No one knows exactly when we all collectively pierced the veil and entered the bizarre, nightmarish dimension we’re currently inhabiting: maybe it was November 9th, 2016, maybe it was earlier. It could possibly have something to do with the Large Hadron Collider. No matter how and why it happened, the 2016 United States Presidential Election was when it became clear to a plurality of us that we were suddenly in a strange, unfamiliar place. And one of the features of this terrible mirror universe is that we seem destined to debate and relitigate the events of 2016 forever, as if we’re being circling some kind of black hole of discourse, pulling us into its gaping maw and crushing time and space into a record-like disc.
The latest example of this psychologically torturous phenomenon took place this week when Hillary Clinton, on a media tour to promote her new Hulu docuseries, took the opportunity to attempt to clumsily kneecap Bernie Sanders’ ascendant presidential campaign by bringing up his role in her loss to Donald Trump.
To be clear: Bernie Sanders did absolutely everything in his power to both ensure that Hillary Clinton won the election, and also to avoid being branded as an election spoiler. He was obviously aware of the way Ralph Nader was vilified for his role in the 2000 election (though this narrative has always been flawed, as Nader has somehow become more responsible for the Bush era than the Florida recount debacle). But this is exactly why he ran in the democratic primary despite being governing as an independent throughout his career. It's also why, after the DNC convention, he spent weeks doing dozens of events for the Clinton/Kaine campaign, desperately trying to signal to the working class communities that were drawn to his campaign in the first place because of disillusionment with the Democratic Party that they wouldn't be left behind again.
Yet when the dust settled, Clinton’s campaign had crashed and burned, the sun was rising on a new american morning of a reality tv kleptocracy, and Bernie was still — despite, again, not running in the general election — turned into 2016’s Nader, a holier-than-thou spoiler candidate who delivered the election on a silver platter to the worst people imaginable. At first this just seemed to be the belief of a handful of extremely online liberals whose brains had been broken as they tried and failed to comprehend the absolute depths of their failure, yet it has become clear that this is a common belief among senior members of the democratic party all the way up to and including Hillary herself, who made similar inflammatory comments in an interview with Howard Stern a few weeks ago before tripling down this week in the Hollywood Reporter.
Now, with just a few weeks to go before the 2020 Iowa primary, the Sanders campaign is again attempting to strike the balance between trying to win while also bending over backwards to pre-empt criticism and keep peace with the establishment they’re seeking to supplant—with similar results. Bernie (somewhat bizarrely) apologized and walked back comments made in campaign surrogate Zephyr Teachout’s well-researched and reasonably argued article “Joe Biden Has a Corruption Problem” after Biden’s campaign accused him of going negative. He has repeatedly given credence and legitimacy to the neverending Bernie Bro narrative, which has been resuscitated this week by Clinton herself and by mainstream media outlets like the Daily Beast. He is now under pressure to renounce the pseudo-endorsement of influential podcast host Joe Rogan based on his history of reactionary statements and regressive social views, a mirror of a similar controversy that erupted a few months ago after his endorsement by Young Turks founder Cenk Uygur. It is unclear what blinking on any of these issues in an effort to appear reasonable has actually accomplished, besides providing ammunition to opponents in politics and media who are working to undermine the campaign.
Fortunately for Bernie, none of this seems to have had any real effect on his momentum. This week he shot to first place in a national CNN poll, now he seems to be pulling away from the pack in the early primary states. His ascendance is become so hard to ignore that we’re once again hearing rumours of Barack Obama finally stepping in and trying to stop his momentum. The source for this latest story is a reporter at Fox Business and should be taken with a massive grain of salt, and some actual Obama staffers have publicly tried to laugh it off—but it would fit in with other stories that have been reported out over the past few months regarding the former President’s feelings on the Democratic primary, not to mention the fact that former Obama campaign manager (and Theresa May advisor) Jim Messina is out there trashing the Sanders campaign on the talk show circuit right now. If Obama did wind up intervening more overtly than this, it would be a very interesting public test of how much influence he still actually has over the political process and the direction of the Democratic Party.
Whether anyone actually succeeds in slowing down Bernie’s momentum remains to be seen, but anyone supporting Sanders’ campaign should learn if they haven’t already that attempting to play nice with America’s ruling class doesn’t seem to buy you all that much goodwill — they’ll still pull out all the stops to destroy you if you represent a threat to their interests.