Conservative columnist Philip Klein has a question that he turns into a taunt. The headline of his piece is: “Where are all the Never Bernie Democrats?” And he suggests that it’s because Democrats don’t quite have the moral fiber of the Never Trump Republicans of four years ago.
Klein acknowledges the the kvetching you hear from Bernie-phobic Democrats is mostly based on doubts about his electability, not his character or his compatibility with what Democrats generally want. But to him that’s an indictment:
Sure, there are plenty of liberals panicking about the prospect of a Sanders nomination. But the arguments are primarily focused on his electability or about how his plans would never pass through the Senate. Nobody is arguing, as Never Trumpers did, that they would refuse to vote for Sanders were he the nominee.
It was a big deal for many of the 2016 Never Trumpers who followed through on their threat and refrained from voting for Trump. The Democratic nominee was not only a liberal but one of the most corrupt politicians in the United States. Hillary Clinton had, for decades, been one of the most disliked figures among conservatives. Yet many of them still rose up and took a stand against Trump, even if it meant losing friends and influence, and opposing a candidate who was promising to appoint conservative judges and cut taxes.
So to Klein, this is evidence that Democrats share Bernie’s dark socialistic plans for America, and are not troubled by his views unless they result in defeat. He’s half-right in that Democratic objections to Sanders are not generally based on any misperception that this mild-mannered and irenic man has authoritarian tendencies, or that he’d wreck the economy or the country as a whole. The idea that Sanders is the “Trump of the Left” is not one shared by Democrats, which is all the more reason that in a contest with the actual Trump, Democrats will support Bernie in a heartbeat.
I would hope that Never Trump Republicans were and are repulsed by the mogul’s deeply unprincipled nature; Sanders is principled almost to a fault. Trump is the consummate bully, forever demeaning his enemies as quasi-subhuman and the powerless as “losers.” Unless you think Bernie is cruel to the poor pitiful billionaires of America, he doesn’t have a bullying bone in his body. Trump is a pathological liar. Sanders isn’t always right, but he doesn’t have a long history of telling lies. Trump is an incorrigible sexist with a trail of sexual assault and abuse allegations against him as long as the many NDAs he’s forced on his accusers. The worst anyone can say of Sanders on this front is that he’s unknowingly employed sexual harassers, like virtually everyone else in this sinful nation. Trump constantly, and with malice and forethought, exacerbates racial tensions while refusing to condemn racists. Sanders is entirely innocent of prejudice aimed at any race or ethnicity.
Trump divides the country deliberately in order to protect the wealthy and powerful. To the extent Sanders is divisive, it’s on behalf of those who need help. Trump is bellicose and glories in killing and torturing people. Sanders is pacific and yearns not just for the unstable peace of a terrified world but for the constant deescalation of conflict into diplomacy.
Klein tries to argue that Bernie is as much a threat to Democratic norms as the 45th president, trotting out the usual business about the Soviet honeymoon, the friendliness toward Latin American Marxists, and his association with the Squad (whom Klein calls “the most bigoted figures on the left,” which if true is quite a testament to the virtues of the left). But in real and recent life Sanders has been a Senate institutionalist and a steady champion for more, not less, democracy at home and abroad — the exact reverse of Trump, who explicitly regards himself as beyond the law, has contempt for voting rights and popular majorities, and almost exclusively admires dictators among his presidential peers. Has Sanders ever dropped a hint that he’d use the power of government to suppress hostile media voices (with which he has had many of)? Trump issues threats to “fake media” almost daily.
About the worst thing I can say about Sanders is that there’s a fringe element of his support base — often known colloquially as Bernie Twitter — that engages in hateful and unethical political attacks on occasion. But Bernie does not encourage that behavior, in sharp contrast to Trump, who models it, praises it and directly encourages it in regular mass rallies with all the trappings of — yes, it’s unmistakable — 20th-century fascism. Much as I personally sometimes dislike the Bernie Bros, I’d far rather see them in proximity to power — alongside the many Sanders supporters who are as fair-minded as anyone you’d meet — than the venal gang surrounding Trump, who manages to inspire them to new lows every time he tweets.
Klein is correct in attributing Never Trump sentiment to matters not of ideology but of “his character, his fitness for office, his lies, his abrasive statements that at times crossed into sexism, and the way his rhetoric portrayed immigrants as disproportionately violent.” The idea that Bernie Sanders reflects any of those maleficent qualities takes false equivalence to whole new levels.
It’s the very lack of equivalence between these two men that makes it a no-brainer for Democrats who may disagree with Sanders on health care or on tax policy, on Israel or on trade, on financial regulation or on the defense budget, to support him strongly if he is the Democratic nominee against Trump. And if Never Trumpers use this false equivalence as an excuse to crawl back into the cramped and foul tent that the president has made of their party, then they deserve the punishment they will earn in defeat or dishonor.