I’m not sure who I will cast my ballot for in November, let alone in the Michigan primary. I have a Bernie sticker on my laptop and a Hillary magnet on my fridge. I am constantly learning more about each candidate, while also balancing my pragmatic feelings from a tactical strategic perspective. This article is not about endorsing a candidate. Sanders and Clinton will both need to produce more convincing evidence to inspire my allegiance.  

Last week, when the results were rolling in and the caucus-goers of Iowa felt a similar split, resulting in only a 0.2 percent win for Hillary Clinton over Bernie Sanders, I felt my tentativeness was justified. Eagerly, I turned to social media to hear how everyone else had reacted to the news. What I stumbled upon was not a united liberal front excited that two candidates had proven viability, furthering the discourse of economic inequalities and women’s rights and looking to expand protections for minority groups. Instead, I found rhetoric barely deserving of that term. It was acrid and not politically engaging or smart. It was a verbal assault on the supporters of Clinton by the supporters of Sanders.

“Bernie Bros,” as certain media outlets have deemed them, are the passionate, often young and often (but not always) male supporters of Sanders. These people are very active on social media, and while many supporters of Sanders have followed his lead in a mostly positive campaign focused on issues of substance, this subset digresses. There are varying degrees of comments sponsored by “Bernie Bros,” from portrayal of all Clinton supporters as robotic, to insisting that Ms. Clinton was vehemently arrogant in her claim of victory at the caucus. 

The Sanders campaign, which employs many people of politically underrepresented backgrounds, has asked its supporters several times to “#FeelTheBern respectfully,” but the damage has already been done.

Clinton has been the brunt of overwhelming amounts of hate in her time as a public official. She has been called every name and criminalized with every action — and some of these characterizations were valid, policy-based criticisms. But why is it that her appearance is constantly policed, while Mr. Sanders is able to show up with his unkempt white hair? Why is it that “likability” is such a huge part of journalism surrounding Ms. Clinton, but people rarely wonder if Bernie is charming enough to be electable?

Then there is the gross meme that implores people to compare Sanders and Clinton on the real issues, which sounds innocuous enough. The format of the meme is such: a text box at the top populated with the issue du jour, photos of the two Democrats side by side, and text boxes below each of their photos stating their respective opinions. Some of them are passively funny, the kind of joke you smirk at out of recognition, not real humor. The thing is, we’re not voting for a president based on their comedic chops. If we were, I think Trump would’ve been ironically instituted as supreme leader already.

Sadly, this meme becomes discomforting extremely quickly. Sanders is depicted as a wild, crazy, cool dude’s dude who is vaguely high at all times. He’s shown as the kind of guy you’d find on Reddit getting way too excited about Radiohead. He’s the bro who’s blowing your mind with Marxist theory freshman year, because of course you’ve never heard of it before, while you’re sitting by him on the stained, dusty carpet of the staircase at a house party. Clinton is depicted as a 67-year-old woman who has worked in government for decades and not done much other than deal with testifying before Congress and work on her campaign before watching The Good Wife at night.

These portrayals aren’t equal. Sanders has been involved in government for 34 years, beginning with an eight-year mayoral term in Burlington, followed by 16 years in the House, and nearly 10 years in the Senate. He’s been in government for a long time, dealing with issues, not with Pokémon. Let’s recognize that. Let’s acknowledge that all things equal, Sanders and Clinton are both veterans in American politics.

Why is she depicted as a boring old woman and he gets to be a carefree hip guy? It’s not only unfair — it’s stupid. Clinton, and women online everywhere, have tried to portray themselves in certain ways — only to face criticisms at every turn. Sanders is better than that. I implore his supporters to be better than that, too.

Sanders has tried to frame this campaign as a positive one, and has stated his interest in discussing the real problems faced by real Americans. This meme from his supporters does neither. It, along with the derogatory online interactions, drags the goals set by the Sanders campaign to a despicably low standard.

I think it says something real about the power of the “Bernie Bro” culture that I am hesitant and even a little scared to write this piece. And I agree with Sanders on many issues! Publicly granting Clinton a right to dignity and equal treatment online should be a given. My ability to have enthusiasm about more than one candidate should be a great victory for the Democratic Party’s strong contenders. Instead, these social media norms make my stomach sink. I feel like if I say these things, I will be chalked up as “just another feminist” who is influenced by “big money.” That is a serious problem.

Despite my amazement with Sanders’ ability to raise his campaign funds from individual contributors, his long history of supporting gay rights and the phenomenon of his jump from a 62-point trail to a dead heat with Clinton, I have a really hard time identifying with his movement. When a vocal portion of his supporters is so clearly committed to firing antagonisms into the Internet, I am being burned by “the Bern.”

I cannot consciously align myself with a movement that sours my conscience, no matter how I feel about it intellectually. That may be a fault of my political identity and, as some could perceive it, sensitivity. But I’m not alone in these reservations, and the Sanders campaign will need to surmount this in order to secure my (currently wavering) vote for the primary.

Madeline Nowicki can be reached at nowickim@umich.edu.

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