The Battle of New York: Our New Reality

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STATESBORO, GEORGIA – As I type this, Bernie Sanders is holding court in Vermont and questioning the legitimacy of the New York Democratic Primary. Bested by his rival Secretary Hillary Clinton, Sanders’ campaign was dealt what many are now calling a deathblow and, at the very least, a setback that now narrows his path to victory.

Already a historical race, historians will sift through the ashes of the 2016 Election in the future and many will hold up tonight’s results as the moment Clinton cemented her nomination and eventual presidency. They’ll say this was the point at which Sanders may have had his last chance to change the trajectory, with the possible exception of a miracle in California, and with his home-state loss tonight it was the end of an insurgent campaign that outperformed expectations, outraised estimations, and frankly, scared the living shit out of the Democratic establishment.

When the autopsy is long past and the DNC has effectively consumed and digested the fundraising apparatus, taking the time to retrofit whatever it was that spurred Bernie forward to the usual Dem fare, the record will show a handful of missteps that sunk the so-called political revolution in New York.

There was Sanders’ ludicrously questioning whether his opponent, one of the most of the uniquely experienced and qualified candidates in history, was capable of the job.

A trip to Vatican City that peculiarly coincided with the final push.

An increasingly negative tone that might’ve rubbed undecideds the wrong way just when he needed to court them.

And logistically there was a misunderstanding of New York’s inflexible primary rules, including an insistence that all party changes be registered in October, an almost unbelievable requirement the campaign didn’t get around to understanding until roughly a month ago.

They all contributed to the loss, but what won’t be written, what most people won’t know, is the secret war that’s transpired over the past three weeks and threatened to tear the Democratic Party, not to mention the presidential race, in two.

***

Let’s talk about reality.

Or rather, let’s talk about the malleable nature of reality.

It is, at its most very base level, what we see on a daily basis. The things we feel, the things we taste, the things we hear. In politics, reality is wrongly considered to be what we see on the television, even if we realize while watching it that we’re being lied to and misled. It’s the suspension of disbelief we offer our politicians in exchange for the guarantee, or at least the promise, that they won’t torch this civilization to the ground.

This is a business of optics, of photo opportunities and sound bites and delicately pruned answers. This is the field that brought us spin, the phrase “on-message.” And the very practice of politics is the bending of reality based on personality and sheer will.

New York was a battleground this month and the stakes, though always high, were raised on the back of Bernie Sanders’ gaining momentum with a string of victories that changed the narrative from Clinton’s ascension to the possibility this race could very well veer into uncharted territory.

Think back, if you will, to Clinton’s victory in Florida and her call to unite the party under her leadership. It was seen as a conciliatory gesture, a sign that Bernie should come home and end the contest with grace. All of the talk was how Clinton would bring Democrats under her big tent and coast to November. That Pax Democrata lasted under a month and was shattered with Sanders’ victory in Wisconsin, an upset that led to Clinton asserting, just days after the results, that Sanders might not even be a Democrat.

That’s when the cold war found it’s beginnings, but it ran hot in no time at all as New York was seen as the final battleground, a moment where the race could either be won or lost, and Clinton’s team was especially wary of repeating the losses of 2008.

According to sources within the campaign, the Battle For New York was fought under the radar of cable news, mass media, and outside the focus of voters themselves. It was a new kind of campaigning that Barack Obama, one of the most innovative politicians ever, only touched on.

This was a victory sewn in social media and underlined with an emphasis on viral marketing, an emphasis that could very well undercut Clinton’s chief weakness, a widespread perception that she’s not trustworthy, a perception that American corporations have been fighting tooth and nail for generations now.

***

Nearly thirty thousand people packed Washington Park in New York City and popular rumor says another thirty couldn’t get in. It was the type of spectacle the Sanders campaign has proven to be so effective at arranging. He’s drawn thousands in Boston, Seattle, Colorado, Wisconsin, Minneapolis, and they’ve been the kinds of displays that have bolstered his candidacy into a bona fide uprising.

In reality, or rather “reality,” which is the world as a politician would like us to see it, these have been evidence of Bernie’s growing popularity, a ground swelling of support that’s raised him from stuffy UAW halls to the heights of national attention.

In actual reality these have been displays for the national media and social media sites that have repeated the story ad nauseum until his legitimacy as a contender has been affirmed. The Washington Park rally, and every rally before it, served as expensive reality-changers, moments in which those considering Bernie would finally think their vote wouldn’t be wasted. It gave those leaning his way permission to pull the lever and it bought him a considerable share of support and possibly the control of the future of the Democratic Party.

Clinton, though she has enjoyed sizable crowds, has never appreciated large rooms. It’s been an understood preference for two decades now that Hillary doesn’t enjoy speaking over the roar of a crowd and would rather interact person-to-person in an intimate setting. Her narrative is that of presumptive nominee, or it has been anyway, and that narrative has solidified a solid thirty percent of the electorate, leaving at least another twenty to twenty-five percent to be won on campaigning.

So far this cycle very few narratives have worked for the Clinton Campaign. There is no one issue it’s found that gains them numbers, with the possible exception of gun control, which has found traction of late, and no personal narrative has soaked into the media. Rather, an upset-minded chatter class has preferred the constant insanity of Donald Trump and Sanders’ growing tide.

In all honesty, Sanders deserves his fair share of the blame for opening the door for Clinton’s successful strategy. Not long after he rhetorically questioned Clinton’s readiness to assume the presidency, a source of mine texted Bern just stepped in a pile of shit and he doesn’t even know it yet.

That pile was even deeper than he may have realized.

***

The term “Bernie Bros” was coined by New York Magazine to describe a certain type of Sanders supporter who showed misogynistic traits. After its invention the phrase took off and eventually peaked in February, almost immediately following Bernie’s landslide victory in New Hampshire, a victory that narrowed Clinton’s lead and turned the contest into an actual race.

There have been arguments as to whether the term was valid, a debate that centered around critics’ assertion it was political fodder and had no basis in reality, but nobody can argue how effective it was at tamping down at least the crown of enthusiasm moderates, or independents, might’ve had in supporting his candidacy.

The term went into hibernation last month after Clinton’s victory, but has come back in full force as the Battle For New York intensified. People inside the campaign have signaled that Sanders’ questioning of Clinton’s capabilities, along with the raucous debate last week in the Brooklyn shipyard, opened the door for their reigniting of the Bernie Bros phenomena, a subtle but effective operation that resuscitated the meme and put the Sanders team on their heels.

The embers that remained from the meme took hold again in the past week and a half, primarily following stoking from the Clinton campaign, both in the form of targeted mailers and surrogates like Claire McCaskill and Clinton’s own daughter Chelsea, and gave birth to a slew of Bernie Bro’s-like articles that featured voters describing their apprehensions with Sanders.

That strategy paid off wildly and was enough to stall any momentum Sanders might have enjoyed heading into New York. It might’ve helped had Bernie not stepped into that pile of shit, but ultimately he was unable to right the ship because his campaign is antiquated politics, save for the fundraising apparatus, which is as state-of-the-art as advertised, while Clinton and company has managed to harness the most reality-bending tool humanity has ever created: the Internet.

While Sanders may have created the appearance of a revolution gaining steam, Clinton’s move painted that revolution as one you might reconsider joining.

While Sanders may have drawn record crowds, the Clinton campaign focused the laser-like stare of social media and reminded voters of who else was enjoying the adoration of passionate masses: Donald Trump.

It was a masterstroke and it probably won her the presidency.

***

Currently it’s forty-six in Burlington, Vermont, but I have to assume it feels a lot colder to Bernie Sanders. Waiting for him at the airport was the assembled press of Vermont, a problem considering he left his national press corps in Pennsylvania without so much as a goodbye. I have to imagine what he’s seeing is the plateau of an upsurge that might’ve changed the very face of America.

Bernie Sanders is, if nothing else, an authentic ideologue who said what he meant and meant what he said. His intention, as he reminded us time and time again, was to even the playing field between the haves and the have-nots, a war between everyday Americans and the millionaires and billionaires, an unfair fight if there’s ever been one. He genuinely intended to shake the system he’s been fighting his entire life to the ground. What he didn’t expect was for the system to adapt and change so quickly, so completely.

There are problems with the Clinton campaign, primarily in its inability to face moments of difficulty without moving in a nearly infinite number of directions, but you have to say this: this is cutting-edge shit that we’ve never even imagined before. It’s smart and it’s inventive and, perhaps most importantly, it’s virtually indistinguishable from reality.

 

Photo by Paul Stein




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About Author

A born and bred Hoosier, Jared Yates Sexton is the author of An End to All Things (2012, Atticus Books), The Hook and the Haymaker (2015, Split Lip Press), and Bring Me the Head of Yorkie Goodman (2015, New Pulp Press). He currently serves as an Assistant Professor of Creative Writing at Georgia Southern University.

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