A little skepticism is a healthy thing, while cynicism too often proves self-destructive. A recent article by NBC foreshadowing the example of Bernie Sanders’ run for the Democratic nomination provides an object lesson on this point—and grimly augurs what increasingly looks like prophesy by Benjamin Franklin, whose closing statement was read to those gathered on the last day of the Constitutional Convention:
In these sentiments, Sir, I agree to this Constitution with all its faults, if they are such; because I think a general Government necessary for us, and there is no form of Government but what may be a blessing to the people if well administered, and believe farther that this is likely to be well administered for a course of years, and can only end in Despotism, as other forms have done before it, when the people shall become so corrupted as to need despotic Government, being incapable of any other. I doubt too whether any other Convention we can obtain, may be able to make a better Constitution. For when you assemble a number of men to have the advantage of their joint wisdom, you inevitably assemble with those men, all their prejudices, their passions, their errors of opinion, their local interests, and their selfish views.
Before any of Sanders’ supporters lock onto the term “corruption” to twist it into their narrative, they need to know that it’s meaning in the late 16th Century was far more general. While it included what many understand it to mean today, the meaning then ranged from being so “dillitary” that one did not participate in societal issues to the gamut of moral failings.
The article reports on the decade-long trend of the growth in numbers of voters who identify as independent voters. With the possible exception of the 2000 Presidential election, the most significant impact this trend has had is in general elections, and states with open primaries and caucuses. While the facts are not yet in, analysis of the 2016 primaries may find another impact. If Sanders’ supporters who were registered independents did not register as Democrats in states with closed primaries, that failure may have cost him the nomination.
Among many other comments by his supporters that I have become aware of through involvement on social media, the following suggests the real possibility that Sanders’ loss was due to the extreme cynicism and political ineptitude of his supporters, and that it may continue to frustrate the cynical left:
As soon as this election cycle is over, there will be a giant sucking sound, as half the members of the Democratic Party will reregister [sic] as Independents. They really screwed themselves for a single person’s insatiable appetite to win at all costs, even at the expense of the party. The DNC will have been sacrificed at the alter of the Clintons’ greed.
While the article makes no effort to associate the trend with a cause, I will. The media has widely reported on the dissatisfaction with the “status quo” on the left and right, and avoided labeling it for what it is, cynicism. If, as some speculate, Donald Trump represents the cynical malcontents of the right, the harm done may be a temporary setback for the Republicans. After all, the GOP establishment has tried to distance itself from him. The damage done by Bernie Sanders may however be long-term.
Having little that truly recommends him for the office of President, Sanders has had to rely on trashing his opponent. In doing so, he has also lashed out against the Democratic brand in general, and drawn untold numbers of Democrats into his cynical ideology. Politics is too nuanced to reduce to the “they are all alike” view expressed by him and those of his ilk. The fact that history refutes their view seems to escape their awareness as well.
Perhaps the problem lies with the fact that few people are exposed to more than sound-bites, and may not have the attention-span for research or study in any depth. Perhaps the observation that millennials were for the most part “educated to the test,” and lack critical thinking skills explains their failure. What ever the reason, there is no denying that cynicism is easy, much easier to embrace than reasoned thought—and an obstacle to understanding that “they” are no longer alike.
Effectively, Sanders’ supporters have been corrupted. The extent to which they have been corrupted and will no longer be effective in helping further the liberalization of the Democratic brand—or weakened it to allow the right to again gain control of government at every level—remains to be seen.