Bernie and Hillary

Facing the Democratic divide

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Yes, we abhor Donald Trump. We care about the planet. We support women’s right to choose. We want equal rights for the LGBT community. And on and on and on.

The left in America uses these shared values to pretend we aren’t also deeply divided.

The divide is real. If we can be honest about anything, let’s be honest about that.

The divide is real.

Some of us believe Hillary Clinton was a deeply flawed candidate and that the Democratic Party clearly showed undue favor to her. They think that her ideology – the dominant ideology of the party for decades – itself is flawed and a core reason for the party’s ongoing failures. The only way to move forward is to fundamentally reimagine what it means to be a Democrat, to come up with a bold new platform.

Others believe quite the opposite. They believe that Bernie Sanders and his supporters are dividing us, calling for too much too soon. They think that calls for a more socialistic economy will inevitably turn more conservative voters against progressive values, weakening the coalition. They believe that far-left leaning progressives should just be content with someone who is liberal (and not Trump, Pence, or Paul Ryan), and wait for incremental progress to work its magic.

This divide was a defining feature of the 2016 election. As much as we despised Trump, we didn’t quite like our own “side” either, did we? Bernie supporters couldn’t stomach exerting too much energy to support Clinton. And Clinton supporters couldn’t ever quite admit that the DNC primary process and the Clinton campaign were deeply flawed.

I won’t lie. Generally speaking, I fall in with the Bernie Sanders crowd. To me, it seems the same old strategies are going to get the same old results. I want to see real change.

But the problem is that spouting this argument over and over doesn’t seem to be helpful. Each side has been saying their piece for years now and to no avail. We are stuck in an argument that we can’t get out of.

If we keep rehashing the same old arguments at each other, we’ll just stay stuck. All the while, we’ll be missing an important opportunity to win back influence as Trump and the Republicans prove themselves over and over to be unfit to govern.

I don’t have the answer.

But I do know the first step is simply admitting that there’s a divide. We need to admit that we are growing to distrust, and maybe even despise, one another. We are seeing another polarization within a polarization featuring all the same dynamics we’ve come to see between the American left and right: contempt, ridicule, purity tests, an assumption of bad intentions, and blame. The same rules apply. We can’t – or aren’t really willing to – see the argument from the other side.


How will the left face this? Will we simply dig in deeper and deeper and hope one side prevails before Trump does too much damage? Or will we find a new way forward, one that somehow finds a way for both sides to be seen and respected, and ultimately work together?


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Peter Schulte

Peter Schulte is the founder and editor of Kindling. Peter is also Senior Digital Engagement Associate for the Pacific Institute and the UN Global Compact's CEO Water Mandate, connecting businesses to sustainable water practices. Peter holds a B.S. in Conservation and Resource Studies and a B.A. in Comparative Literature from University of California, Berkeley, and an M.B.A. in Sustainable Systems from Pinchot University. He lives in Bellingham, WA, USA with his wife, son, and cat.

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