Unfinished Business (#9)

As we witnessed the Democratic National Convention, there remain serious differences that divide the supporters of Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders. While in presidential elections past, it has been taken for granted that progressive members of the Democratic Party would pledge their support to the nominee by the end of the convention — and that the Democratic Left would have no where else to go in November — the differences in values has become entrenched after an acrimonious primary season.

Anyone who reads through political discussion sites on the internet might safely conclude that Team Clinton and the Sanders Revolution speak very different languages. Some people on both sides have purposely insulted their primary opposition; based upon my readings in the past year, the Clinton camp showed far more disrespect to the Sanders’s people, than Sanders’s people to the Clinton supporters. This has continued, even after the Clinton’s hired former Sanders’s political operatives, and Senator Sanders has semi-endorsed Hillary, by committing to defeat Donald Trump.

Adding her vice presidential pick to the ticket hurt. Yet, the hiring of the disgraced Debbie Wasserman Shultz on her campaign was simply terrible. It reflects the Clinton’s values and intentions.

Still, the Clinton team seems genuinely confused as to why Hillary has not gained the support of the Sanders Revolution. Perhaps it would be worthwhile to consider what in sociology are known as the three types of “authority.” These were best defined by Max Weber in his writings in 1919-1920, specifically his wonderful essay “Politics as a Vocation.” These include traditional, bureaucratic, and charismatic authority.

Traditional authority is most closely associated with pre-industrial societies, where people tend to do things the way that previous generations of their tribe or clan did. Bureaucratic authority is found in larger, industrial or high-tech societies. Weber also identified this as “legal-rational authority. Charismatic authority has been found in both traditional and bureaucratic systems, when an individual of unusual personal characteristics creates a movement to reform the social system. Each of the three types has potential strengths and weaknesses.

There have been aspects of each of these three during the Democratic Party’s 2016 primary season. My family, for example, has been active in the Democratic Party for generations; I have only voted for the party’s candidate in presidential elections. However, as the party has shifted to the right in recent decades, progressives like myself find the bureaucratic structure unresponsive to its traditional values. Thus, the Sanders campaign — which spoke to the values and offered the opportunity to reform the system — held an attraction that Hillary Clinton simply can not.

The former Sanders campaign aides who now work for Clinton are part of the current bureaucratic system. Their priories are not rooted in values — instead, they seek employment opportunities within the bureaucracy. In effect, they are like ball players traded to another team, or the reporters who go from MSNBC to CNN or Fox. This is distinct from the millions of progressives who volunteered with the campaign, because Bernie spoke to their values. And those values create a sense of loyalty to a cause, which simply cannot be “traded” or sold to the Clinton team.

The second sociological dynamic we should consider is the public’s identity in social groups. These are usually nationality, economic class, and political party. For example, in times of national crises, it is common for people to identify as “Americans.” Indeed, in times past, if the US was involved in a military conflict, even politicians in Washington held that differences of opinion ended at our shores. While in other nations, socio-economic class has created a united front with common interests, that has not tended to be the American experience.

Among the divides between the Clinton and Sanders’s camps is an economic canyon. If you are doing okay today, you might favor Clinton. But for millions of Americans who are being crushed financially — through no fault of their own, but rather by a global economy endorsed by Hillary — she is part of the establishment that is incapable of providing true social justice.

Finally, let’s consider the three general concepts of “progress.” These include the idea that things go in cycles. This is an understanding that was/ is common in traditional societies. And it was central to Kennedy family historian Arthur Schlesinger, Jr.’s ideas on politics in the 1950’s and 60’s.

The belief in evolutionary change is common within bureaucratic cultures. It was, in fact, a system first identified by ancient Chinese culture: to identify the wants and needs most common to the largest number of people, and gear the system to meet those needs. Weber believed that bureaucracy was in itself an evolutionary step forward, as the earth’s population increased.

Movements led by charismatic figures tend to be invested in conflict to bring about change. This can be divided into several sub-groups. The most important, for our consideration, are those dedicated to bringing about non-violent change. The historic examples of Gandhi and King illustrated how by using creative tensions, a non-violent group could bring about positive changes. Tactics include boycotts, direct actions, non-cooperation, and more.

Certainly, there are areas where the interests of supporters of Clinton and Sanders overlap. Without question, a percentage of Sanders’s supporters will vote for Hillary in November. Likewise, a percentage will not. An obvious variable is if one is a member of the Democratic Party, or a non-party member of the Democratic Left. Indeed, the three types of identification listed in this essay result in nine different — all valid — choices for who people will vote for in November. The only sure thing is that the only wasted vote is the one that goes un-cast.

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