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Time is a flat circle. And on Twitter, that flat circle is a monotonous merry-go-round with many semi-famous people saying the same things about politics over and over again.
Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) announced that he will be running for president Tuesday morning. While much of the offline world noted this as background information to not even think about until Iowa in 2020, or as the mere revelation that another qualified candidate is being added to an impressively crowded field, Twitter went insane.
Which it does from time to time.
All of your favorite Twitter pundits and commentators from 2016 have re-emerged to scold the internet for supporting Bernie Sanders. And their biggest concern remains the state of their mentions.
There is no denying that the 2016 primaries were contentious, and partisans of both sides were certainly uncivil. Furthermore, there is no denying that women and people of color who share opinions of any kind online often find themselves targets of harassment.
But if you read the TLs of prominent liberals, you would think that the posting they did in 2016 was tantamount to actual warfare. Furthermore, there is a presumption that they are the only people online who face trolls.
And then there’s the wild misconception that what happens on Twitter with a candidate’s fans has any larger relations to a candidate’s positions and campaign. In the time-honored tradition of mistaking Twitter for real life, numerous liberals with large platforms and respected media pedigrees complained about being silenced or marginalized before most of America even knew that Sanders had declared his candidacy.
The editor-in-chief of Mother Jones demanded that Bernie apologize for people posting memes in her mentions before he be taken seriously.
A very early test for Bernie is if he and his surrogates speak out, loudly and repeatedly, against supporters doling out online abuse in his name. If he/they do, he’s serious about being more than a purist spoiler. If not...— Clara Jeffery (@ClaraJeffery) February 19, 2019
A writer for Jimmy Kimmel Live and prominent #resistance comedian insisted that she and her friends went into panic mode as soon as they woke up.
I woke up to a flood of texts from women and none of us, including me, will ever tweet what we said because we’re too scared of his followers.— Bess Kalb (@bessbell) February 19, 2019
An anonymous liberal Twitter account with almost 200,000 followers announced (once again) that everyone in their mentions who is anonymous is really part of a Russian psy-op against them.
Bernie would’ve won.— The Hoarse Whisperer (@HoarseWisperer) February 19, 2019
If all the bots in my notifications could vote.
Another anonymous tweeter with almost 300,000 Twitter followers talked about how Bernie made her and others afraid to tweet about the things they often tweet about.
It should probably tell you something about a person when his supporters have a large group of women and POC on Twitter who are legitimately terrified to tweet something positive about another candidate.— The Volatile Mermaid (@OhNoSheTwitnt) February 19, 2019
This isn’t to say some of these tweets weren’t flooded with critical or even harassing replies in 2016, but if we are going to talk meaningfully about politics, we have to see beyond our own experience, and recognize that trolls may be a universal part of Twitter no matter which candidate you support.
But their arguments against Bernie trotted out some of the same bad faith they accused his supporters of. A New York Times opinion writer dredged up old (since debunked) arguments about “Bernie Bros” who threw their support to Trump or otherwise cost Hillary Clinton the election, arguing that the motivating factor for Bernie’s candidacy was TPP (Trans-Pacific Partnership).
Covered the DNC 16 and interviewed many Bernie Bros. Their main concern was TPP. I asked about Trump's hostile racist agenda; they didnt really think it was important. On election night one supporter said, "Good Trump won. Now people will learn." Worth mentioning all were White.— Wajahat Ali (@WajahatAli) February 19, 2019
TPP, of course, has been largely forgotten and did not play a decisive role in the 2016 primary. The center-left pundit and media class has not yet coalesced around a 2020 candidate, but they know for sure that they do not like Bernie. Furthermore, they are certain that a 77-year-old progressive Jewish senator is an avatar for young white men and his fans being manipulated by the Kremlin.
Just take it from well-known white male centrist political operatives!
The best part of Bernie's 2020 campaign is when Trump or Russia (but I repeat myself) bribes him with another lake house or something and Bernie kamikazes the Democratic Party.— Rick Wilson (@TheRickWilson) February 19, 2019
Okay, the twitter account I just called out appears to be a bot. I have since deleted that tweet. However, his response to me is *not atypical* from what's appearing in my mentions from real accounts who support @BernieSanders— igorvolsky (@igorvolsky) February 19, 2019
As was the case in 2016, plenty of women and people of color—many of whom have a smaller digital footprint than the pundits and writers feeling “silenced”—who support Bernie attempted to refute these generalizations, but, as usual, their pleas have fallen on deaf ears (or they have been dismissed as “bots”.)
I say this in earnest, fellow women and feminists especially, please please please stop calling Bernie supporters “Bernie bros.” It’s erasure.— Elisa Rodríguez-Vila (@elisafayemakes) February 19, 2019
I’m a Hispanic woman who supports Bernie. Almost every Bernie supporter I personally know is a woman or latino.
calling up all my bros from online to get in formation defending our dadhttps://t.co/N3acgEo3K6— listen to VanderPod (@kath_krueger) February 19, 2019
2017: Bernie would have won— Yellow Power Ranger (@KenzoShibata) February 19, 2019
2019: Bernie Will Win
Another way to frame the difference between Warren and Sanders: she thinks capitalism has been rigged by bad actors and isn't working right; he thinks it IS working right and that's the problem— Natalie Shure (@nataliesurely) February 19, 2019
Let’s get this started! Bernie’s haters can’t engage his ideas so they pretend all of his supporters are straight, white, men & invisibleize everyone else. This is what a #bernieBro looks like. #JustAnotherBernieBro #bernieBros pic.twitter.com/tnS8weH7LI— Katie Halper (@kthalps) February 19, 2019
something changed since 2016 and i no longer have even the slightest bit of cynicism toward bernie sanders, i love his platform so much and i want to cry thinking about him showing up for port truck drivers and disneyland workers last year— haley potiker (@haleyp) February 19, 2019
These people are not bots, nor are they white “bros” posing as POC to sabotage the menchies of writers for Mother Jones or The Daily Kos. But if you don’t believe these women and people of color when they share their personal anecdotes, you can also look to the data.
The biggest factor differentiating Sanders and Clinton voters was age, not race of gender. Bernie edged out Hillary among Black voters under 30. Exit polling also indicates that women under 30 preferred Sanders in 2016.
That isn’t to say Bernie doesn’t have work to do with minority communities: he was roundly defeated in Southern primaries in 2016 largely thanks to black voters. What went largely unmentioned by those critical of Sanders on Tuesday is that he has tried to do that work. Sanders hired the first Muslim-American campaign manager of a major campaign to run his 2020 effort. He supported a predominately Black auto strike in Mississippi and the largely Latinx population affected by poor working conditions at Disney. He has spearheaded the effort to end America’s role in the devastation in Yemen.
Really wanted to see @BernieSanders run again. We need him in this race. We needed a strong populist candidate and in my view, he is the strongest. Very happy to see him hire @fshakir as campaign manager. First Muslim-American manager of a major presidential campaign.— Erika Andiola (@ErikaAndiola) February 19, 2019
Both in 2016 and today, the centrist Twitter view of Bernie’s candidacy was even contradicted by his policies, which includes gender pay equality, immigrants’ rights, and ending mass incarceration.
Sanders' 2020 agenda, per aides:— Jeff Stein (@JStein_WaPo) February 19, 2019
- Medicare 4 All
- Green New Deal/climate
- $15 min wage
- Criminal justice reform
- Free college
- Break up biggest banks
- Gender pay equity
- Paid leave
- ⬇ Drug prices
- Expand Social Security
- Save unions
- DREAM Acthttps://t.co/CyM52Cw2pf
Young and working class people of any ethnicity and gender can appreciate things like $15 minimum wage, Medicare for All, free college, and the Green New Deal. It isn’t surprising that relatively privileged pundits and writers might not be able to see that. What is impressive is that these people are able to write the same tweets they were doing two years ago without a hint of growth or reflection. Though so many of the world’s writers and thinkers are on Twitter, social media can make the world smaller if you only live in your mentions.
There’s almost a year to go until the first primary votes, but we are already at an astounding level of Bernie-induced meltdown. But, if you lived through the 2016 election online, you know one thing for sure: it can always get worse. And we can rest assured that many of America’s great centrist politically thinkers will be there to complain about being @’ed online.
Brenden Gallagher is a politics reporter and cultural commentator. His work has been published by Motherboard, Complex, and VH1. He’s the co-founder of Beer Money Films, an indie production company. Based in Los Angeles, he works in television drama as a writers assistant.