to learn that you don’t keep fighting new battles based on old wars. And more importantly, know that if you’re pissing off, or alienating your natural allies, then you’re predestined to lose.
I’ve joked in the past that Jesus and Bernie both have great messages, but some terrible salespeople. For 2024 and beyond, the Sanders movement is going to need to retrain its salesforce, hone its message, and then win. Figure that out, and you just might be able to move the next candidate running on Sanders’ policies into 1600 Pennsylvania. And that might be the one thing we remember about this Sanders campaign.
That his supporters eventually got it right.