Bernie’s Big Lie: A Contested Convention in July

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I’m actually in the process of crafting a longer essay on how I believe the Bernie Sanders movement can continue after the nominating process is over, but new information cluttered my morning newsfeed, so here we are.

Multiple sources reported yesterday that Bernie Sanders is planning on a convention fight in Philadelphia. That’s what he told the National Press Club in Washington on Sunday. Here are few highlights from his remarks:

“It is virtually impossible for Hillary Clinton to reach a majority of convention delegates by June 14, which is the last day a primary will be held, with pledged delegates alone. She will need superdelegates to take her over the top at the convention in Philadelphia.”

“In other words the convention will be a contested contest.”

“I would hope very much that the superdelegates from those states where we have won with big margins respect the wishes of the people of those states.”

“Therefore, it is incumbent on every superdelegate to take a hard and objective look at which candidate stands the better chance of defeating Donald Trump and other Republicans.”

This argument first surfaced after Clinton’s four out of five state win last Tuesday. On MSNBC, campaign manager Jeff Weaver laid out this strategy even as other Sanders surrogates were talking about the campaign winding down. At the time, I dismissed most of this talk as post-loss bluster.

And I still do.

Here’s the truth: Bernie Sanders has absolutely no intention of carrying out this threat.

Zero.

None.

Nada.

So, what’s really happening here?

A couple of things. First, a lot of people have donated to Senator Sanders’ campaign. Packing up and giving in now would be a slap in the face to every person that’s forked over their hard earned money to support him.

Second, the nominating process isn’t over yet. Regardless of the fact that it’s a statistical impossibility for Sanders to defeat Clinton at this point, it’s imperative to let the primary play out until the last poll closes. Thousands of people in the remaining states have waited months to cast a ballot for Bernie, and to deny them that right would demoralize his supporters.

Finally, and this is the most important reason, it’s all about money. Sanders is looking to change the Democratic Party. In order to do that, he needs lots and lots of money to finance his expenses until July, in order to win enough delegates to shape the party’s platform for November. Fundraising numbers already look difficult if April is any measure. Donations fell by $19 million, and Clinton outpaced Sanders fundraising by about $10 million dollars. Add to that a purge of paid staffers, and it’s clear that the campaign is trying to save money.

The best way to keep the money train rolling is by letting your supporters believe you still have a chance.

Is it ethical?

I don’t know. I guess if you contributed to his campaign, you’ll have to decide for yourself.

Now, why won’t Bernie carry out his threat to contest the convention? Well, let’s start with the fact that his strategy is based on a premise that even his supporters have characterized as unfair. Imagine the outrage if Clinton won the popular vote, the pledged delegate count, and more states than Sanders, but superdelegates decided to name him the nominee. To thwart the “will of the people,” when it favors your candidate would be an indefensible hypocrisy that undermines the unique nature of the Sanders movement.

I suspect Sanders knows this, and it’s probably tearing him up inside.

If not, it should be.

Yet he’s still pushing the idea that General Election polls have him winning by more points. What he leaves out is the fact that Clinton still polls ahead of the Republican frontrunners in the same polls. Does Sanders poll better by more points? Sure, but his numbers in comparison to Clinton are usually within the margin of error, and Sanders’ lack of name recognition and insulation from GOP attacks negates his advantages. We really don’t know how Sanders will do in a General Election, and it probably won’t matter.

Also, the Sanders strategy to flip superdelegates won’t work. I won’t get bogged down in the numbers on how all this plays out mathematically, but if you’re interested, you can read Phillip Bump’s piece in the Washington Post written earlier today.

Nevertheless, the real reason I know Sanders is lying when he says he’s planning on a contested convention in July is because it’s political suicide. Nothing would end the senator’s long political career quicker than turning the Democratic National Convention into a circus sideshow based on his bruised ego and failed candidacy.

Superdelegate support for Clinton will only solidify by primary’s end. The insurmountable lead she amassed so far will only grow. For Sanders to jam a wrench in the convention would only ensure that no Democrat in Congress ever works with him again. Throw into that the possibility of an unfavorable presidency, and it just doesn’t make sense.

This is political posturing, plain and simple. Sanders is pretending to spoil for a fight he has no intention of starting. He’s doing it to keep his supporters motivated and to keep the money flowing. I think this is irresponsible. Eventually, he’s going to have to let people down, and the longer he waits, the harder it will be for his supporters to rally around the Democratic nominee.

If Sanders were smart, he’d level with his supporters. I think the vast majority would understand. He could say, “Look. This is where we are, this is where we want to go, and the best way to get there is by shifting our attention to the future of our movement. We don’t have to give up the war, but this battle, is lost. Let’s finish with a modicum of dignity and self-respect.”

That’s what Bernie Sanders should be saying right now, because it’s the truth, and it’s what his supporters need to hear.

 

 

 

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Immersive Politics: My Brief Experience with the Clinton Campaign

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On an unseasonably warm day in March, I met Eric at a hipster coffee shop in North Buffalo. He wasn’t hard to spot. Visibly exhausted, he half-heartedly plucked at his computer keys from behind the Hillary logo slapped across his laptop.

He stood up to shake my hand. “So, what can you tell me about Buffalo?”

For the next hour, I broke down different areas of the city and its surrounding suburbs into tiny fragments of political affiliation. We talked about Buffalo’s resurgence; its move from an economically depressed rust-belt city, to an investment region in medical tech and solar. A turnaround Hillary Clinton had a hand in when she was a Senator from New York. He said that he’d been told support for Clinton would be strong here. I warned him that Sanders could do well in a working-class area like Buffalo. Buffalo for Bernie had an office downtown for about a month already, and received at least a smattering of press over the past couple of weeks.

Buffalo wasn’t a lock for Clinton. They’d have to work for it

J. Lee the Volunteer

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As much as I enjoy engaging in arguments on Facebook with my political opponents, I’m completely cognizant of the futility of Internet politics. So, when I saw an opportunity to be involved with a political campaign in my hometown, I couldn’t pass it up.

My job was fairly simple. I made phone calls. Lots and lots of phone calls. Eric set me up so I could work from home on my computer. He gave me a login and password to a DNC database. He’d make a list of voters to call, give me a task, and let me work through the list on my own time. I also did the same job in the campaign office a few days every week.

I began this mission by calling potential Clinton supporters and asking them if they’d be interested in volunteering for the campaign. Working from a script, I’d ask the person on the other end if they were supporting Clinton in the primary. If they said, “yes,” I’d mark it in the drop down box, and then ask if they’d like to volunteer. If they said, “no,” I’d say, “thank you for your time,” and move on.

Wait. What?

But isn’t campaigning all about convincing people to support your candidate, you ask?

That’s what I thought.

I thought I’d be using my powers of persuasion to convince voters that Clinton was the best choice for president. Instead, probable Hillary supporters had already been targeted by Eric using the DNC database. After a few calls, it became clear that we were aiming at a specific demographic. Democratic women over the age of 40 made up about 75% of the people on my list. I also wasn’t the first point of communication. Part of my very limited access to the database allowed me to see the contact history of every potential volunteer. Some people had been surveyed or called as early as July, some in January.

Maybe it’s because of her name recognition. Maybe it’s because the campaign understands that people are usually 99% rigid in their political choices. I don’t know. But what I do know is this: If you’re not a Democrat supporting Clinton in this primary,

Hillary’s just not that into you.

At least, not right now.

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Organization 

Every news outlet and pundit has remarked on the Clinton campaign’s organizational prowess, and they’re not blowing smoke.

As I continued to make calls, the events that followed focused explicitly on organizing volunteers. After I had exhausted the list of new recruits, Eric showed me how to follow-up, schedule, and confirm their appointments to phone bank or canvass. The process was simple. Find the volunteers and make sure they show up to work.

Even appearancBillBuffaloes by the two biggest names associated with the ticket were promoted as “Volunteer Organizing Events,” rather than “rallies.” Bill and Hillary made separate stops, at odd times and with very short notice. Bill arrived in the middle of the afternoon on a Friday at a small venue close to the airport. Hillary spoke to a crowd of 1,200 the following Friday afternoon, and her husband made one final appearance in the morning on the day before the Primary at volunteer headquarters.

Notice something?

By contrast, Bernie Sanders spoke at the University at Buffalo campus on a weekday night to a crowd of around 8,000. Outside 5,000 disappointed supporters were treated to a short appearance by the candidate before he made his way into the venue.

The significance here is that by holding events at inconvenient times, the Clinton campaign is able to identify and isolate its most ardent supporters; the people most useful to their organizational machine, and the people most likely to volunteer. Current volunteers kept busy at Bill and Hillary’s events by snaking through the crowd and signing up even more volunteers.

Slim attendance may look bad from a media standpoint, but elections are won by the numbers on the ground, not in the numbers of people at your rallies.

The Establishment

Another aspect of the Clinton campaign that cannot be understated is establishment support. At its inaugural organizing event, the County Executive made an impassioned speech about not taking a Clinton win in Buffalo for granted. Everyone would have to work hard to secure a victory in the Queen City. New York’s governor, the city’s mayor, council members, New York State and Congressional representatives were present at almost every event throughout the month. Obama’s Labor Secretary even showed up on the final weekend as a “private citizen” to thank volunteers for their hard work. At least four local unions worked for Clinton independent from the campaign.

Love it or hate it, having the political establishment on your side when you’re conducting a national campaign gives you a huge edge over your opponent. They know the geography. They know the people. They understand the political landscape.

Enthusiasm 

One of my main criticisms of Hillary Clinton as a candidate is that she’s not particularly inspiring, and it’s a refrain echoed by her supporters. The enthusiasm gap is real — sort of. From the organizing events to the revolving door of volunteers and paid employees that flowed in and out of the campaign office, you didn’t get the sense that people were excited about Clinton’s candidacy in a the way they were about Obama eight years ago. Even at events where the candidate or her husband showed up to speak, the tenor felt noticeably subdued. Sure, people were energized, but it wasn’t an energy that gave you the chills or made your hair stand on end.

Perhaps reflecting the candidate’s message, the campaign instead draws its vigor from the feeling that there’s a job to be done. Instead of engaging in impassioned political discussions, people within the campaign put their heads down and got to work. Instead of motivational speeches about the future, establishment surrogates focused on getting out the vote. There weren’t any conversations about the latest news cycle, or what the opposition said on Fox and Friends. There was just too much to get done to care.

When I managed to pull Eric away from his computer for five minutes, he told me he had been working 12-16 hour days since Iowa. Easy to believe considering that the campaign only sent him and one other young professional to manage 100s of volunteers. I’d often leave the office around 8:30pm, tired and worn out from having my smartphone squashed against my ear for 4 hours, only to see Eric plugging in his laptop and working on canvass maps for the next day.

There’s a passion in the Clinton campaign that transcends enthusiasm, and it’s all about the grind. On his Facebook page, Eric has a picture of himself in Iowa pinned to the top of his profile. Expressionless, with his arms crossed over his chest, he stands next to the words:

Engage with purpose.

Organize with heart.

Win every day.

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Diversity

Exit polls have already proved what I’m about to tell you. The Clinton campaign is putting together a diverse coalition of voters that will mirror the myriad of support that elected Obama to the White House for two terms. The proportion of African-Americans backing Hillary in comparison to other campaigns is staggering. At least 50% of the volunteer force and attendance at events included people of color. A strong showing from the LGBT and Latino communities accompanied the mostly over 40 crowd of volunteers.

Absent of course, were the young people that Clinton will desperately need to win in November if she’s the nominee. Nevertheless and regardless of the disputes from Sanders’ supporters to the contrary, the difference in diversity between the two Democratic contenders is apparent and obvious.

Conclusion

This isn’t a full-throated endorsement of Hillary Clinton and her candidacy. It is a recognition of the efficacy of her campaign. What she lacks in style, she’s obviously made up for in organization, and really, it’s her campaign manager and the thousands of people working for her that deserve the credit. In hindsight, it became clear how she managed to pull ahead of Bernie Sanders by 275 pledged delegates and about 2.7 million votes. It has nothing to do with a media blackout, voter suppression, or whatever conspiracy people manage to fabricate in their imaginations. She’s winning the ground game.

Hard.

There’s a process here: Identify your supporters, round up volunteers, put them to work and make sure your supporters get out to vote.

Eric made sure I knew that the most important five days in this process were the five days leading up to and including Election Day. We scheduled over 356 shifts of phone-bankers and door-to-door canvassers, not including the unions and community leaders that worked independently over the same period of time.

After all was said and done, Clinton won Erie County and the Buffalo area by a mere 812 votes. I texted Eric the next day with an attached picture of the results from a local news station.

“Well, that was close,” I wrote.

“Hahaha. A win is a win,” he texted back.

“Damn straight it is. I told you Sanders had a chance here. He blew it.”

“It was close. The mayor, the volunteers, and all these random groups coming together really secured this win.”

The truth in that statement has to be underscored. For all her negative poll ratings and likability issues, people from all over the country are coming together for Hillary Clinton and doing the work needed for her to win. I won’t dispute the fact that the same thing is happening in other campaigns. I’m sure it is. But there’s something about the Clinton campaign that’s being missed by the media narrative and her opponent’s attacks. From its diversity to its work ethic, the Clinton campaign feels representative of America in a way that doesn’t get talked about enough. It’s a shame people are more focused on where she gets her money and less so on the everyday people that made the decision to work for her.

Because that’s the tangible reality of any political operation. It takes real, hardworking people to get the job done.

My brief experience with the Clinton campaign couldn’t have been more positive. As an added bonus, I somehow managed to get in with the right people. When Bill Clinton came to town, I was given preferred seating in the front row. He shook my hand and signed his book for me. When Hillary rolled in, my wife and I were invited backstage to meet her and have our picture taken with her. These were once in a lifetime encounters I’ll never forget.

I made hundreds of calls and met probably as many volunteers. Coming together with likeminded people for a common cause was probably the most rewarding part of this experience. Instead of posting inane articles to social media that elicit eye rolls from my family members, I did something. I became a part of something bigger than myself.

No matter who you may be supporting, I’d encourage you to do the same.

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TrollPatrol10: Twitter Pics and Facebook Memes

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These pics speak for themselves. Enjoy.

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March Madness: High School Politics

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It’s time to look back and have a little talk about what happened in March. By now, I’ve already discussed the trends of the Angry White Voter, record-breaking Republican turn-out, and badly behaving supporters. So, let’s shift our attention to the real problem with 2016: the candidates.

It’s a common complaint. Every election cycle, voters bemoan the lesser of evils, or complain about the lack of good choices. Often, these complaints are exaggerated and reflect a frustration with politics and politicians in general.

This year though, there’s a hot streak of validity running through the collective malaise of the electorate. Our choices for president haven’t been acting very presidential. Less time is being spent on policy issues, and voters are being distracted by inconsequential events. To be fair, hotly contested campaigns are nothing new. Thomas Jefferson and John Adams traded malicious insults in an election so contentious that the House of Representatives voted 36 times before they declared Jefferson the winner. In 1964, Lyndon Johnson ran a series of television ads suggesting a Goldwater presidency would kill children.

 

As common as attacks and insults may be to the election process, 2016 is devolving into an adolescent popularity contest full of hormones and teenage angst. It’s getting embarrassing and both parties are to blame.

Republicans

After months of attempting to ignore Donald Trump, establishment Republicans decided to meet him at the playground and play by his rules.

At a rally on the final day of February, Marco Rubio stepped up his personal attacks on the frontrunner, criticizing Trump for having small hands and presumably wetting his pants during an earlier debate. Trump responded with an ad lib imitation of the Florida senator drinking water and repeatedly using the moniker, “Little Marco.”

As criticism of these tactics mounted, Rubio defended his insults by telling Dana Bash at CPAC: “Even before he was the front runner, Donald would offend someone personally, he’d make fun of a disabled reporter, or attack a woman journalist, and he would dominate news coverage. Of course he’s gonna get all this attention.”

The implication of course, was that all the insults were simply a ploy to attract media attention.

Maybe, but more than likely Rubio and the establishment’s strategy is better explained by our conventional pop culture wisdom that tells us the best defense against a bully is standing up to a bully.

Remember when George McFly and Daniel-san stood up to Biff and Cobra Kai? Yeah, those are great stories, but they’re stories; fantasies created by someone trying to bring redemption to the world through art. The reality is that fifteen days later, Rubio lost his home state of Florida to Trump by nineteen points, and was forced out of the race.

With Rubio out, Trump redirected his focus to Ted Cruz. When calling him “Lyin’ Ted,” failed to phase his opponent, Trump threatened to, “spill the beans,” on Cruz’s wife. The two candidates then participated in a war of memes after a Cruz related Super Pac posted an image of Melania Trump to Facebook.

Melania

 

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Democrats

On the other side of the aisle, the second half of our two-party system is engaged in a fierce debate over just how far left the party should go. Underneath it all is an undercurrent of cruelty that looks a lot more like Mean Girls than Karate Kid.

From the beginning of his presidential run, Bernie Sanders promised not to go negative. However, by the time March rolled around, it became apparent that the main strategy of the Sanders camp involved a political slut-shaming of Clinton reliant on rumors, innuendo, and spurious correlations.

Two weeks into the month, the Sanders campaign circulated a ten year old photo of the Clintons at Donald Trump’s wedding on social media. Sanders then made veiled references to the wedding at campaign events.

Besides pointing to Clinton’s past engagements as proof of promiscuity, Sanders also spent the month of March demanding that Clinton release transcripts of paid speeches she gave to Goldman Sachs. The tone of this demand has turned to taunting, with Sanders telling a large crowd on Thursday night, “I think if you’re going to be paid $225,000 for a speech, it must be a fantastic speech. A brilliant speech which you would want to share with the American people, right?”

By mid-month Clinton had already falsely claimed Sanders was absent from her health care stint in the 90s. Outside of this one incident, she had managed to avoid any childish conflicts with her opponent, but as the month came to a close, her resolute calm waned.

After a gaggle of Sanders supporters interrupted her stump speech, Clinton’s frustration boiled over. In a moment of juvenile weakness, she teased the protesters with her primary delegate lead and popular vote counts. Later, at the same event, she wrongly accused a Greenpeace activist of being a Sanders surrogate. A petulant spat over the tone, time and place of a debate before the New York Primary has overshadowed any substantive discussions of policy.

 

Growing Pains

What’s happening in the primary isn’t catastrophic, but the overall tone of the candidates lacks a maturity that recognizes the importance of the presidency. Our potential nominees are acting more like adolescents than grown adults prepared to lead the world. Why?

Part of the problem is that new people are coming into the process. Young people and first time voters are being courted by anti-establishment candidates. Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders are more than willing to take advantage of the pervasive naiveté that runs through an inexperienced electorate. They’ve catered to the worst aspects of popularity politics. Nothing it seems, is off limits.

Democracy’s greatest weakness is its inclusive nature. Voting requires no test or experience in politics. The rules of running for office are abstract and unspoken. So, a raw flush of new voters are easily manipulated by distraction and misleading information. Add to that the mob mentality and childishness of the Internet, and you have a recipe for nonsense.

Not that we don’t want people to participate. Our country will certainly be better off in the long run. However, in the short term, we may have to suffer the growing pains of their political pubescence. Should they choose a fringe candidate that speaks to their clique, or the next generation of activists, that’s fine. We all stumble through our adolescence one way or another, and are eventually made better by that experience.

Eight years ago, America was inspired by a candidate that promised to end the partisanship in politics, lead us out of our perpetual wars, and change the way Washington works. Under his banners of “Hope” and “Change,” the only thing that exceeded our optimism was our idealism. We were convinced his leadership would usher in a new era.

 

Today, we understand those lofty goals were more about message than reality, and the reality is that no one person can change America. No matter who ends up being president, the challenges America faces will only be solved by what happens after the election. Obama didn’t fail us so much as we failed him.

That’s the lesson we learned. This new generation of political activists and first time voters will face their own challenges, their own stumbles, and their own lessons to learn. Those of us that know better should stand back and let them figure it out on their own. Sometimes people have to learn the hard way. Just like we did when we were new to this process.

In the meantime, our presidential candidates can hasten the intellectual growth of the electorate by acting like grown adults. It’s time to end the bullying, the name-calling, the rumor spreading, slut-shaming high school drivel. To be president, they should be able to accomplish this with minimal effort. If this truly is the most consequential election of our lifetime, then the people running for the highest office in the world need to set the inconsequential aside. America and its citizens deserve better than high school politics.

 

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TrollPatrol9: A Countdown of the Worst People on Social Media This Week

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All good things must end at some point. Next week will be the final week of TrollPatrol, followed by an analysis on the project. It was all at once, fun and tiresome. . .   #10 We should be better, … Continue reading

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No one reads this blog, and that’s okay.

Well, I shouldn’t say that. It’s probably more correct to say that a few people read this blog. I read it, my wife reads it. My friends read it when they have time, and there’s a handful of WordPress followers that read mine, because I read theirs.

Thank you for that.

When I started this blog in February, I didn’t have a plan. I saw what was happening in politics, and it compelled me to start writing again. There’s no growth outlook or marketing strategy. The PostModerate has a logo because I got bored for an hour on a Tuesday.

So, why am I here? Why bother?

In my third semester of college, I took an online class called American Frontier. We studied American mythology. The noble Indian in his state of nature. The rugged individual that strikes out into the unknown and tames the wilderness. The lone cowboy and his gun taking on injustice and challenges to his freedom. I’m reminded of these myths whenever I see John McClain or Jason Bourne.

Another important lesson I learned in that course is how pointless popularity is to history. Understanding mythology is about understanding its creator, not its audience. The stories people tell about themselves tell you about them. Who they were, what they thought, how they reacted to the events around them.

Right now, the media is creating a myth. The myth of an angry America ignoring conventional wisdom and giving a firm middle finger to the establishment. On the Internet, the same myth is being perpetuated by obnoxious voices bent on being heard. They’re angry at pretty much everything, and social media has given them a permanent influence over the historical record. Their heroes are Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders, archetypes of a new age in politics. It’s a fascinating story, but it’s not the whole story.

The other story is less interesting. It’s about a more moderate America, calm and demure. We see the challenges ahead, not through the prism of anger and blame, but through binoculars of optimism. Standing outside the polarized battles of right and left, we get lost in the middle. Our silence isn’t complacence, it’s an understanding of things as they are, and the shared validity in all points of view.

Nevertheless, we are silent. Almost absent from the historical record simply because those beating their chests have taken in all the air and swallowed us whole. Standing on the sidelines, we shake our heads and wonder what has happened to this country? When did our healthy skepticism bleed out and crust over into this harsh cynicism that only acknowledges the worst parts of life in America?

Will anyone speak up for us? Will we ever be heard?

So, I have to write this down. Future historians will need to know that the online rantings and media portrayals of 2016 left out the silent majority. They’ll need to know that another America existed beneath the anger. An America flush with rational citizens rejecting the popular pessimism of the moment in favor of positivity and hope.

Should the mob have its way, let us be the tragic victims of their rage. Or, let us be the heroes that put everything back together once the dust settles on this season of hate. Either way, our story needs to be told. The unpopular myth of a moderate America in the face of its most extreme elements. I am its creator, and this is the story I leave for history. It’s my counter-argument to the narrative.

No one reads this blog, and that’s okay. Because someday someone will, and they’ll know our side of the story.

 

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TrollPatrol8: A Countdown of the Worst People on Social Media This Week

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#10 Okay Maria, but this article is about Elizabeth Warren. #9 He can’t hear you, Jenifer. You’re on the Internet, and he’s in Cuba. #8 As opposed to before, when they didn’t taste like cardboard? Not sure I get your … Continue reading

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The PostModerate Platform: American Exceptionalism

PostModerateLogoNewThat American Exceptionalism is only possible by our example.

It almost sounds like a dirty word; a politically-charged, cringe-worthy term guaranteed to spark a debate over its etymology, its implications, and its merit. From the right, you’ll likely hear boasts of rugged individualism and entrepreneurial conquests. Bootstraps will most certainly be pulled up and we’ll all be regaled with tales of forlorn souls that beat the odds to move from rags to riches.

From the left will come protestations of stolen land, slavery, and the denial of rights to millions. Foreign interventions and military failures will justify the lessening of our influence and damage to America’s reputation. The scourge of Capitalism and its tycoon barons will make their presence known.

For every ounce of reality in these arguments, much of it is steeped in our cultural mythology. Narratives passed down for generations that were relative to the individual telling the story. Neither version is wholly true or wholly false. Like every other country in the world we have a complicated history that is subject to constant reexamination aligned with changing times.

The purpose here is not to relitigate the past, but to look forward. To view American Exceptionalism as something to strive for, not something achieved. It’s time to drop the argument over whether or not America and its citizens are exceptional, and instead decide what needs to be done to make America exceptional. Or to keep America exceptional if you prefer.

How to do that will inevitably change over time, but right now, American Exceptionalism is being obstructed by two pressing issues: education and income inequality.

Income InequalityThere is broad agreement that income inequality is rising to levels not seen since the 1920s. Starting in the 1970s, incomes for those at the top started to separate from middle-class and lower income families. Since then, incomes for wealthy Americans have grown by 200%, while incomes for the rest of America grew by far less. Disproportionately affected are those at the bottom that saw a less than modest income rise of 40%.

Though correlation doesn’t always point to causation, it’s difficult to ignore statistics that point to blatant trends. Over the past three decades, The U.S. Council on Foreign Relations found that America fell from first to twelfth place in high school and college graduation rates compared to the rest of the world.

In 2012, the Organization for Economic and Cooperative Development discovered that the United States ranked 27th among its 34 participating countries in Mathematics, 17th in Reading, and 20th in Science. That same study examined the effects of socio-economic status and concluded that, “disadvantaged students show less engagement, drive, motivation and self-beliefs.”

More recently, a 2015 study of Millennials aged 16-34 determined that students in America fell behind the developed world overall, but the gaps in education between the wealthy and those in poverty were wider and more distinct.

American Exceptionalism depends on our ability to educate our citizens effectively, and coupling education with wealth is important in a Capitalistic society. The goal is to improve one’s quality of life by raising their standard of living; by allowing our citizens to improve their lives through their own volition. Education can be the great leveler in that equation if it leads to real world results, but lately that promise isn’t being fulfilled.

To compete globally and secure the potential of American Exceptionalism, we need to educate better and more effectively to every student from every background. More importantly, we need to prove to our young people that taking their education seriously and learning is worth the effort. If 18 years of education simply leads to debt and stagnation in the best case scenario, and poverty and dependence in the worst case, what’s the point?

How we solve these problems will take the effort of everyone. Federal and state governments will need to work together to improve education through more effective methods than regulatory and punitive funding. Businesses and corporations will need to reexamine profits and paychecks to tackle the problems they created in the distribution of wealth.

At the individual level, parents will need to take a more active role in their children’s education, and teachers will need to constantly test their methods and analyze their results. Finally, students will need to prioritize learning over everything else, because American Exceptionalism is only possible by our example.

We can lead the world by expanding the single, most important founding value of America: opportunity. For all their faults, our founders unified the country on a promise. A promise simply stating that anyone could improve their lives through education, that your position in life is dependent not on your status at birth, but your capacity to learn. American exceptionalism then, is not limited by its history, but defined by the people’s potential. That concept is what made America unique in the 18th Century, and it’s what will make America exceptional in the new millennium.

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TrollPatrol 7: A Countdown of the Worst People on Social Media This Week

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#10 Alexander has anger issues. #9 Translation: Mike plays Warcraft. #8 Bob understands pigs and acorns. I don’t. #7 Wait. What’s a “wall boner?” #6 Not everything deserves a hashtag. #5 Christopher Anthony thinks about things. Alot. #4 Does it … Continue reading

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Disturbing the Nest: My Brief Experience with the Bernie Sanders Revolution

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Call it an ad hoc anthropologic exercise. One minute you’re busily going through your daily routine, getting the kids breakfast, making sure they’re not setting fire to the furniture, the next you’re delving into the world of the Bernie Sanders Revolution on Facebook.

In early January, CSPAN posted a seemingly innocuous question on their Facebook page: “Democrats only: Who do you think will win the Iowa Caucuses next month?”

My response was simple: “Hillary Clinton. By a small margin.”

The attacks were swift and brutal. Within seconds I was labeled an unintelligent, corporate puppet, a sheep, a shill, and a host of other names I hadn’t been called since high school. Someone stated, “Funny, he doesn’t look retarded.”

I was floored.

I didn’t even say I wanted her to win, I just suggested she would. What the hell did I do wrong?

A Hive Mind and Swarm Intelligence

I soon learned that my experience wasn’t unique. Scrolling down, I witnessed other commentators being berated and humiliated in the same way. The Bernie supporters crowded the comment section with hashtags and long blocks of text, aggressively asserting the purity of their candidate over his opponent. They quickly dominated the conversation, leaving little room for anyone else.

I spent the next two months studying the habits of what some have called the “BernieBots,” and discovered that they behave like a hive of bees, often swarming their enemies in an array of familiar and predictable attacks, while protecting their queen; or in this case, their king. They move through Facebook as a mass, jumping from one post to the next, filling the comment sections with unsolicited rhetoric and ideology. It is impossible to ignore their buzz on the Internet.

The hive mind and swarm intelligence are not new ideas. Both were conceptualized as a way to describe the behavior of artificial and natural systems that work independently under a collective idea or common goal. In this case, the goal of the hive is to elect Bernie Sanders into the presidency and usher in a political revolution. The system is both artificial and natural. Its members are real people operating within the cybernetic online environment. Though the Sanders campaign has no formal association with the hive, it is at the center of its unorganized structure, and informally coordinates with its online presence when the need arises.

Membership in the hive isn’t limited to any specific category of age or gender. Though the notion prior to my investigation leaned in the direction of a predominately male makeup, I found all ages and genders represented in the collective. Economic and social class were impossible to determine. There is though, a lack of diversity reflective of the voting results in the democratic primary so far.

There are inconsistent degrees of participation. Some members of the hive will post sporadically, while others have made it their full time job. I was able to identify at least a core group of serial posters that made it a point to post duplicate comments on every political Facebook article from every major news outlet, newspaper, and cable news channel.

The Sanders swarm spams political news outlets with a mixture of facts and misinformation that they spread freely and without nuance. Online, they are running a separate campaign from Sanders that has little to do with his policies and everything to do with destroying the reputation and legacy of the collective’s favorite target: Hillary Clinton.

The hive can operate anywhere on Facebook, though it is worth noting that it has made a concerted effort to infiltrate posts made by the Clinton campaign and her supporters. Collective members instinctively take over the comment section of any post mentioning the Clinton name. This includes her husband and daughter.

The attacks vary by degree depending on the commentator. Some posters are content to use simple sexist remarks about Clinton’s appearance. “Hag” and “witch” are particularly popular. Others reorder Clinton’s name into derogatory terms like Shillary and HilLIARy. Hashtags are often created to attack Clinton personally (see #NotMyAbuela and #WhichHillary), but the hive also manipulates hashtags used by the Clinton campaign as a way of deriding her supporters (see #HillNo or #NotWithHer).

Another tactic used by the hive is to take a particular part of the news cycle and use it as an endless line of assault before an election. This first occurred just before the New Hampshire primary when Madeline Albright made the infamous, “Special place in hell . . .” comment. Sanders supporters also attempted to erode Clinton’s support among African-Americans by using the hashtag #IAmNotASuperPredator shortly before the South Carolina primary. Most recently, Clinton’s misguided comments about AIDS and the Reagan legacy are trending on Facebook and Twitter under the hashtag #HistoryByHillary.

Clinton’s history and record are under intense criticism by the hive. Her support of Henry Kissinger in a debate prompted a flurry of commentary, while the revelation of Sanders’ praise for Fidel Castro has gone largely unexamined. Members of the collective also blasted Clinton for being a “Goldwater Girl,” in her teens, but have defended an essay written by Sanders in 1972 that suggested women fantasize about being “raped by 3 men simultaneously.” This effort to relitigate the past is not merely limited to Clinton as an individual. She is also being held responsible for her husband’s policies and behavior while he held office in the 90s.

The hive acts aggressively when provoked by outsiders. Over the course of my two month investigation, I experimented with a variety of comments critical of Sanders and his policies. Unfavorable commentary towards Sanders or favorable conclusions about Clinton more or less produced the same response. Members of the hive attacked my intellect as subpar and below their standards. Followers of the movement often labelled me a millionaire or a paid employee of the Clinton campaign. I am neither.

If I remained passive the attacks became more brutal. Over time, I learned that the only way to defend myself was by meeting my aggressors with an equal measure of hostility. Any attempt at rational debate or discussion with the hive fell into a barrage of more insults, because the hive’s goal is to advance their agenda, not engage in discourse. There is a definite, “you’re either with us or against us,” mentality that is intolerant of opposing views. When faced with evidence that contradicts their assertions, they become dismissive and defensive.

Members frequently reminded me that it didn’t matter whether or not the attacks against Clinton were fair, or that Sanders’ policies had little chance of passing in Congress. All that mattered they stated, was the goal of a political revolution. One young man even quoted Machiavelli by simply writing back, “The end justifies the means . . .”

Insults and derogatory comments aren’t reserved to common individuals. Other enemies of the hive include groups and political figures that don’t implicitly subscribe to the collective’s agenda. Elizabeth Warren, a known sympathizer of Bernie Sanders’ cause, recently found herself besieged by Sanders supporters for refusing to endorse a candidate. The Human Rights Campaign currently has a 1.4 star rating on its Facebook page due to an influx of negative reviews from Sanders supporters angry at the activist group’s endorsement of Clinton.

Conspiracy theories are common. Any establishment organization critical of Sanders is assumed to be a financial contributor to the Clinton campaign. The DNC and Debbie Wasserman Schultz are said to have made Clinton the inevitable nominee. For proof, the hive points to debate schedules that were supposedly designed to limit voters’ exposure to Sanders. A petition calling for Wasserman Shultz’s resignation currently has over 57,000 signatures.

Under the collective’s consciousness the media is entirely delegitimized. Should a news outlet post an article critical of Sanders, a common reply is to simply state that, “Your bias is showing.” The hive also believes there is an intentional operation being orchestrated by the media to ignore Bernie Sanders in favor of Hillary Clinton. Other conspiracy theories include polling alterations, voting inconsistencies and Clinton campaign operatives supposedly suppressing the vote and stealing elections.

When Bill Clinton showed up to a polling location during the Massachusetts primary, Sanders supporters immediately began posting objections online. A petition to have Bill Clinton arrested and charged for this supposed crime currently has over 100,000 signatures. Similar protestations have occurred in the close contests of Iowa and Nevada.

Conclusion

This very unscientific experiment is designed to expose the new culture of division being created in the political environment of 2016. Though critical, the intention of this piece is to acknowledge the movement’s impact on the social media environment which has become its own dimension in contemporary politics. Similar patterns can be seen in the habits of Donald Trump supporters, though a more thorough investigation would need to be done to confirm the theory that they share the same characteristics.

I’ll leave it to history and others to pass judgment on this experiment’s legitimacy or its importance. Anyone can test or verify my conclusions by simply spending an hour on Clinton’s Facebook page or the Facebook page of any news media source covering Clinton.

The questions that remain concern the future. What happens to the Bernie Sanders hive should he lose the nomination? A large number of members have already committed to a #BernieOrBust movement, pledging to never vote for Clinton. Their alternative they say, is to write-in Bernie Sanders or vote for the Green Party candidate instead.

If Sanders wins, it is assumed that collective members will move its swarm to the Republican nominee. In perhaps a preview of things to come, violence erupted this weekend during a Trump rally. Though disputed by the Sanders campaign, it does appear that the Sanders hive played a critical role in organizing the protest that shut down the rally. In a short video posted to YouTube, protesters can be heard chanting, “Ber-nie, Ber-nie, Ber-nie.” Members of the collective are also taking credit for the results, and some Sanders campaign operatives are encouraging their supporters not to attend future rallies.

Whatever happens, it is doubtful that the hive will simply disperse and move on before or after November’s election. Many members are too invested to go quietly into obscurity. My opinion is that we ignore them at our own peril. What we risk is creating another generation of apathetic voters angry at the establishment and frustrated by the process. Instead, we need to find a way to engage them that breaks through their stubborn attitudes and welcomes them in so we can all work together.

Sadly, the only thing that may satisfy the hive is getting their way.

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