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To Defeat Corporate Hate, Bernie Bros Must Channel Martin Luther King

Yes, I have been obsessed with understanding Bernie Sanders this year. Although increasingly I have become fascinated with the infamous Bernie Bro. The Bernie Bro is thought-provoking because of this simple paradox. On the one hand, the Bernie Bro is obsessed with personal attacks against him, yet on the other hand he says personality shouldn’t matter at all. If that’s the case, why be concerned so much with the personal? Why be so obsessed with Elizabeth Warren, or the mainstream media? He says his character doesn’t matter because of the class struggle, but why then get so burdened by the characters of others?

I love the Bernie Bro. I think they get it right: focus on the class struggle. But are they following their own rules? If not, I really don’t care. Once again, I do find the general point they are making is right: class is what matters. So why waste any time beating up the Bernie Bro for his unresolved paradox? It is precisely because of belief in the possibility of the Bernie Bro that they will be addressed here. This is why I’m often confused why the left gets so hindered by liberals. Does the left really believe in the radical possibility of liberals so much that they have to always be focused on them?

It is here where I want Bernie Bros to look at the greatest American of all time: Martin Luther King Jr. One has to ask this question, and I hope it doesn’t seem like a petty one. Would Dr. King be focused on bringing people down or lifting them up?

No, this is not to distract from the one and only priority (class warfare). It is rather to ask what is the most effective tactic? What is a politics that takes this struggle seriously? What is politics that breaks out of this colonized mindset of hate?

MLK was angry. He was tired, scared and beaten down just like the rest of us. Who wouldn’t be in this world? But he, at least for a moment, found a way to transcend his ruler’s tactics, not just their interests.

Just as we could ask, what would King do, we can ask, what are the ruling class most afraid of? Are they afraid of Bernie Bros who are rude and are mean to others? Maybe. But they are certainly afraid of people who lead with a big heart, rather than a big stick. There’s a reason that King was one of the few people to change an entire society. It is not because he compromised to the status quo but it also wasn’t because he degraded others.

True leadership, true revolution, that involves resisting not only the corporate economic structure but also the corporate mentality that aims to destroy other people. What all corporations want from their citizens is someone who “thinks for themselves”, but not for others. They want someone who can express emotion, but only when this emotion is anger that can be directed at an enemy.

Fascism is about us vs. them, as Jason Stanley points out in the latest episode of Counterpunch radio. An enemy is needed. I would never compare Bernie to Trump, or left to right. But we have to ask serious questions about how the present age of fascism has degraded our political life.

We aren’t talking about style here. We are talking about a principled resistance to the weakness of hate. It takes work. Just as resisting any form of power does.

And yet, we are also talking about freedom. The freedom to love, when you don’t know tomorrow. The freedom to love, because hate is another job too tiresome on top of your other three. The freedom to love, even when the whole society is normalizing meanness.

Look at the entertainment industry in this country. Most all of it is entertaining to people because it is about humiliation, if not outright violence. The viewer feels better when they see someone else taken down. There used to be more art than this. But this is what happens when corporations own the discourse.

Look at our President. He is a bully. He is popular because he brings down others. Whether or not we are right (and I know Bernie is, and I know the left is), we have to ask the critical question: is this any way to live? What happened to hippies on psychedelics? What happened to the days when we talked about what we loved, rather than what we hated? What happened to the days when we talking about loving peace, rather than hating war?

America is on the verge of spiritual collapse. Austerity has led to schools being gutted, communities being swallowed up by work, split up by climate disaster. Years of cuts to the core of the community has greatly hurt all of us. We do have the right material goals but I don’t think that’s good enough. Quite frankly, with the economic state of the country, the left should be more appealing and necessary than ever.

But what is the political left? Is it a stance where we say we love the homeless, love those working low wages, love those not working at all, love those marginalized, imprisoned, beaten down and neglected? Or is it too often a place where we get lost among the shuffle? Rather than reach a higher love, we let the corporate mentality in, which is saturated in our media, in our schools, on billboards, TV, everywhere. We internalize this mentality to say to others and to ourselves: you aren’t good enough.

We have internalized the aesthetic interest, even when our material and spiritual interests are starving for help. We have internalized the petty division of the bourgeoisie class itself. We have accepted the judgments of self-worth and the punishing state that goes along with it. We have become exhausted with just getting through the day without humiliation from our boss or the movies with rich people on screen. We feel powerless, and take it out on everyone, striking out not just at those targets we know to be the problem, but also those we feel power over.

With the constant barrage of technology and advisements, the longer hours at work and the decimation of the environment around us, we become lost in the urban wasteland. We imagine no other way out than the apocalypse itself and reimagine our deaths continually. We distrust love, we find victory when we are betrayed. We say we have our priorities straight, and many times we do, but ugliness seeps in as the real political losses pile up.

This is the intent of the ruling class, and resistance to this corporate meanness is hard. Harder than any economic emancipation is the emancipation of the soul. Becoming the “bigger person” in a world that makes us feel small is the greatest challenge. This is why so few could do what Dr. King did and why so many of us remain inspired by it.

This does not mean ignoring the real anger, or the real hopelessness of our condition. Rather, it is to demand the most challenging task, amidst the greatest ecological challenge in human history. We must love. Not because anyone deserves it, except maybe the lover themselves, but because it is the internal freedom we all deserve. It is the only way to beat back what corporations assume of us. The rich assume we are all like them. All self-interested, all mean and all unwilling to love or feel deeply. Now is the chance to break free from the colonized mindset of hate. Now is the time, in spite of it all, to love!

This is not about compromise, nor is it about denying one’s rights. We should fight for socialism. We should ditch the establishment (what King called white moderates). And we should argue about the right way to do it. Yet we must also embrace love as a right. Just as we should be able to speak, eat, get health care, water, air, education, control of our bodies, etc. we must also have the right to love. We must also say, in the face of corporate tyranny. I’m going to love my neighbor (hold them accountable, perhaps never even speak to them) but still yes, in my heart, love and cherish them.

Am I really supposed to care that Elizabeth Warren doesn’t want to endorse Bernie Sanders? When I found out that Bernie Sanders said a woman couldn’t be President, my support for Bernie didn’t waver. Why? Not because it “couldn’t be true” but because Bernie simply had the best platform. As someone who will support third parties without apology, I strongly disagreed with all the Bernie Bros calling for Warren to drop out and get behind Bernie. It’s a democracy. Let it play out. Besides, I thought Warren brought a lot to the race, and in many ways she was a different candidate than Bernie.

Bernie Bros got what they asked for in Michigan. The rest of the country will suffer for it. White Bros flocked from Bernie to Biden, finding no political consistency beside the Bro itself. Women rightly gave a middle finger to entitled Bros demanding Warren support their candidate, sounding more condescending than even Joe Biden’s explosion against a factory worker earlier this week. Young people didn’t show up for Bernie, putting in question the depth of his base. Bernie never had a chance with black folks, and no, I don’t think that’s because black people are “not radical”.

I think we have to ask serious questions about what the left is, and what is the best path forward. We shouldn’t double down on alienating tactics, but be serious about what victory would look like. In many ways Bernie has been a tremendous success in the face of corporate sabotage. But clearly we have to ask how do we better reach the poor, who still don’t vote, black folks, who still mostly don’t trust the left anymore than the liberals, and women, who often feel liberalism is the only ideology which has taken them seriously.

I say this as a Bernie Bro myself. It’s time to break free of corporate media, rather than just react to it. The Bernie Bro is the perfect corporate trap. Let’s take a look at how it played out in real-time. When I was hearing about the Bernie Bro thing coming up again, my first reaction, like much of the left, was a triggered one. I was in complete denial. And I think I was mostly right. Notably, it was actually after the accusation that we saw Bernie Bros coming out of the woodwork. As if answering the Bat-Signal, the Bernie Bros swarmed as only they know-how.

Rather than say, well, we’re actually pretty nice or whatever, Bernie Bros, so stuck in reactionary corporatism, instead began embracing the very cruelty that Bernie and their cause was fighting against. They said, well, wait a minute, the establishment doesn’t like meanness, well, hey, I’ll be mean! And here is the classism coming out, that deadly internalization of class hatred. The Bernie Bro, asserted that it was his natural state as a member of the underclass to be a nasty person.

Hold on a second, brother. And I’ll call you brother here, because you aren’t just my bro, some guy out there, you are my brother. Just pump the brakes on this one brother. Is it really the working class who are the nasty ones? Is it really the working class who is uncivilized? How about those ruling class gangsters robbing us of health care, bombing children and destroying everything on this green earth? Come on now brother, that is the nasty behavior. We aren’t impressing anyone but our corporate masters when we engage in this gangster posturing.

So we see how this works. The ruling class tells another lie about the working class. And those who are so bravely resisting the ruling class have begun to hate themselves because they believe this lie. And let’s not get confused here: as many bridges as the Bernie Bros have burned this is about self-hatred. And we can’t blame anyone for that either.

It is here where I think we have to talk about white masculinity specifically. And seriously love the Bernie Bro. Seriously, let’s love this brother. Yes, it’s not the most marginalized group but let me tell you this: no one more than the white male is taught that this hatred for others is a strength. And even when independent political thought arises, we can’t break out of these cycles. The suicide rate of this group keeps going by the way. It’s not just homicide for us. Maybe that’s no better, I would like to think it’s not. But feel for these Bernie Brothers here. This country socializes all of us in a certain way, yet it’s an especially vital role the white male plays in the class struggle. He has to gatekeep and keep all of his sisters and brothers down. It’s a privileged position but it’s also a painful one. Don’t get me twisted here, I love my Bernie Brother. Love him deeply.

Now I’m sure many people, if they haven’t given up on this tiresome piece yet, are thinking what the hell is this guy talking about? Maybe the Bernie Bro thing is a myth, as all the Bernie Bros keep telling me. Maybe! But even if this is all a myth, I think we’re all better if we at least listen to Dr. King. Even if we’re there already. Maybe the corporate media has fooled me into reading too much into all this. Maybe. It doesn’t erase the fact this is a real perception. A perception that turns people off who might be interested in the same goals of social justice. I think, and this might be the fairest way to put it, is that the left has an uphill battle in the face of corporate rule that strengthens by the day. We should leave no confusion about our capacity to love.

This is the thing about all of this that drives me crazy! For me at least the political left was the only group in society who really ever gave a damn about me or the people I love. That’s just the truth. It’s the only group that remains committed to fighting for those left behind and those who need help. There is a deep compassion and love here, inherently, that you can’t find anywhere else. So as soon as the corporate media says the left is toxic, what on earth does the left do? They say yes, we are toxic, and who cares? Because x, y and z is more important anyways. This is just the kind of self-hatred I can’t bare. The left doesn’t hate other people, like the right and center do. The left only claims to hate others because the corporate media told them to.

I’m sorry but am I missing something here? The same group who fights for affordable housing and medical care turns around and says: we’re mean and proud of it? That’s just fundamentally untrue. The left is nice. They don’t just hold the door open for you, they give you a spare bedroom. The left has always been nice. The left has always been civil. They want a functioning society while the rich want to destroy it.

Ok at the end of this rant, which I’m sure is also alienating to many who have lived a different experience, perhaps the leftist, free of his lecture from this corporate shill, quotes King: “Free at last, free at last, Thank God almighty we are free at last.” Let’s get to King’s “Loving Your Enemies” sermon.

King begins by stressing how hard it is to love enemies. It is, just like a political struggle, a matter of resistance.

The key point is this one: “Love is creative, understanding goodwill for all men. It is the refusal to defeat any individual. When you rise to the level of love, of its great beauty and power, you seek only to defeat evil systems. Individuals who happen to be caught up in that system, you love, but you seek to defeat the system.”

In any kind of defeat of another person, we feel that same sick feeling. That feeling that before I took down someone else, I was small. We don’t look at the system that rewards such behavior. We don’t ask in what way can I free myself from this feeling that brings both of us down? I see this temptation to become better than others through political expression. However, this mentality runs contrary to the political stance itself which is asking how can we all get to a better society. If we can accept that each of us is vulnerable, capable of both good and evil, each of us became who we are from the context we arose out of, then our only priority becomes changing the context itself to make it more enriching for all.

King wants us to look at ourselves: “That is why I say, begin with yourself. There might be something within you that arouses the tragic hate response in the other individual.” Note that King doesn’t condemn the Bernie Bro here, but he does want him to notice who he is and how he got here. Maybe it’s for good reasons that he is hated. That isn’t so much the issue for King.

King more so wants us to be the person we want to be, the world we want to see, throughout this process. The whole idea of “being an asshole because no one has health care” just wouldn’t make sense to him: “When we look at the methods of communism, a philosophy where somehow the end justifies the means, we cannot accept that because we believe as Christians that the end is pre-existent in the means.” Call this moral purity if you want but this was his sincere belief. This was a person who really took that discipline of living the life that fit with the end goal. This was a longer and harder road. No short cuts. However, it was effective. It disarmed his opponents. One could not beat Dr. King because in beating him you beat a good man. Every sincere ideologue has altruistic goals. The ethic is how you implement them. Form leads to function.

Dr. King: “I’ve said to you on many occasions that each of us is something of a schizophrenic personality. We’re split up and divided against ourselves.” Bernie Bros have this dilemma. On the one hand, believing in a better society. On the other hand, using a worse society to get there because they see that hate is effective. And what is hate effective at? Only creating hate itself, to reference King again. Hate may very well be an effective tool but it is only a tool that can be used to build more hate. We aren’t the Democratic Party! We don’t need to “get things done”, we need to transform society itself.

How did Bernie lose his frontrunner status? More glory here: “Another way that you love your enemy is this: When the opportunity presents itself for you to defeat your enemy, that is the time which you must not do it.” No one likes a bro who rubs it in your face. Sorry. Someone who is self-assured, as King was, even as he marched to his own death, does not seek to make others small. His strength comes from within. No matter who you are in this world, rich or poor, black or white, male or female, what on earth makes us think we are better than anyone else?

King keeps returning to love being creative. Love is about creating a new reality. It is artistic in this sense: it doesn’t look to destroy. Even the most justified of hate has destruction as its destination. Love meanwhile, like art, creates.

I think I have to emphasize this point, especially in this toxic time, that King isn’t about compromising or lying or any of that. He isn’t about making friends with your enemy in the way we normally think of friends or even the way Bernie says he’s friends with Joe Biden. King isn’t asking us to sacrifice our principles. He is asking us to look at why we feel the need to, paraphrase Bernie, “love someone who you don’t know”.

Why on earth do we do this? Surely the left, in its brave stance against the death penalty, isn’t just loving the criminal for the crime, or for their possible innocence from it. No, if the left looks closely I think we find that universalism and radical humanism of King repressed in the left of today: “And it’s significant that he does not say, “Like your enemy.” Like is a sentimental something, an affectionate something. There are a lot of people that I find it difficult to like. I don’t like what they do to me. I don’t like what they say about me and other people. I don’t like their attitudes. I don’t like some of the things they’re doing. I don’t like them. But Jesus says love them. And love is greater than like. Love is understanding, redemptive goodwill for all men, so that you love everybody, because God loves them.”

I write all this not because I like the ruling class, but because I love the left, and I fear hate ruins the beautiful souls I feel so indebted to: “There’s another reason why you should love your enemies, and that is because hate distorts the personality of the hater. We usually think of what hate does for the individual hated or the individuals hated or the groups hated. But it is even more tragic, it is even more ruinous and injurious to the individual who hates.”

Even more so than love for the left, we have to adopt a better strategy to save the planet. Look at how fast the left burns out when it becomes distracted by hate. King points to neurosis, guilt and repression from doing hate. And this is happening on the left, not because the left did anything wrong, but because hate really is a painful thing to do, no matter how justified it is. King, the master strategist: “Keep loving them. Don’t do anything to embarrass them. Just keep loving them, and they can’t stand it too long. Oh, they react in many ways in the beginning. They react with bitterness because they’re mad because you love them like that. They react with guilt feelings, and sometimes they’ll hate you a little more at that transition period, but just keep loving them. And by the power of your love they will break down under the load.”

Bernie condemns his Bernie Bros, but he reduces it to an “everybody does it” argument, which actually takes away from the real passion of his supporters, and the legitimate feelings behind their mistakes which arise from greater class consciousness.

Imagine if a response to being called a hate-filled Bernie Bro went something like this: I choose not to profit off of other people’s suffering, I choose to oppose the system that does, I believe in love, the power of it, in both my heart and yours, I don’t hate you, in fact I love you, it is because of this that I come with my sincere message, no matter the cost to me, because I fear for our civilization and our planet. I believe in love, and despite this opportunity to present myself as someone superior to you, despite this opportunity to degrade you, I will not, I can only love you, and it is exactly this obligation to you, that is this obligation to myself, and to the entire world, it’s an obligation I can’t explain, it is one that in spite of it all, wants something good to happen.

Such is one form of resistance. It is nowhere near the most important, in a vacuum. But it may be the missing ingredient to the love revolution that the left wants, whether or not they admit to their commitment to love. I feel love from the left, and it makes me a little less alone. I hope that one day too, others can be transformed by this love from the political left. For this to ever happen the left must first be courageous enough to love themselves. It’s a tremendous challenge, but if any group can do this, it is the Bernie Bro, who is on her way to the mountaintop, and one day will return to bring us with her.

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Nick Pemberton writes and works from Saint Paul, Minnesota. He loves to receive feedback at pemberton.nick@gmail.com 

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