My friend and fellow Modern Liberals writer Erin Nanansi recently wrote a great piece called “The Left’s Problem With Privileged Progressives.” I say it’s great even though I disagree fundamentally with its central theme, because it’s well thought-out and it makes some tremendously good points about what’s at stake in this year’s election.
However, there were issues I took with the central theme. Namely that progressives or liberals who say that they cannot vote for Hillary Clinton if she defeats Bernie Sanders are in a place of privilege to do so, and I wanted to just provide a counter point to this idea.
For starters, I am not a “Bernie or Bust” guy, even though here in California I really could be. My state will go blue no matter what. There are others in the country who are say, in red states that could similarly write-in Bernie’s name and not really cost Hillary the election, because while she won the Democratic primary in Tennessee, if anyone thinks she has a snowball’s chance in Hell of taking that state in the General, even with Donald Trump as the GOP’s nominee, they probably are not thinking very clearly. But herein we find the first little flaw in Erin’s argument — people like me that can easily vote for Mickey Mouse and not jeopardize a Democratic victory.
It’s not privilege; it’s geographical circumstance. Erin then went on to describe in her piece what she sees as a “privileged progressive.”
A typical privileged progressive is usually pretty well-off, usually white, and probably won’t be harmed in any way by a Trump presidency. They’re not Muslim, or refugees, or immigrants, so his xenophobia is offensive, yes, but not personally so. They treat women with respect, so Trump’s horrible misogyny is offensive, yes, but not personally so. They think Black Lives Matter, so Trump’s calling the BLM movement a terrorist organization is offensive, but not personally so. (source)
The thing is though, that I have seen progressives of all stripes indicate they have no desire to vote for Hillary Clinton in November. So it just seems like a really broad brush to paint a lot of people with. It also seems pretty cold and callous to presume that Trump’s xenophobia, sexism, or racism doesn’t rise to some level of ire that would force a Bernie supporter to line up behind Hillary. To me, there are two separate issues — Trump and Clinton. One doesn’t necessarily relate to the other, and part of me thinks there is far, far too much hand-wringing going on over what Donald can really do, but more on that later. Erin had another passage in which she further described a privileged progressive in her point of view.
Privileged progressives like Bernie Sanders because he hates the super-rich, even if they themselves are super-rich. It’s not them who are the problem; it’s the Walton family, and the Koch brothers. Heck, Bernie’s got a little money tucked away (in his wife’s name), but he’s rumpled and doesn’t dress fancy, so he’s just fine. (source)
Here, I think Erin was alluding to activist celebrities like Susan Sarandon, I think. Ms. Sarandon angered a lot of Hillary supporters when she said in an interview she might prefer a Trump presidency to a Clinton presidency. It’s like all of a sudden so many people forgot that she has been a tireless liberal activist for several liberal causes over her entire career to the point that she is reviled by the right, just because she said something that was provocative, sure, but was it an outright pledge of support to Trump? No.
What Susan (we’re TOTES on a first name basis) was saying was what many liberals feel about Clinton — she’s part of the same problem we’re trying to fix. Maybe she can be triangulated into the right position, but what makes it “privileged” for Sarandon to state her opinion on just how progressive Clinton is? I just don’t think that punch lands as squarely as people think; not on someone like her.
Maybe the privileged ones are the ones who can afford the status quo for at least another four years, and possibly eight more. There are many people who simply cannot fathom another half to full decade of essentially a watered down version of Reaganomics. And while Bernie would have one hell of a fight on his hands, so would Hillary. So that, too, isn’t that strong an argument.
I’m not suggesting that Hillary supporters are all privileged, I’m just saying that there are people in extremely desperate economic situations that see Bernie’s vision as the only path forward, up, and out of systemic poverty. Maybe those people are wrong or naive, but I don’t like the idea of calling those people privileged. It paints with an enormously broad brush.
Ultimately, my biggest problem with Erin’s piece is that it pigeonholed a lot of people who may just be standing on their principles. She went so far as to predict a “tantrum” from Bernie supporters if they protest the primary results — after seeing the absolute clusterfuck in Arizona who could blame them — and that just didn’t sit well with me.
We should be willing to tolerate people’s principled decisions when it comes to choosing who to vote for without resorting to trying to metaphorically cram everyone into an ideological thimble when their views don’t perfectly align with ours. Frankly, Ms. Clinton should have to worry about Bernie supporters not automatically supporting her. That way she actually has to earn their vote, like politicians claim to want to do in the first place.
No one is entitled to anyone’s votes, and yes democracy is a messy goddamned thing, but it’s not privilege that makes everyone a “Bernie or Bust” person, so maybe this a time for communication and not condescension.
We all want the same thing, it’s just that there are some among us who see a different path to get there. I appreciate Erin’s sentiments, I just disagree with the generalization she made while expressing them; and that’s what makes this a great country. Two friends can have pretty widely differing views, and not risk destroying the friendship over it. And that is a privilege we all enjoy in this country; others around the world are not so lucky.
Read Erin’s piece in its entirety here: