Some Sober Lessons for Bernie Sanders Supporters

As the wizard Gandalf declared during the darkest hour: “There never was much hope… Just a fool’s hope.”

The narrow thread of hope now rests on the Justice Department investigation into Hillary Clinton’s illegal concealment of her emails from the State Department she headed from 2009 to 2012. If she’s hit by a true scandal between now and the Philadelphia convention in July, all bets could be off.

The email server matter is of course an internal ruling class issue that doesn’t much concern the masses on a moral level. But it just might—just by chance (what Hegel called “the cunning of history”)—produce an unexpected, positive result. It would be awesome to wake up to the headline: CLINTON INDICTED.


I wouldn’t count on it, though. It’s not like there’s a God out there who’s going to intervene with a miracle and save us from this preordained presidency. Let’s assume that—just as the whole political process is rigged to support the establishment, the whole economy rigged to support the billionaire class, and the whole judiciary rigged to cover up abuses—the FBI investigation into Clinton’s emails is likewise rigged to, at the end of the day, exonerate the very picture of corruption. And that anyone sitting on those embarrassing speech transcripts will sit on them until one of them finds reason to sell them, months from now.

As John Lennon put it, in his anguished, brutally honest song “God” put it: The dream is over.

The fact is that Tuesday’s news was very, very bad. As the Hillary cheering squads trumpet her triumph, nauseating us until we can vomit no more, and as the drone-master president Barack Obama overtly endorses her bid to beat the world into submission, serious Bernie supporters might—I humbly suggest—draw the following hard-truth conclusions.

U.S. “democracy” is in general a farce. You weren’t taught this in high school “civics” (those of you who were in schools where such classes are still even taught). How could you be? It’s not really allowed in this free country.

But now you’ve experienced the farce personally. And of course it makes you angry, as it should.

Some of you’ve known or suspected this all along. And in fact this American “democracy” has always been a farce, from the beginnings when the franchise was limited to a small stratum of propertied white men, including slave-holders in the top ranks; to the Jacksonian era when the franchise vastly expanded (alongside the widening scale of slavery); to the Gilded Age when money bought government on an unprecedented scale; to  the present sorry state of affairs in which two parties (equally beholden to Wall Street, the military-industrial complex, and the One Percent) politely trade off the presidency insuring that Capital will ever more thoroughly control our lives—while people imagine that “well, at least in our system there’s competition.”

The right to vote, we are told—from schoolteachers, politicians and civil rights leaders alike—is sacrosanct and precious. Rather like the right to, if you’re a Roman Catholic, participate in the Eucharist service. But of course if you don’t believe in the premises of that ritual (the idea that Jesus died for your sins, and that the wine once consecrated becomes his blood, etc.) involvement in that rite is rather meaningless.

(Surely some skeptical churchgoers go along with it, for family and community reasons, just for form’s sake. And one can cast a political ballot for form’s sake as well, pretending you believe it will make a difference—-although you don’t really think it will— just to show what a good and responsible citizen you are. Every North Korean understands such feelings.)

But as you might have noticed—over time in this country, the voting ritual has as much co-opted people as empowered them. Women have had the right to vote nationally since 1920, but it wasn’t voting rights but mass struggle from the sixties that edged us a little bit closer towards gender equality. And (as the Clinton case plainly demonstrates), it’s mostly been a case of affording ruling-class women equal rights with ruling-class men to do, just with broader legitimacy, what the ruling class has always done.

The official (tame) narrative about the Civil Rights movement locates its central moment as the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 which more thoroughly incorporated black people into the electoral farce. As though “winning the right to vote” has made African-American people any less likely to be incarcerated, killed by police, or subject to lives of poverty since then.

The fact is, during Bill Clinton’s administration, the number of young black men in prison reached the number of young back men in slavery in 1860. There’s no apparent empirical connection between the extension of the franchise within this farcical system and the real well being of the people. The advantage to the system is that it actually inculcates in the ordinary person the thought that he or she has actually voted for the prevailing state of affairs and is therefore co-responsible.

“Well, it’s our own damn fault,” you’re supposed to say, and “People get the rulers they deserve.” But you don’t believe that, surely.

The spectacle of (wealthy, privileged) African-American women news anchors and commentators—like Joy-Ann Reid on MSNBC—touting the destroyer of Libya as an advocate for women and people of color, while disdainfully dismissing Bernie from the get-go (as an old white socialist Jew with little appeal among African-Americans), shows you how the system corrupts, and corrupts absolutely.

When you vote in the rigged system, you vote not so much for a particular candidate as you vote for the system itself. You testify thereby that you really believe in it, that you think—regardless of the (usually distasteful) choices—you’re at least grateful you can participate in it, thus legitimating whatever outcome occurs. You’re saying: “Thank you, System, for allowing me too, to express my loyalty.”

But you don’t need to do that. You sure as hell don’t need to choose between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton.

Over the last quarter century, between 50 and 55% of eligible voters in this country have participated in the presidential election farce, kissing the system’s ass and allowing it every four years to shout from its rooftops: The people have spoken! Even though the people didn’t say much at all, actually! They stood in front of a slot machine, holding their noses maybe, pulled the handle and chose Tweedledum over Tweedledee in the quadrennial rip-off, their choice shaped mostly by the “fourth estate”—the establishment press.

Comcast, News Corp, Viacom, Disney, Time Warner and CBS provide 80% of the mainstream media news. These conglomerates don’t constitute an official state propaganda apparatus; they don’t need to! But they serve as the system’s Pravda–-just much, much more effectively than the Soviet press ever did. The well-educated Soviet people generally knew the state media was skewed. In contrast, many Americans actually believe the corporate media is “objective.” That’s its great strength, and that’s why it’s such a magnificent tool for oppression.

Not only is the mainstream media in bed with the State Department, framing its assessment of global events through consultation with the active warmongers, actively spreading their lies about Iraq or Libya or Ukraine on request. It’s also a vehicle for the routine, constant promotion of the system itself—in ways you take for granted and hence might not even notice.

One out of every four minutes you spend watching television news, you’re treated to commercials. Okay we just need to take a break now, says Chris Cuomo, without adding: to advertise the people who own us, allow us to say whatever we say, and want to shape your opinions.

Cigarette packages require a health warning; news packages do not. You’re not told: Warning: The news coverage you are about to see has been vetted through our bourgeois sponsors to exclude any embarrassing exposure about themselves. 

The “messages from our sponsors” are a kind of tax on your viewing pleasure. You get some filtered news about current events, and the sponsors in turn get your hard-earned money. You can of course use the time to pee, go to the refrigerator or check your emails. But often as not you just sit there, watching, a passive vessel of consumerist vulnerability. The marketing of commodities (the profitable sale of the products of mostly Third World human labor-power) makes everything possible. It’s the very premise of this civilization.

Somebody has to profit from what you’re told about today’s events. And you’re supposed to accept the idea that—why yes, of course—there have to be corporate sponsors for the news.

(But sit back a moment and wonder if that really makes sense. Will our descendents a hundred years from now be so subject to the rule of capital, and the principle of capitalist profit still intercede in all our interactions with other people and access to information about them? Can’t we as a species—having mapped our human genome, identified terrestrial exo-planets, learned how to grow human organs in other animals and in labs and accomplished other mind-boggling miracles—do better than that?)

In these (still-primitive) times, to get your TV news, you need to imbibe, not government propaganda but the advertisement of capitalism itself. There’s no way that corporate America will sponsor news critical to itself; if a program becomes “radical” it will protest by withdrawing its patronage. (So much for freedom of the press; you are absolutely free to broadcast what your corporate backers are willing to sponsor.)

American capitalism doesn’t require a political dictatorship to retain its grip; it constitutes a dictatorship (of what Bernie has called the “billionaire class”) simply through its legal, mundane, seldom questioned control exerted through capital. It’s a class dictatorship as powerful and effective as any dictatorship imposed by an individual.

The Democratic Party’s primary system and super-delegates are specifically designed to prevent change. The Democratic primaries are “front-loaded” to include most of the historically most conservative southern states early on in the process. Clinton swept the southern states on “Super Tuesday” and claimed a commanding lead from that point. In so doing, she counted in each state the “superdelegates.” These are Democratic members of the House and Senate and sitting Democratic governors, and other “distinguished party leaders” who can be counted upon to support the party establishment’s candidate and preserve the power structure because that’s what they do.

After the Democratic National Convention delegates nominated candidates who the party leadership saw as “insurgents” (quasi-antiwar candidate George McGovern in 1972, and “outsider” peanut farmer Jimmy Carter in 1976), these leaders decided to strengthen insider decision-making by appointing such unelected delegates. Their numbers rose from 14% of the total delegates in 1984  to 20% in 2008. Almost all these “superdelegates” were in Hillary’s pocket even before Bernie announced his candidacy.  And the apportionment of delegates from some states where Bernie won big-time were virtually equal to both candidates.

Of course it’s not fair. It’s not supposed to be. Repeat: it’s a farce, at the end of which they want you to say, “Okay, well that’s the system, those are the rules, this is the best we can do.” To this, you have the constitutional right if not moral duty to say: Sorry, no thanks, I won’t be hoodwinked, and I’m not gonna defile myself.

There are unusual aspects to this particular farce, revealing a system in deep, deep doo-doo. In this particular electoral season, due to the depth of voters’ disillusionment—based on decades of economic stagnation and the miserable conditions facing youth, especially since 2008—the stage-managers of the Two Party System lost control of the farcical process early on.

A racist narcissistic blowhard buffoon crushed his “mainstream” Republican hopefuls, aided by the corporate media that (for reasons that need to be analyzed) covered his every move and rambling incoherent rant, sparing him the need to even purchase ad time.

Even as the news anchors expressed perplexity and horror at his rise, the news producers (did you notice—because it looked like a matter of policy) accorded him a hundred times the air-time they deigned to allow Bernie. The Donald rambled on and on about building a wall, and Muslims hating us, and how great he was doing in the polls, in flow-of-consciousness inchoate homilies respectfully covered as “breaking news.”

Meanwhile Bernie’s pointed speeches to thousands merely served as the muted backdrop to reporters ignoring his message but covering the story, as it were, as a weird sociological phenomenon. Gosh, why are all these millenials flocking to a socialist of all things?

That more than sucks. It’s extremely insulting to the human mind, in a society that’s supposed to be “democratic.”

This race has not been determined so far by direct corporate contributions, in the traditional manner. Neither did Trump became the (presumptive) Republican nominee because he outspent his challengers from his own deep pockets. Rather, the chief decision-makers in that tiny corporate-media world elected to not just present him as a normal sort of candidate, worthy of respectful treatment, but to indeed accord him extraordinary amounts of free air-time to reach out to his Neanderthal base.

Time and again news programs broke to “breaking news,” which turned out to be The Donald saying the same damn shit again. Bernie’s appearances were ignored. Fair?

Trump’s simple message—of making America “great again” (as it was at some undefined point in the past)—appeals to many of the least educated and most alienated, much as neo-fascist movements do throughout Europe.

Still, Bernie has given Hillary Clinton—who holds what the pundits call “high unfavorables,” and is widely perceived as dishonest, and as former secretary of state has blood all over her hands—a run for her money. But the grotesque Debbie Wasserman Schultz, Democratic National Committee chair and Hillary shill posturing as “neutral” in the Clinton-Sanders match, has been more successful than her Republican counterpart in steering her party’s race towards the pre-programmed coronation.

In the end, Wall Street has won out. The One Percent that controls the country in all spheres will be equally happy with a Goldman Sachs groupie plagued by a State Department security breach scandal or a billionaire basket case plagued by a bogus university rip-off scandal; either might serve to captain the ship of state, preserving just sufficient confidence in the system itself and suppressing mutinies for the next few years.

Expect the top 10% of the top One Percent to expand its share over that time, while you work two jobs, keep living with your parents and try to meet your monthly student loan payments. The next president whoever it might be will express love, sympathy and encouragement, and gratitude for your precious vote.

The system wants to suck you in, and make you think it’s somehow “yours.”  Hillary will soon come calling, you know, beaming that artificial smile, praising you for your youthful energy and enthusiasm, and thanking Bernie for “bringing you into the system.” She’s actually said to him: “Thank you so much for energizing the party!”

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That, for her, is his huge historical contribution: rounding you up like sheep for the slaughter and delivering her into her motherly embrace. (“It takes a village to raise a child,” she says, knowing so well from experience that it takes a bomb to raze a Libyan village including its children, while she cackles in hilarity.)

You remember that old fairy tale in which Little Red Riding Hood visits her grandma, who in fact is a wolf in disguise with the real grandma already eaten and in his belly? And how the girl observes, “What a big mouth you have,” rather like Hillary’s big raspy mouth? And how in the story, the fake grandma responds: The better to eat you with, with my dear?

Because that’s what Hillary’s telling you now. She wants to chew you up and spit you out, maybe on the Libyan, Syrian or Iraqi desert if you (lacking other job options) sign up to do what they call “fight for your country.” (Even though you don’t actually, as you know, really have a country that needs fighting for. And even though you realize that over 4000 U.S. troops died in Iraq—in a war based on lies that she shrilly championed,—not dying “for their country,” and certainly not for you, but for U.S. imperialism and Wall Street.)

She’ll repeatedly applaud your “idealism”—a smug euphemism for what she privately sneers at as your adolescent naïveté. But if you have any self-respect, her condescension should repel you. You should recoil in horror. And when the slick operatives posturing as journalists or “analysts” on the cable news networks talk about how “the differences between the campaigns are actually narrow” and “can be smoothed over at the convention” you should feel free to go puke, taking your time, and then reply as follows.

Okay look. Let me put it this way.

Sometimes I’m invited to a party.

I know I won’t like the people who will be there.

And I won’t like the food.

So I decline. That’s reasonable, right?

Well, that’s how I feel now when I’m invited to this bullshit presidential election.

I mean, pleeease.. .are you kidding me?

Trump or Clinton? God, what a nightmare.

Is this really happening?

I resent the suggestion that in this populous country of well educated, decent people the two candidates blessed by the two Wall Street parties are the best we can do.

That’s just—excuse me—fucking shit.

Sorry. I don’t like the choices.

I don’t like how Bernie was excluded, disrespected and taken for granted. And I don’t like being taken for granted either.

I resent the idea that I need to hold my nose, voting for this shit or that shit.

I reject the notion that by abstaining entirely I assist one candidate over the other.

I supported Bernie because he seemed to challenge the system.

You, Hillary Clinton, on the other hand, are the very system itself, every bit as much as Trump (and maybe even more).

Don’t insult me with your invitation to taint myself. Go away!

The successes of the Sanders campaign, such as they are, show that another world is in fact possible. The ability of the system to fuck with the human mind has shrunk with the advent of the Internet and the availability of alternative sources of information. Social media have empowered people to more easily and effectively mobilize. For example, cell-phone cameras have generated unprecedented awareness of the routine occurrence of police murder and helped people start to push back against it, although not nearly enough.

The Occupy Wall Street and Black Lives Matter movements helped give rise to the Bernie Sanders campaign. Energy applied to that campaign can now be shifted to the organization of a (real) political revolution against the system itself—the farcical nature of which you now (so much more clearly through the pain of experience) understand.

The worst possible result would be for Bernie supporters to line up behind a person (a woman, by chance, but so what?) who’s a soul-mate of George Bush, Dick Cheney, Henry Kissinger and John McCain who never met a war she didn’t like and will gleefully drag your young ass into war for regime change in Syria, or into Ukraine to challenge Putin and provoke World War III.

The best possible result would be for friendships and networks built in this fool’s hope campaign to resist that planned co-option. We should rage against the dying of the light, wake up to the need for real revolution—real democracy, real socialism—abandoning illusions about the “process” that the wolf in Armani clothing credits Bernie for drawing you into.

By voting in a primary, you didn’t say: I’m so happy to be involved in this process; thank you, Bernie, for politicizing me!

Many of you, at least, said something different. You said: Fuck this system. Bernie means change. And this made sense at the time. But if Bernie at some point urges you to get behind the Democratic candidate, it would be best to maintain some moral integrity and say Thanks for the ride, Uncle Bernie. I’m sorry you have to do what you think you have to do. But sorry. No way!

And prepare to spend some time out on the streets with your new friends and other good people in the next few years, as will be necessary to resist whichever horrible candidate wins.

You were supporting Bernie Sanders, not Bernie Madoff. If you say, Okay, well, I guess I’ll have to go for her, I can hear her Wall Street backers chortle in delight at your humiliation. It will sound exactly like this:

Gary Leupp is Emeritus Professor of History at Tufts University, and is the author of Servants, Shophands and Laborers in in the Cities of Tokugawa JapanMale Colors: The Construction of Homosexuality in Tokugawa Japan; and Interracial Intimacy in Japan: Western Men and Japanese Women, 1543-1900 and coeditor of The Tokugawa World (Routledge, 2021). He is a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion, (AK Press). He can be reached at: