Follow the Money: Presidential Election Edition

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As Lester Freamon himself put it, “You start to follow the money, and you don’t know where the f**k it’s gonna take you.” (Image Source: HBO)

Concerning television dramas to come out in the last 20 years or so, there is always room for debate with respect to which series is #1. If we measure purely by IMDb rating, the tie at the top goes to Band of Brothers and Planet Earth. If we go by pure popularity, and consider the breadth of a program’s fan base as well as the scope of the content itself, Game of Thrones and The Walking Dead might also be in the mix. Meanwhile, if we focus on character-driven dramas and the darkness within each of us as represented by its leading figures, Breaking Bad and The Sopranos might top many people’s lists. For my part, though, the show that received due critical acclaim in its initial run and backed it up most consistently with tightly constructed character-driven stories, while still giving due weight to the big-picture issues that color the world in which the various individuals integral to the plot find themselves, is The Wire. Like a number of fans, I did not really appreciate David Simon’s highly-regarded ode to the city of Baltimore until after the fact, but retrospectively, the series continues to resonate with me and illuminate the kinds of conflicts we still see within communities and on a larger scale today.

In Season One of The Wire, the primary focus is on the intersection between the Baltimore police and the drug dealers of the city’s streets. In investigating Avon Barksdale’s outfit, members of a task force known as the Major Crimes Unit begin to find that pursuing one of Baltimore’s most powerful gangs is more dangerous and bigger than they might have otherwise anticipated. Not only do bodies quickly pile up in the course of the Barksdale crew’s affairs, but so too do apparent connections, through allocations of cash and real estate, to prominent businessmen and politicians. Lester Freamon, a forgotten man within the Baltimore PD ranks for running afoul of a higher-up once upon a time, through his instincts and investigative savvy, begins to make himself into a valued member of the Major Crimes Unit. As he explains the connection between crime, money and power, “You follow drugs, you get drug addicts and drug dealers. But you start to follow the money, and you don’t know where the f**k it’s gonna take you.”

Follow the money. It’s the very refrain heard in All the President’s Men, the 1976 film based on the nonfiction work of the same name. The book, written by Washington Post reporters Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward, chronicles their investigation of the Watergate scandal all the way through the revelation of the existence of the Nixon tapes. The phrase “follow the money” does not actually appear in Bernstein and Woodward’s book, and appears to be a device of the screenplay penned by William Goldman. It comes in a clandestine meeting in a parking garage between Bob Woodward (Robert Redford) and his confidential government source, known only as “Deep Throat” (Hal Holbrook). The latter only offers so much help to Woodward, speaking guardedly and cryptically in his comments, but urges him to follow the money, saying this about what potentially could be found down the proverbial rabbit hole: “Forget the myths the media’s created about the White House. The truth is: these are not very bright guys, and things got out of hand.”

Follow the money. The more one repeats it, the more it sounds like a rallying cry of sorts. The events of The Wire may be fictional, but as a show rooted in realism, we can appreciate the plausibility of the widespread illegality for the subjects of the investigation and of the plot’s development—black or white, rich or poor, those without a badge and those wearing one. The film version of All the President’s Men, though fictionalized, evokes an actual real-world scandal in Watergate. Accordingly, there would appear to be every bit of value to applying this mantra to current events, especially those that involve money and political influence.

Speaking of guys who aren’t very bright, Donald Trump’s business and personal finances have consistently become a point of scrutiny for his critics. Which makes sense, you know, because, besides banning Muslims from entering the United States and building walls to keep out Mexicans who aren’t overrunning our country the way he and his ilk would depict it, this is pretty much his favorite topic of conversation—his considerable wealth and business acumen. Scores of people taking a good, hard look at Trump’s boasts about his net worth have cast aspersions on the veracity of his statements, which is only fair because 1) Donald is running for President of the United States, and thus should be vetted before possibly taking the reins of the top office in the country, and 2) the man lies like a rug. For one, Donald Trump’s claims of philanthropy, notably those concerning his purported donations to organizations supporting American veterans, by many accounts are all talk and no action, with concerns that the Trump Foundation is little more than a slush fund which masquerades as a meritorious charity. Even more than this, however, Trump has been accused of dramatically overstating his personal wealth as an extension of his brand. What certainly does not help the self-professed sole author of The Art of the Deal in his assertions is that his own assessments of his net worth over the years have proven amorphous and variable.

Much of the confusion surrounding what, if anything, Donald Trump has donated to veterans’ charities, how exactly his income factors into his net worth, whether or not he has business ties to Russian interests, whether or not he actually pays taxes owing to loopholes and other breaks, and other pertinent questions involving his finances, could be spelled out or at least made clearer if the man were to release his tax returns. It’s not as if this is an odd request either, as most GOP nominees since the 1970s have honored this tradition. Trump, however, has flatly refused to acquiesce on this point, and even semi-famously quipped that his tax rate is “none of your business.” The absence of the information from those returns has lent itself to rampant speculation as to why the Republican Party nominee has ducked and dodged the repeated calls to show his tax records. Some think it’s because his effective tax rate is zero, a reality which would fly in the face of the image he is trying to cultivate as the voice of the little guy, or a “blue-collar billionaire,” as some have stupidly tried to call him. Some believe it’s because of those alleged business ties to Russia, which also conflicts with the depiction of Trump as the All-American strongman. “The Donald,” for his part, has also tried to claim that, since he is being audited by the Internal Revenue Service, he can’t oblige with the request for his tax returns. According to the IRS, though, this is complete bullshit, with everyone’s favorite CEO and genius investor Warren Buffett chiming in with the information that he, too, is being audited by the IRS, joking that he’d be perfectly willing to share his returns with Donald Trump.

Why do I believe Trump won’t release his tax returns? I think, worse than anything else from his perspective, it would convey to the rest of Planet Earth that he doesn’t have as much money as he says he does. The essence of Donald Trump is style over substance, the projection of success to any and all who will listen. For anyone to even suggest that he is not everything he claims to be, the situation is liable to end up with a lawsuit against that detractor, as well as censure and ridicule on Twitter from thin-skinned man-baby Trump himself. When Donald Trump was roasted by Comedy Central, pretty much everything was fair game—his business failures, his casinos (also business failures), his hair, his multiple marriages, his privilege, his relationships with models, his (ahem) uncomfortable relationship with his daughter, Ivanka—but anything which alluded to the man not being as rich as he tells the world he is was off-limits. That was the cardinal sin.

For Trump, his presidential run is one big vanity play, as well as an exercise in how easily millions of Americans can be conned into believing he is anything but a blowhard, idiot, racist and fraud. In relation to those supporters who are either unaware of Donald Trump’s business-oriented misdeeds, or actively choose to suppress this knowledge because they enjoy some of his ideas and/or how he’s “not a politician” (though by now, I think he’s had enough practice to be considered one), it is an obvious irony that he labors on calling his political rival “Crooked Hillary.” On the flim-flam operation that is Trump University alone, the Republican Party nominee merits a serious investigation for having his name on an enterprise that appears to have bilked hard-w0rking people putting their faith in his professed business know-how out of serious amounts of money. According to a May article in The New York Times by Michael Barbaro and Steve Eder, citing the testimony of former Trump University managers, the school is “an unscrupulous business that relied on high-pressure sales tactics, employed unqualified instructors, made deceptive claims and exploited vulnerable students willing to pay tens of thousands for Mr. Trump’s insights.” Indeed, though Trump’s name is front and center in this dubious institution, he apparently has had little to do with how it is run, though this certainly does not exonerate him. Lawsuits have been numerous against Trump University, LLC from those who have been victimized by its false promises, including in the state of California, prompting the abhorrent situation of Trump insinuating that Judge Gonzalo Curiel couldn’t be trusted to be impartial in his handling of any case involving him because he is of Mexican descent.

Donald Trump’s history as an executive of questionable integrity and knowledge, however, runs far beyond his farcical “university.” Kurt Eichenwald, in a piece for Newsweek, provides a comprehensive guide on Trump’s ruinous track record in his business dealings. I recommend reading the piece in its entirety to get the full effect, because his failures are just about too numerous to list here. Among his “achievements”: alienating Native American Indians and losing management agreements to rival casino owners; massive personal losses owing to failed real estate partnerships and interest owed to lenders, necessitating financial rescue from Daddy; running casinos in direct competition with one another, effectually cannibalizing a number of them and forcing declarations of bankruptcy; authorizing the failed endeavor of Trump Shuttle; defaulting on all sorts of loans; putting his name on the ill-fated projects Trump Mortgage, GoTrump.com, Trump Vodka, and Trump Steaks; and licensing deals on disastrous Trump properties that have prompted accusations of fraud. In all, Donald Trump owes his fortune and his stature to a combination of his father’s financial support—the likes of which few Americans could ever hope to be able to rely upon—proverbial smoke and mirrors of the Trump myth which have duped countless investors and voters, and when all else fails, litigating the opposition into silent submission.


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If you go to Trump University, you will probably lose a lot of money and gain very little. You might read a book, though, which is likely more than its namesake can say. (Photo Credit: Mario Tama/Getty Images)

Donald Trump’s missteps, characterized by unflappable arrogance, incendiary racist rhetoric, and utter incompetence, should be enough to disqualify him from running a Taco Bell, let alone the country. However, owing to his rich father’s patronage, the provisions of bankruptcy law, an army of lawyers as a safeguard in numerous legal disputes, and America’s obsession with celebrity—alongside, let’s be honest, an almost-historically-weak Republican primary field—Trump finds himself in the championship round, if you will, of the 2016 presidential race. Hillary Clinton, meanwhile, who faced a robust challenge for the Democratic Party nomination from Bernie Sanders, and who has a decided advantage in political experience, the more developed party platform, and—yes, the campaign donation infrastructure—should be poised to obliterate her major-party competitor. Indeed, Clinton currently leads in most polls, despite what Michael Cohen, executive VP of the Trump Foundation and special counsel to “the Donald” might question.

And yet, it is Hillary’s own complicated history with donations and other monies which inspire doubt from a majority of Americans, such that any lead in pre-election surveys Clinton might possess, in spite of Donald Trump’s recent spate of blunders—the likes of which have Michael Moore and others convinced Trump is intentionally throwing the election—feels tenuous, at best. Hillary Clinton and Tim Kaine both recently released their latest tax returns, which would appear to put them leaps and bounds ahead of Donald “The Artless Dodger” Trump. Especially since it shows, at least on the surface, the Clintons as payers of more than their fair share of taxes—recompensing Uncle Sam at an effective rate upwards of 40%. According to their returns, they also give nearly 10% of their adjusted gross income back to charity. Clinton and Kaine—the model of financial transparency!

Whoa—let’s slow it down a bit first. For critics of Hillary’s, especially those who were fervent supporters of Bernie Sanders’ during the primary season, the notion that Bill and Hill made most of their money last year through fees for delivering speeches recalls the controversy over the latter’s speeches to Goldman Sachs that netted HRC several hundreds of thousands of dollars a pop. The Clinton campaign defended their candidate’s acceptance of large sums for her appearances, averring that a) Goldman Sachs and other companies were the ones to offer her that much, so you can’t blame her on that end, and b) that a quid pro quo on matters of policy can’t be assumed from this sort of arrangement. To a certain extent, I agree; in the absence of any proverbial smoking gun, you can’t prove Clinton would necessarily go easy on Wall Street, big banks, and other power players. All the same, despite repeated requests from Sanders himself, Hillary Clinton has patently refused to release the transcripts of her speeches, making it all the more curious what is so g-d good that Goldman et al. would throw all that dough her way. To put it another way, if she has nothing to hide within the contents of those addresses, there’s no reason she should keep them such a guarded secret. After all, she is a paragon of transparency, right?

It’s more than just the speeches, though. The sources of funding for Hillary’s campaign contributions and charitable donations has raised the suspicion of agencies and individuals, regardless of political affiliation. In particular, the workings of the Clinton Foundation and the Hillary Victory Fund have raised concerns about whether or not ethical, moral and even legal considerations were violated by HRC and her surrogates. Clinton’s most die-hard advocates have criticized the attempts of Republican lawmakers and other politicians over the years to knock her and her husband down a peg, and to be sure, any merit to be found in criticism of her handling of matters of foreign policy such as the Benghazi debacle (as far as I’m concerned, Hillary should have been more aware of the deteriorating situation in Libya, or at least its possibility, after the deposition of Muammar Gaddafi) has tended to get lost in her questioning at the hands of Congress, who have made what could be construed as a legitimate inquiry feel more like an unabashed witch hunt.

With respect to potential wrongdoing related to the Clinton Foundation, on the other hand, it is not a partisan team bent on political assassination, but rather the Internal Revenue Service—that same friendly agency supposedly in the midst of auditing Donald Trump—who is leading the investigation. According to State Department E-mails obtained by Judicial Watch as a result of a lawsuit filed by the latter under the Freedom of Information Act, top Clinton Foundation donors were given special consideration, potentially even in the form of government positions, for their contributions, suggesting a “pay-to-play” rewards system was in effect during Hillary Clinton’s tenure as Secretary of State, and at the very least, that Clinton Foundation business and State Department time was intertwined, despite any inherent conflicts of interest. What’s more, key Foundation donors are regarded, shall we say, highly skeptically on an international wavelength, chief among them Gilbert Chagoury, who was convicted in 2000 in Switzerland for money laundering in Nigeria. Essentially, then, it is not outrageous to think the Clinton Foundation, originally conceived by Bill, has become a haven for cronyism and loose ethics/morals. Perhaps this is why, according to the Clinton campaign, the Clinton Foundation will stop accepting corporate and foreign donations—that is, if she wins. To me, though, this sounds like the addict or career criminal saying he or she will quit after one last score or hurrah. Right, Hillary. We’ll believe it when we see it.

And then there’s the Hillary Victory Fund. The fundraising vehicle, which is supposed to be a joint committee comprised by the Clinton campaign, the Democratic National Committee and 32 state party committees that share in the proceeds from donations apparently doesn’t share them all well—at least not in a way that keeps the money in the state committees’ coffers. Per Kenneth Vogel and Isaac Arnsdorf, writing for Politico, as of May 2016, less than 1% of the $61 million generated by the Fund has remained with state fundraising efforts, with roughly 88% of what has been transferred to the states being funneled right on to the DNC. This means the bulk of the money has gone to—surprise!—the Clinton campaign and the Democratic National Committee, which, as we know from the DNC leaks, is basically just another way of saying the Clinton campaign and the Clinton campaign. From the article:

The victory fund has transferred $15.4 million to Clinton’s campaign and $5.7 million to the DNC, which will work closely with Clinton’s campaign if and when she becomes the party’s nominee. And most of the $23.3 million spent directly by the victory fund has gone toward expenses that appear to have directly benefited Clinton’s campaign, including $2.8 million for “salary and overhead” and $8.6 million for web advertising that mostly looks indistinguishable from Clinton campaign ads and that has helped Clinton build a network of small donors who will be critical in a general election expected to cost each side well in excess of $1 billion.

The arrangement has sparked concerns among campaign finance watchdogs and allies of Clinton’s Democratic rival Bernie Sanders. They see it as a circumvention of campaign contribution limits by a national party apparatus intent on doing whatever it takes to help Clinton defeat Sanders during the party’s primary, and then win the White House.

But it is perhaps more notable that the arrangement has prompted concerns among some participating state party officials and their allies. They grumble privately that Clinton is merely using them to subsidize her own operation, while her allies overstate her support for their parties and knock Sanders for not doing enough to help the party.

Though Hillary certainly has since clinched the Democratic Party nomination and now has the full backing of Bernie Sanders in an effort to defeat Donald Trump, once more, in a wry sort of way, we can appreciate the irony; much as Trump calling Clinton “crooked” is a pot-kettle situation, the Clinton campaign attacking Sanders for not being a “true” Democrat and for not doing his part to help Democrats seems more than a bit disingenuous. As with the promise to stop taking foreign and corporate donations if she wins, Hillary Clinton speaking to the need to overturn the ruling of Citizens United v. FEC—when she has been involved in some of the most embarrassingly excessive fundraising events in recent memory—smacks of duplicity. Do as I say, not as I do. Don’t worry—things will magically change once I am Madam President. That Giorgio Armani jacket was totally necessary.

See, here’s the thing. For all of Hillary Clinton’s promises about what she will do if given the keys to the White House, the warning signs are such to give progressives pause. Much ridicule was heaped on the Sanders delegates and other dissenters who made their presence felt at the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia in July, with the others trying to celebrate Hillary’s coronation more or less treating them as babies and sore losers (recall Sarah Silverman’s “you’re being ridiculous” line), but if this report from the Convention by Nicholas Confessore and Amy Chozick is true to reality, the fears of those objectors may be justified. As Nick and Amy set the scene:

After a wrenching yearlong nominating battle with searing debates over the influence of Wall Street and the ability of ordinary citizens to be heard over the din of dollars changing hands, the party’s moneyed elite returned to the fore this week, undeterred and mostly unabashed.

While protesters marched in the streets and blocked traffic, Democratic donors congregated in a few reserved hotels and shuttled between private receptions with A-list elected officials. If the talk onstage at the Wells Fargo Center was about reducing inequality and breaking down barriers, Center City Philadelphia evoked the world as it still often is: a stratified society with privilege and access determined by wealth.

For someone like Robert Reich who “felt the Bern” but now supports Hillary Clinton, like Bernie, because he believes Donald Trump can’t win the election, this makes him worry that HRC really doesn’t “get it.” What seems to elude Clinton and numerous political analysts about this frustration of the American people with establishment politics and the need to reclaim our democracy from moneyed interests is that this demand for “revolution” and freedom from a rigged system that perpetuates and widens the gap between the super-wealthy and the rest of the country is apt to be more than just a flash in the pan if trends toward increasing inequality continue. Lest Hillary’s winning the nomination be regarded as some sort of mandate of the general public, as Pew Research finds, only 29% of eligible voters participated in either the Democratic or Republican primaries. While it’s possible Clinton could’ve upended Bernie Sanders by an even larger margin with higher turnout, with aspects of the primary process conspiring to act against independents and working people, it’s hard to know who or what truly is indicative of the voting populace.


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A meeting in a dark parking garage with Deep Throat. Which is a scene from All The President’s Men, and quite possibly, one or more extramarital encounters Bill Clinton had while as President. (Image Credit: Warner Bros.)

As someone who supported Bernie Sanders until his campaign was officially kaput, and who supports him now in his quest to help America “take back” democracy, I fully acknowledge that my judgment and opinions are grounded in a certain way of thinking. This notwithstanding, knowing what we know about Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton, that so many people are willing to cast these considerations aside and readily endorse/vote for one of them boggles my mind. With all due respect, I don’t understand either why so many people would readily watch The Real Housewives of [INSERT LOCATION], or would wait in line for hours just to get an iPhone or Shake Shack, just to give you some perspective on my lack thereof.

Still, let’s review. Trump is more or less a celebrity con man who has been directly responsible for scores of business failures, and whose Trump University and countless licensing deals have swindled folks out of their life’s savings. On top of the notion he is a bigot, climate change denier, racist, sexist, xenophobe, and all-around asshole. Clinton, meanwhile, has accepted huge sums of money from corporations and wealthy investors both inside and outside the United States, likely violating election laws and ethics in the process. Not to mention she is/has been the subject of investigations by both the FBI and the IRS, as well as a Special Committee related to Benghazi, such that New Hampshire governor Maggie Hassan, professed Hillary supporter, could not state that her candidate of choice is honest—even when asked directly three times. According to a recent Economist/YouGov poll, only 28% of voters think Hillary Clinton is “honest and trustworthy,” a mere percentage point—less than the survey’s margin of error—higher than Donald Trump’s rating. Meanwhile, on the subject of favorability, per the most recent Gallup polling data, Hillary manages only a 38% Favorable rating—with 57% of respondents rating her Unfavorable—and Trump, worse, at a clip of 32%, with 62% giving him a thumbs-down. (Compare, for example, with Bernie Sanders’ 53%/37% Favorable/Unfavorable split, or even John Kasich’s 37%/28% approval/disapproval level). Shouldn’t we like our candidates more than we dislike them? Or, at the very least, shouldn’t we be able to trust either of them?

Not long ago, I discussed the leaked DNC E-mails, which show collusion among the DNC ranks to work against the Bernie Sanders campaign despite officials’ stated neutrality, with my brother, someone who I consider to be a reasonably intelligent man. I, of course, fumed about the whole situation, and like Bernie, though not surprised, was disappointed by what the leak revealed. My brother, meanwhile, who is pro-Hillary, insinuated that if Debbie Wasserman Schultz and her flunkies believed undermining Sanders and elevating Hillary Clinton was the best way to defeat Donald Trump, maybe they should have done so. And this, this is where I have my gravest concerns regarding the electoral process in the United States today. In our winner-takes-all format, victory at any and all cost seems to be order of the day, with any collateral damage in misappropriating donations or inciting hatred to be swept under the rug for the sake of earning the W. But the process, the journey leading to the destination, matters—or it should, at any rate. Candidates for public office, especially those running for President of the United States, should have to adhere to ethical, legal and moral guidelines. They should have to earn our vote, rather than assuming we’ll “fall in line” and choose either the Democrat or Republican on the ballot. Without this much, for all our bombast about this being the greatest nation in the world and the home of modern democracy, we’re really no better than the lot of “lesser” nations we look down upon.

Follow the money. If you do, you’ll find those politicians who have fallen in love with it will do anything to keep it and make more of it—with little or no regard for the American people and doing the right thing in the process.

Everybody Loves Hillary, Or, You Spoiled Brats, Stop Ruining Our Narrative!

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Hillary Clinton has a lot of balloons and confetti at her disposal, as well as the admiration of Hollywood and women across the country. But the first-woman narrative belies the notion that she and Donald Trump are too close to call in the polls, and that there are a number of unhappy campers and warning signs right within her own party. (Photo retrieved from chron.com.)

It’s official: Hillary Rodham Clinton is the Democratic Party nominee for President of the United States. As I saw numerous people opine on Twitter, “Well, love her or hate her, you gotta admit this moment is historic.” Yes, sure, but if we’re taking the term very broadly, if I eat a sandwich and write an article about it, that too is historic.

I get what they mean, though, and what this moment means to so many Americans, especially women and girls, young and old. Truth be told, the U.S. is long overdue for a woman to be a major-party nominee for POTUS. CNN recently put together a list of 60+ countries who have elected female leaders (either presidents or prime ministers) before America. I’m sure you’re familiar, even slightly, with a number of the names on their tally. Indira Gandhi, Golda Meir, Isabel Perón, Margaret Thatcher, Benazir Bhutto, Angela Merkel, Julia Gillard, Dilma Rousseff—and these are just a sampling of the notables. What’s more, it’s not like these nations with women as heads of state are all major players on the international scene. For crying out loud, Mauritius beat us to the punch! Mauritius, I say!

Now that we’ve established Hillary’s place in history—or herstory, as some would have it—and having surveyed the indelible crack which has been made in that proverbial but all-too-real glass ceiling, it’s time to talk turkey regarding the polls and whether or not the would-be Madam President can seal the deal come November. As much as some of us would insist it just has to happen, the reality is that the race for the top office in the country is pretty much a dead heat. In the latest Reuters/Ipsos poll, Donald Trump actually leads by two points, though as the accompanying article indicates, the so-called “credibility interval” for this data is 4%, meaning Clinton and Trump are essentially tied. A coin-flip over whether or not Hillary Clinton becomes President, and perhaps over the fate of the country itself? Democrats, do you feel lucky?

Bearing in mind that Hillary’s standing in the polls may yet see a bump owing to a “convention effect” of sorts after making her closing speech from Philadelphia, but regardless, the margin is too close for either the Democrats or the Republicans to take for granted. And this is where Bernie Sanders and his stupid supporters come into play. Wait—I’m a Bernie Sanders supporter. Does that mean I’m stupid? I guess so. Because the bulk of the reaction to Sanders delegates and supporters/Democratic National Convention protestors, at least within the Democratic Party, seems to be one of exasperation and irritation. “Guys, you lost—get over it!” “We need to unify—move on!” “Kids, it’s time for the adults to take over. We’re going to need you to fall in line already.”

Uh-oh. You didn’t just say fall in line to the “Bernie or Bust” crowd, did you? Yeah, um, they tend not to respond well to that, especially considering that a number of them may be voting for the first time or may simply be new to the Democratic Party (and therefore don’t remember how Hillary threw her support behind Barack Obama in 2008). So, asking people you’re trying to win over to stop being “sore losers” and to “get with the program” may be a bit of a self-defeating proposition when they haven’t been part of the Party or the political process itself for very long. Especially just a few hours after their idol finally was mathematically eliminated from competition, if you will, and mere days after leaked DNC E-mails proved that key Committee figures essentially worked for the Clinton campaign and against Sanders, and with the help of members of the mainstream media, no less. Sheesh, give them time to mourn!

Instead, those Hillary Clinton supporters and others looking forward to the general election treated the lead-up to the deciding roll call vote at the Democratic National Convention like a coronation for Hillary rather than the democratic process that is meant to occur at party conventions. Accordingly, that Bernie or Busters and other Clinton protestors would voice their displeasure was met with contempt. Sarah Silverman, who supported Bernie in the primaries but now is #WithHer, scored big points among audiences in the arena and at home by calling the Bernie or Bust contingent “ridiculous.” Now, after the fact of Hillary Clinton securing the party nomination outright, other social critics have taken to chastising the #NeverHillary stance. Seth Meyers, for one, though his point about the danger of electing a “racist demagogue” is well noted, reflecting a sense of impatient annoyance, addressed the #HillNo movement by insisting “we don’t have time” for their shenanigans, and suggesting that Sanders supporters must have skipped History class to attend a Bernie rally in their failure to recognize the dangers of a Trump presidency based on similar examples. When comedians and other personalities aren’t “taking down” Sanders’ more vocal supporters, the news is picking up the slack. Philip Bump of The Washington Post points to Pew research which finds that nine out of 10 “unwavering” Bernie backers support Clinton in the general election, thus delegitimizing the Bernie or Bust position. You can’t argue with that survey! It’s scientific!

The quick and widespread antipathy to Bernie Sanders’ die-hard supporters, I believe, stems from conceptions held by these outsiders about Bernie backers’ identity, which may, after all, be misconceptions and/or subject to the tendency of Clinton and other leaders within the Democratic Party to treat blocs of people as wholly homogeneous groups (remember Hillary’s Southern “firewall” among blacks?). Throughout the campaign season, Hillary supporters and the media alike have evidently tried to characterize Bernie Sanders’ faithful as one or more of the following:

  • Impractical, imprudent idealists
  • Mindless Bernie followers
  • People who really, really don’t like Hillary Clinton and other “establishment” candidates
  • Spoiled brats who only want “free stuff”
  • White undergraduate students

OK, let me address each of these points/characterizations on their own merit:

1) When exactly did it become a bad thing to be an idealist? Have eight years of Barack Obama’s platform of “hope and change” and failures on some aspects of that platform hardened us to the extent we must categorically dismiss optimism in favor of cold pragmatism, or worse, cynicism? Joe Biden somewhat chided critics of Bernie Sanders’ a while back when going after his (Bernie’s) “unrealistic” policy goals, inferring that the Democrats and we as a country need to think big in terms of we aim to accomplish, and only then work backwards or down from there. That is to say that touting one’s identity as a “progressive who gets things done” might be judged as preemptive capitulation toward moderates for the sake of merely incremental progress, not to mention that with a Republican-controlled Congress, any Democrat would be likely to have difficulty passing his or her intended initiatives, regardless of how “left-leaning” he or she is.

I think Sanders’ political movement, perhaps unfairly, gets conflated with the Occupy Wall Street movement, which was too unfocused to be very durable. If his stump speeches have hammered one thing home, it’s that Bernie’s agenda has definite direction with respect to getting money out of politics, shrinking the widening income and wealth gap between top earners and low- to middle-class earners, and bringing workers and young people into the fold.

2) I don’t think Bernie’s supporters will do whatever they tell him to do, as evidenced by the boos Bernie Sanders himself received when telling convention-goers amendable to his cause that Hillary Clinton must be elected the next President of the United States so as to defeat Donald Trump. I also don’t believe he would’ve asked his delegates to walk out of the Convention, and yet many of them did, escaping—if only temporarily—the Hillary Clinton love-fest inside the venue. If the events of this past week have indicated one thing, it’s that it’s not as if Bernie cracks the whip and his supporters follow. Numerous pundits and writers have commented on this situation as Sanders “losing control” of his crowd, somewhat akin to Dr. Frankenstein losing control of his creation. This implies, however, that these voters are meant to be controlled or corralled, when really, they are free to have independent thoughts and viewpoints. For those of us hoping Donald Trump never ascends to the land’s highest office, we would hope they would choose anyone but him, but let’s respect that their vote counts just as much as anyone else’s.

3) Perhaps unfairly for Hillary Clinton’s sake, the woman of a thousand pantsuits is a symbol of a political establishment that represents what so many Americans dislike about politicians: the catering to moneyed interests (real or perceived), the pandering, the umpteen policy changes which manifest in the span of just a campaign cycle. As Clinton and her campaign have been keen to mention, too, the former Secretary of State has faced unique challenges in trying to ascend in an area traditionally dominated by men, within a deeply patriarchal society, no less.

These notions aside, people still really don’t like Hillary, for various reasons. Of course, Republicans have wanted to knock her down a peg for some time now, though this appears to be largely the byproduct of her relationship with Bill. On elements of policy and decision-making during her tenure at Secretary of State (Benghazi and her E-mails, at the top of the list), meanwhile, criticisms are more than fair, as are reservations about how Hillary has gotten her funding—personally and politically. For all the obstacles she has faced, Hillary Clinton is not above reproach or above the laws of our country—nor should she or anyone else in her position be.

4) “Why in my day, we paid to go to school! And we loved it! WE LOVED IT!” Except for the notion that it’s getting harder and harder to pay for college, owing to rising administrative costs and other factors. Economists refer to the national student debt as a “crisis” rather aptly, because even conservative estimates put the total upwards of $1 trillion. While we’re on the subject of “free stuff,” let’s discuss why universal healthcare is a vital topic of conversation. Tens of millions of Americans each year have difficulty paying for medical treatments, possess some level of medical debt, or simply forgo insurance/treatment to avoid the costs. Access to viable healthcare should be a right, not a privilege. At least that’s what Bernie Sanders, myself, and others in this country believe. And, famously, the entire country of Canada. But what do those happy, hockey-loving hosers know?

5) It’s no secret: Bernie Sanders, throughout the primary season, enjoyed a sizable advantage over Hillary Clinton among college graduates/students and other millennials, and tended to perform better in states with relatively low populations of minorities—his home state of Vermont, a prime example. That said, the diversity among Sanders’ surrogates and delegates demonstrated that it wasn’t just a bunch of white kids in Bernie’s corner. Ben Jealous, Cornel West, Killer Mike, Rosario Dawson, Nina Turner, Tulsi Gabbard—these are all counterexamples to the observed trend which resist the desire to put people narrowly into labeled boxes by their race, education level or other demographic characteristic. (Either way, still more inclusive than your average Trump rally.)

As to the “Bernie or Bust” crowd in particular, which perhaps in the severest of popular challenges is accused of suffering from a serious case of white privilege, let’s explore this charge. Shane Ryan, in a piece for Paste Magazine, pushes back against the assertion that progressives who don’t wish to vote for Hillary Clinton in the general election (and presumably are whiter than a Bichon Frise in a blizzard) necessarily don’t care about those Americans who stand to be primarily disadvantaged by a Donald Trump presidency. As he writes, for supporters of a “status quo” candidate like Hillary Clinton to accuse die-hard Bernie backers of not giving a shit about Americans who are increasingly disenfranchised by economic and political systems that reward the wealthy is “a dirty trick that would make Karl Rove proud.”

Ryan goes on to address the notion of whether or not Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump would be worse as President, and his answer—which you likely will dismiss as crazy talk—is that Clinton is not automatically the better choice. Before you ready your tomatoes to hurl at the screen, hear Shane out. The argument is this: an awful Trump presidency has a good chance of spurring a wave of progressive influence in politics and helping lead back to a Democratic reclamation of Congress, while Clinton could not only invite a conservative backlash, but voting for her stands to reinforce the belief of establishment Dems that they can ignore the little guys and girls among us and get away with it. By this logic, Shane Ryan asks rhetorically, “Why should we make any decision that would simultaneously undercut our growing power and subject us to total Republican domination in four years’ time?” Then again, Donald Trump could just get us all blown to smithereens, so take all this for what it’s worth.


Of course, this line of thinking doesn’t make for a nice narrative.

“THE FIRST WOMAN NOMINEE! EVERYONE LOVES HILLARY!”

“But wait, what about all those protestors outside the gates, and all those boos on the first day, and all those delegates who walked out after the roll call vote?”

“THEY’RE A FRINGE GROUP! WE DIDN’T SEE THEM ON TV!”

“Right, because they didn’t show it on the television news shows. But it happened.”

“NO ONE CARES! HILLARY JUST SHATTERED THE GLASS CEILING! SHE IS POISED TO BECOME THE FIRST FEMALE AMERICAN PRESIDENT!”

“If she beats Trump. But that’s no guarantee. Especially after the revelations about the DNC as part of Wikileaks’ E-mail dump. She’s been the subject of numerous investigations lately, and now the IRS is reportedly looking into the workings of the Clinton Foundation.”

“REPUBLICAN BALDERDASH AND RUSSIAN TRICKERY! PUTIN IS TRYING TO HELP TRUMP WIN!”

“Maybe. Maybe not. It still doesn’t change what occurred in those E-mails, though. And there are other concerns some of us have about Clinton’s policies and allegiances.”

“OH YEAH? LIKE WHAT?”

Well, for one, rumor has it that Ms. Clinton will switch her preference to support the Trans-Pacific Partnership if elected president.”

“DON’T LISTEN TO THAT! TERRY MCAULIFFE IS A F**KING MORON!”

“Wow. OK. Moving right along,  this story in The New York Times—”

“LISTEN, IF IT’S ABOUT THE HILLARY VICTORY FUND AGAIN—”

“Would you let me finish, please? This story by Nicholas Confessore and Amy Chozick talks about how big-money Clinton donors are living it up at the Democratic National Convention. Drug companies. Health insurance companies. Lobbyists. Yes, even Wall Street. Gatherings at the Ritz-Carlton, made possible by people in suits and with expensive handbags, who arrived in fancy cars and limousines. How is this getting money out of politics? How does this evidence the notion Hillary Clinton’s values aren’t compromised by money and that she won’t turn her back on progressives if she wins? I mean, is she trying to lose the election?”

“SECURITY!”

As great as it is that a woman is (finally) a major-party nominee, and as infinitely more inspiring in tone the Democratic National Convention was compared with its Republican counterpart, through the excitement and pageantry, important questions remain about the Democratic Party nominee, and I think it’s wrong to pretend like the dissenters and dissent don’t exist, or otherwise try to badger, insult and shame them into voting submission. Whomever is the next President of the United States, he or she will preside over a nation that faces many challenges and problems; the list is a long one.

Thus, for all the warm fuzzies that abounded inside the Wells Fargo Center this past week, the raucous protests which unfolded inside and outside the arena tell a more nuanced tale. Accordingly, for as quick as pro-Clinton types are to deride Bernie’s supporters, and while they might be right that the unwavering Sanders faithful will “come around” or “get in line,” you better believe that Donald Trump, Gary Johnson and Jill Stein are lobbying hard for their votes, and what’s more, they are really listening to this frustrated group of people. If Hillary and the Democratic Party don’t change their tune fast, the first-woman narrative will likely lose its luster when Trump takes the general election.