Thursday, May 12, 2016

The oppression of Clinton supporters

A recurring genre of article this primary season has argued that Clinton supporters - particularly young ones - have been silenced and oppressed:

  • "I learned quickly this primary season that if I openly support Hillary Clinton, I will be confronted," Mary Juhl writes
  • "If you're engaged in activism and you're a part of the campus left, and then you choose to support Clinton's campaign...that's almost a traitorous act," Sam Koppelman said.
  • "There's a feeling of having to come out as a Hillary supporter," Jessica Grubesic said.
  • "I have discovered...that any positive statement about Clinton is typically followed by a barrage of negative pushback from Sanders supporters," Lorraine Devon Wilke writes.
  • "It is highly probable that one reason for the silence of Clinton supporters is sexism..." Cassidy Ellis writes.
  • "I'm not alone in being reluctant to advertise my support for Clinton," Michelle Goldberg writes.
Almost without exception, these articles have three things in common. First, they routinely appear in major publications, such as The New York Times, Slate, The Guardian, and the Huffington Post, or get promoted by people with prominent platforms, like Howard Dean and CNN's Eugene Scott. Second, they are all written by or about relatively privileged Clinton supporters. Juhl is a legislative assistant in the Minnessota Senate; Grubesic is a Columbia student and intern with Hillary for America; Koppelman is a Harvard student and executive editor for the Crimson; Wilke is a fine arts dilletante and wife of an attorney and film producer; Ellis is a grad student and expat who worked for a Clinton pac; and Goldberg is a writer for multiple prestige publications and a NYT bestselling author. And third, of course, all of these articles are being written in advocacy of the most powerful woman in the world and the frontrunner for the nomination, Hillary Clinton.

Seems like these facts alone would call into question the general narrative that Clinton supporters are some kind of oppressed constituency. She is literally the most popular candidate in the primary. More than forty percent of the country views her favorably. Moreover, if anyone has tried to silence this support, they have abysmally failed. Whatever criticism and ridicule they have endured, Clintonites have been able to leverage their extraordinary privilege to gain the kind of national exposure that Sanders supporters can only dream of. This has been an indispensable component of Clinton's broader media strategy, which ultimately aims, of course, to create an approving and sympathetic climate of national opinion. By their own measure - winning at the polls - they've clearly succeeded.

Moreover, even when we take these writers at their word, it's often fairly unclear in what sense they are being oppressed. Only a few of the articles above specify incidents of Sanders supporters even being rude: Juhl reports that she has been called a "moron"; The Guardian vaguely alleges that "Columnists in favour of Clinton have drawn special ire – sometimes in an aggressive way, sometimes in a sexist way"; and Ellis complains "of being patronized by 'Bernie Bros' online and/or in person."

But far more frequently, when these articles document the "oppression" and "silencing" of Clinton supporters, they are complaining about things that are quite different:


OPPOSITION
  • "We're constantly having to defend our positions."
  • "When I speak positively about her online, I can expect to be swiftly reprimanded and even shamed by people who support other candidates."
  • "...while I have never gone on the thread of anyone touting Bernie's virtues...offering my criticisms of the man, how his votes on certain issues do not align with my own, etc., the reverse cannot be said."
  • "Often when speaking in support of Clinton, our progressivism is called into question."
  • "And this attitude on college campuses that 'if you're an advocate for social justice issues, you need to be a Bernie supporter' is really dismissive of those people across the country who are voting for Hillary."
  • "[They're] like: 'What do you mean why don't you want free tuition for everyone? It's not fair. What don't you want equal pay for everyone? Why don't you want to tax the rich?'"
  • "But during Clinton's speech, multiple anti-Clinton protesters were removed from the event..."
  • "They see the Hillary supporter as someone who doesn't really want as much equality as they do."
CONVICTION AND ENTHUSIASM
  • "I can't imagine being so rude as...to counter with my 'clearly superior opinion.' But it happens all the time. All the damn time."
  • "...the much documented and oft-discussed "fervor" (aka: fanatacism) of some Sanders supporters...the sheer fanatacisim and idealization of Sanders supporters has made it impossible to have an adult conversation..."
  • "Sanders fans seem to be more enthusiastic..."
UNFLATTTERING CRITICISM
  • "...if I say something positive about Clinton, someone will show up to question...my understanding of politics..."
  • "I'm not used to being labeled as one of the bad guys..."
  • "I've been called a '$hill' more times than I can count. I've been accused of being paid by Super PACs to support her publicly..."
CLINTON'S UNPOPULARITY
  • "To be 18 or 25 or in your early 30s and support Hillary Clinton...is a lonely and alienating relationship..."
  • "Oh, there's a Hillary group on campus? I thought I was the only one."
REFUSAL TO VOTE FOR CLINTON
  • "I do expect you to vote blue."
  • "If Sanders wins the nomination...I will vote for him in November...But [Sanders supporters have shown a] refusal to offer a similar committment."
Overwhelmingly, the grievance outlined by Clinton supporters in these articles is that people support Sanders, refuse to support Clinton, disagree with her politics, and insist that supporting her reflects poorly on people who do so. This is not a description of oppression or being silenced - this is a description of what happens when people have the audacity to think that you are wrong.

Coming from the people who tend to be featured in these articles, of course, the outrage makes sense. If you are privileged enough to attend top-tier universities and write for prestige liberal publications, you are used to getting what you want, used to being told that you are politically savvy and wise and noble, and used to deference from people who might disagree with you. In that case, I'm sure it's extraordinarily traumatic to discover people who reject your politics and who will fight to keep you out of power.

We should not, in any case, be surprised when this genre of article reaches its logical conclusion: in the latest, Mary Juhl admits that "this primary has even made me empathize with Republicans who are villainized for their choices at the polls." Of course it does.