The Perishability of Revolutionary Time

I know what you’re thinking.

You’re thinking, “Wait a minute. After a convention that nominated Hillary Clinton for president — the first female nominee of a major party in our country’s history — you’re giving us a Bernie Sanders post? This is why practically nobody reads you, PPFA.”

First of all: harsh.

Second, this isn’t about Bernie Sanders as much as those in his movement, their effect on the Democratic Party, and the legacy of each.

For some, Bernie Sanders’s evolution has been hard to watch. To his most passionate supporters, he was Herculean, regularly tackling impossible tasks, from legitimately competing against the strongest family in politics to filling stadiums of once disinterested citizens. He was idolized and passionately defended by the left wing of the American political spectrum.

Now, however, with Sanders’s pivot from primary opponent to chief advocate for Hillary Clinton, some of his once ardent supporters are left reeling. Their Hercules has turned into Charon, ferrying dead Democratic souls to Clinton’s corrupt, watered down, center-left underworld. The man whose judgement they once thought was so superior to Clinton’s has ultimately judged Clinton as the best remaining option this November. In wrestling, this is called a heel turn, so, fittingly, he was booed by his own (former) supporters at the Democratic National Convention.

I must say, these abandonment issues are a bit too dramatic for my taste. I appreciate not mindlessly consolidating into two parties; indeed, I’ve been a life-long third party voter for the presidency. I also understand that Clinton is far from a perfect candidate — that charges of corruption, lying, foreign interventionism, and political weather-vaning are grounded in some political reality. I also get that Leftists saw Sanders as perfect until he made this imperfect pivot, and if former Sanders supporters demand a candidate that perfectly aligns with their own ideology, they should head over to the Green Party.

Yet, I’m having a hard time understanding these progressives’ motives in knocking down Hillary Clinton on their way out. The dominant theme seems to be that Clinton is basically “the same” as Trump, a laughable juxtaposition with which I’m sure both sides of the aisle disagree. In temperament, tactics, ideology, and vocalized intentions, they’re wildly divergent. The Democrats and Republicans have put forward two different options for us this November; you don’t have to pick one, but at least acknowledge the distinction.

To be sure, some former Sanders holdouts who focus on weakening Clinton might indeed see the difference and actually prefer Trump. The two men overlap, forcing Clinton to stand by herself, in several important ways: leaving aside potential sexism and message-board misogyny, both men condemn the influence of corporations and big donors over our politicians; both promote protectionist trade policies over freer ones; and both are critical of recent American military actions and expenditures in faraway places. Those things considered, one can understand why some that were #FeelintheBern are just fine letting Trump into the Oval Office instead of Clinton.

However, I would urge caution for a true Bernie Sanders progressive — that is, one who believes in his lefty language. Consider that Trump splits with his party in all three of the above areas, which would almost totally block his ability to affect those issues. Republicans are just as beholden as Democrats to big money donors; Republicans are for freer trade than Democrats; and the modern GOP embodies a more hawkish foreign policy, particularly from its neoconservative wing. Meanwhile, Democrats will also be of no help to a President Trump in those areas, since they will be sure to emulate Republicans’ anti-Obama obstructionism. In other words, Trump will have few Congressional allies to advance the Trump-Sanders crossover issues.

That leaves all the other ones.

For true Sanders progressives, the dilemma of who they’d rather see in the White House is no dilemma at all. It’s not only about the Democratic talking points — the fate of the Supreme Court for the next three decades; a potentially 50-50 Senate that would tip in favor of the next vice president’s party; or the dangers of Donald Trump as the face of our nation. While the impact of each of those factors could have serious ramifications for millions of Americans and should at least be considered, there might be a better reason for quixotic liberals to temper their insistence on a purer candidate.

These Sanders holdouts should ruminate on his potential legacy, on that for which he and they stood: they moved the Democratic platform left. If Clinton and the Democrats hadn’t made their platform more progressive, then Sanders progressives should understandably balk, but that’s not what happened. At the DNC, Sanders noted that “the two campaigns . . . produced, by far, the most progressive platform in the history of the Democratic Party.” This is exactly what compromise looks like.

However, because this platform is not progressive enough, some in the left wing are willing to sabotage the whole thing, sacrificing the good in a likely futile attempt at the perfect.

What happens if the saboteurs are successful? With a Hillary Clinton loss this November, this platform — “the most progressive platform in the history of the Democratic Party” — would lose with her. In its place would be the platform of Donald Trump and the RNC, which is exceedingly conservative. Though Trump himself can be rather centrist, his party is not. Nor is his vice-presidential nominee, to whom Trump has reportedly said he would delegate unprecedented authority, meaning a Trump-Pence Administration can build its wall while also promoting the social conservative agenda.

I have a guess at what some ticked off ex-Sanders supporters are thinking here: “Fine, let the Democrats sink, ‘most progressive platform ever’ be damned. Then they’ll learn that if they want our votes, they need to nominate our kind of candidate.”

That’s certainly one way to look at it, but perhaps more objective heads would suggest for every vote picked up on the left, one — or more — in the center would be lost. (The polls that showed Sanders ahead in hypothetical match-ups with Trump could never weigh what would happen to those numbers when Republicans started treating him like they have Clinton for the last decade.) Also possible in four years is a Democratic Party, desperate to beat Trump, nominating a more moderate candidate than Hillary Clinton.

And that’s the crux of the thing. Bernie-or-Busters are hoping that a principled take-down of Clinton is ultimately a wager that will pay off down the road. It’s a risky play. In the meantime, a Trump/Pence Administration can considerably curtail and outright reverse recent liberal successes, and there’s no guarantee anything positive will come of it in the long-term for Sanders progressives.

Historian David Brion Davis, when pondering the sluggish pace of slavery’s abolition in the United States, felt that the best moment to have done it was immediately following the birth of the country, either during or right after the American War of Independence. It was then that the revolutionary zeal of the young country was at its most fervent, and thus its national character the most moldable. Were “all men are created equal” or weren’t they?

As time went on, however, the size of the Revolution in our rear-view mirror was directly proportional to abolition’s likelihood. The issue was taken up in 1790, at the outset of the Constitutional period, but not again for decades. There just wasn’t the political will to risk disunion in an effort to eradicate the nation’s most abominable moral disease.

Davis called this process the “perishability of revolutionary time.” One must mold the national character while heated passions soften the national metal. That’s why great change happens in isolated pockets of history.

Without proper follow-through, however, often following short periods of change is a shift back the other way, sometimes lazily but other times quite radically, like a jerk of the wheel. Trump might be that jerk.

There’s a chance this historically progressive Democratic platform will not see daylight again for some time. Successful revolutions — that is, revolutions that implement great change fairly permanently — must not only be accepted by large swaths of the population, but their ideas, like in our Constitution, must be codified. Codification is what a party platform attempts to do.

But beware the perishability of revolutionary time. It’s impossible to know what’s waiting after four years of an unpredictable Republican president. My advice to Sanders holdouts, therefore, is to advance the football. Just pick up the first down, and then try for a fracking ban and carbon tax in four years time. A Hail Mary in the form of sabotaging Clinton is ill-advised.

You don’t have to like her, Berners. You don’t have to think she’s perfect. You don’t have to think she’s not cozy with Wall Street or too close with the DNC. But torpedoing her in favor of Trump is a bad wager. Cash in your chips, get up from the table, and walk out of the casino. Your ride is waiting, and you don’t want Donald Trump behind the wheel.


5 thoughts on “The Perishability of Revolutionary Time”

  1. A couple of friends of mine went to Cuba last month. Even the Cubans are afraid of a Trump presidency. And they’re totally lost trying to fathom why the GOP picked Trump in the first place.
    Another issue the Berners should consider is that Putin LOVES Trump. How will that play out? I’m guessing Putin would feel even safer to gobble up the surrounding small countries.


  2. […] Part of that swoon is due to an aggressive, shameful courtship by a Clinton Campaign earnestly flanked by Sanders himself, but part of it also stems from ineffective recruitment techniques. So righteously intransigent are the Greens that you dare not tolerate TPP or fracking unless you want to be bludgeoned by eye rolls, memes, and accusations of having designs on the rubble that will accompany civilization’s end. The Steiners are probably, person for person, the most well read and passionate (as opposed to being one or the other, like many others) constituency in the election, but they underrate compromise, humility, and incrementalism as viable tools of discourse, recruitment, and progress. By not supporting the Democratic ticket, Sanders liberals hope that Trump/Pence leadership for 4 to 16 years does not blunt the progressive cause that has made some headway lately. That’s a risky roll of the dice. […]


  3. […] At the Constitutional Convention and ratification process, these two groups had their share of wins and losses. Some antifederalists finally switched once the federalists promised a bill of rights would be added as a series of amendments to the Constitution if enough antifederalists agreed to ratify. However, the document, with framers not wanting to lose southern support, did not abolish slavery, a hesitance later lamented by abolitionists who recognized the perishability of revolutionary time. […]


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.