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Bernie Bros and the Internet of Beefs

What if Bernie Sanders' internet mobs are an asset, and not a liability?
February 10, 2020
Bernie Bros and the Internet of Beefs
(GettyImages / Shutterstock)

1. Bernie’s Bros

I was reading the 417th piece about how Bernie supporters form online mobs that are basically the mirror-image of Twitter MAGA world.

It’s this one, from CNN:

When the progressive Working Families Party announced its endorsement of Sen. Elizabeth Warren for president in September, anger reverberated across the SandersForPresident Reddit page for days.

One of the Reddit group’s then-300,000 members encouraged fellow supporters of Sen. Bernie Sanders to “spy” on the Working Families Party’s activities and “organize counter events.”

On Twitter, Sanders supporters lobbed hundreds of critical messages at the Working Families Party or its leadership, which included personal attacks that called them “corrupt,” “shameless” and “bloodless scumbag hacks.” One pro-Sanders account tweeted that “slave masters” had coerced the support of the party’s national director, who is African American.

Three days after the endorsement, a WFP spokeswoman tweeted a screenshot of one message that wished she and her colleagues would “all get cancer you are f**king trash.” She also said they received private messages saying “eat sh*t and die” and “drop dead dumb c*nts.”

This is, as everyone else has pointed out, not very different from Trump’s social network army.

By which I mean that it’s morally different, but functionally the same. Unlike Trump, Sanders does not encourage online bullying himself—he only employs some people who do. That’s a big difference in terms of the moral framework!

But as a functional matter, the end result is the same: An army of people (or bots or Russians or whoever) hounding opponents, enforcing discipline, quashing any sort of dissent—and trying to preempt anyone else from taking sides against the Dear Leader.

Whether or not Bernie is personally coordinating this effort makes absolutely no difference to the facts on the ground.

No other candidate has anything like this sort of digital brownshirt brigade. I mean, except for Donald Trump.

The question no one is asking is this:

What if you can’t win the presidency without an online mob?

What if we now live in a world where having a bullying, agro social media army running around popping anyone who sticks their head up is either an important ingredient for, or a critical marker of, success?

I’m not saying this is the case. But we ought to at least consider it to be a hypothesis.

And the more you think about it, the more this would seem to dovetail with the Internet of Beefs theory.

All of which is to say that we’re spending entirely too much time wringing our hands about Bernie’s bad boys because we think they’re an outlier.

We ought to be more worried about whether or not they’re going to be the norm.

2. It Takes a Trump?

Over the weekend the 78-year-old Bernie Sanders—who had a coronary event about five minutes ago—was asked about his health. His response was “I am in good health.”

And he then said he would not be releasing any medical records.

Sound familiar? Back in 2016, Donald Trump released a one-page summary from his doctor which claimed that

“If elected, Mr. Trump, I can state unequivocally, will be the healthiest individual ever elected to the presidency.”

This was a signed statement by a licensed physician.

And it was, obviously, ridiculous on its face. Just to pick one example:

At the time of his election, Donald Trump was an obese 70-year-old. To pick just one example, when George W. Bush was elected he was 54, weighed 189 lbs., and had a resting heart rate of 43 bpm, which is the kind of freakish cardiovascular status you’d expect from a fairly high-level distance runner.

I think we can safely say that at the time of their elections, George W. Bush was far healthier than Donald Trump. Which would make the conclusion of Trump’s letter of certification a lie.

(Trump would go on to pretend to release his medical records and then hide the football.)

I mention all of this not to relitigate Trump’s health, but to note another point of similarity between Trump and Sanders.

And to ask a question about where Democrats’ heads are these days:

What if they think that it takes a Trump to beat a Trump?

3. More History

As a rule, you should never skip a chance to read Zadie Smith:

What might I want history to do to me? I might want history to reduce my historical antagonist—and increase me. I might ask it to urgently remind me why I’m moving forward, away from history. Or speak to me always of our intimate relation, of the ties that bind—and indelibly link—my history and me. I could want history to tell me that my future is tied to my past, whether I want it to be or not. Or ask it to promise me that my future will be revenge upon my past. Or warn me that the past is not erased by this revenge. Or suggest to me that brutal oppression implicates the oppressors, who are in turn brutalized by their own acts of oppression. Or argue that an oppressor can believe herself to be an oppressor only within a system in which she herself has been oppressed. I might want history to show me that slaves and masters are bound at the hip. That they internalize each other. That we hate what we most desire. That we desire what we most hate. That we create oppositions—black white male female fat thin beautiful ugly virgin whore—in order to provide definition to ourselves by contrast. I might want history to convince me that although some identities are chosen, many others are forced. Or that no identities are chosen. Or that all identities are chosen. That I feed history. That history feeds me. That we starve each other. All of these things. None of them. All of them in an unholy mix of the true and the false…

Read the whole thing.

Jonathan V. Last

Jonathan V. Last is editor of The Bulwark.