Politics is religion and Bernie is a smart missionary
Many progressives are understandably upset by Bernie’s post-endorsement rhetoric. Has he finally thrown in the towel? Has he sold out? Or is there some other explanation?
Before answering this question, I would like to propose that political parties are basically secular religions. Their membership is based more on group identity and boundary-maintenance than individual opinion. The average party members feels a sense of patriotism for the home team and believes with conviction that they have a monopoly on truth and redemption, while members of the other team are regarded as infidels.
Bernie understands this close connection between politics and group identity which is why he has chosen to play the part of a good Democrat. He understands that to further his agenda, it is imperative to fight for it from the inside. Therefore, he has made his top priority to stay on the inside. Even if that means doing something as distasteful as endorsing Clinton, he does what he must. It’s not because he has sold out and it’s not because he was threatened. His agenda are pure, but his methods are not.
Bernie is playing the game of politics and he understands that if he gets his message across to the average person, that will make the biggest difference. Bernie thinks like a smart missionary. Missionaries understand that when you are trying to convert a group to your religion, you have to go native. You have to mimic their culture and customs and draw parallels that make the hoped-for conversion seem like only one short step away. To this end, Bernie plays the part of a good Democrat, both to appease the party whose mercy he is at, and to avoid alienating his broadest audience. Despite being between a rock and a hard place, he has never wavered on his true mission—to wake the American people up to the central importance of class.
Therein lies the main difference between Bernie and Jill Stein. Someone like Jill Stein did speak directly to the most woke progressives. That's why we loved her. But because her message did not resonate with the average person, she did not do very well in the general election. Jill was pure in her thoughts and in her actions. Bernie does not pass the purity tests that Greens and other progressives arbitrarily set for him, but this does not make him a sellout.
Bernie has taken a more pragmatic approach and he deserves our respect for that. That does not mean we should follow him. Bernie is not our leader and Bernie is the first to admit that—his campaign slogan, after all, was “Not me, us”. Those who are calling Bernie a sellout accuse those of us who still respect him of idolizing him. The irony, however, is that the only reason anyone would feel so let down by him is because THEY idolize him by expecting something superhuman out of him. It’s an unreasonable expectation—Bernie is a politician and he always has been.
Bernie’s heroic efforts woke so many of Americans up to the taboo topic of class. Our national conversation has shifted thanks to one man. The genie is out of the bottle and there’s nothing the establishment can do to put it back.
Bernie is not our leader. He is a politician, but he started a movement, and deserves the respect of progressives. While purging corporatists, progressives need to unify, and every movement needs a patron saint. Bernie is the best we have.