The Curious Case of the Bernie 2016 Bumper Sticker

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As I was driving on the freeway, I noticed a “Bernie 2016” bumper sticker on the car before me. For a second, I wondered why the driver hadn’t replaced it with a sticker for “Bernie 2020”, but then I thought he didn’t have to, because the old sticker implies support for the current campaign, too . . . or does it? Is it possible that the driver changed his mind in the last four years? Might he have moved on to another presidential candidate, another progressive? If so, then I want to know what made him change his mind. Was he swept up in the wave of faux feminist hysteria and turned towards a symbol like Warren? Did he submit to the procrustean pragmatism of the old left and fall behind a classical actor like Biden? Wherever he went, I can only hope he abandoned Bernie Sanders because of the scandalous revelations of the summer of 2016.

In the summer of 2016, we learned that none of the votes for Sanders actually mattered, that all of the canvassing and contributing and campaigning comprised a colossal waste of time, action, and thought. The totality of energy, physical as well as psychical, had been negated long before the first spark. Under the direction of Hillary Clinton, Debbie Wasserman Schultz and her henchmen had infiltrated the Democratic National Committee, dismantled it, and rebuilt it. Their blueprint was simple: to open every passage leading toward a primary victory for Clinton and to close every channel accessible to any other candidate. It didn’t matter how many people voted for the other guy—or, more to the point, how few voted for Clinton. Every possible scenario ended exclusively in Clinton’s victory; no possible scenario ended in her loss.

You really have to admire the attention to detail, the comprehensive strength of this system of pure authoritarianism. It is respectable because it maintains for the plebian the illusion of choice, the delusion of democratic freedom! If historians are true to their intellectual conscience, then Clinton will someday take her place among the great tyrants of time. For now, historians are too squeamish even to look on this scheme, short-lived as it was, and to accept its meaning. Are they blind to the thousands who gathered to see Sanders march us into a new progressive age? Are they deaf to the roars of these same thousands as he shouted to the degenerates on Wall Street, “Your time is up!” Are they unable to repeat these same thousands’ damning words when they realized that all of their work had been in vain, that they had been forcibly and directly prevented from accomplishing their goal?

It is one thing to be told, as every political idealist has, that the collective clout of popular opinion, or even the artificial ardor of manufactured consent, is too much to overcome. It is quite another to discover that our so-called democratic system disallows such action, that the structure has been altered to prevent public action. And it is yet another to receive such disheartening news after the fact, after one has acted as if one had volition or will, as if one had a say! The hour has grown too late for peaceful resignation or cynical acceptance; now there are victims, injured parties who will seek redress, retribution to be made at the expense of the wrongdoers.

The damage can be symbolized by the bumper sticker reading “Bernie 2016”. It captures the cause that was a con and the millions who were defrauded, including, of course, the candidate himself. The man who drove that car on the freeway today is one of the countless victims of Clinton’s grand scheme, so why does he still display the bumper sticker that is a testament to this cruelty? Does it serve as a tombstone, commemorating an ill-fated spirit that has passed away? If so, then I wonder if this memory endures in mourning—or in wrath?

Is it a scar that he exposes as a warning to himself, and possibly to others, lest the same injury be suffered again? If so, then I wonder if he has taken his cue from the gangster who, as Biggie Smalls reports, tattooed the phrase “Nothing to Lose” around his gunshot wounds. We can all respect the fearless sentiment, but I caution the man with the bumper sticker to recall that, as the gangster sat in confidence and calm, Biggie approached with his merciless gang.

I prefer to think he has borrowed a page from Hawthorne, wearing the letters of political sin—not his own sin, but the tragic infidelity of Bernie Sanders. When Clinton’s antidemocratic machinery was revealed, Sanders refused to condemn it, even as an abstract concept; au contraire, he went out of his way to campaign for Clinton, thereby facilitating—and, had Clinton won, completing—the fascistic process whereof he was the most prominent victim. Try as the oligarchical apologists might to justify this shameless self-prostration politically, they cannot excuse Sanders personally, nor can they expiate the disenfranchisement of the millions who supported him. There is no way to sidestep this transgression gracefully, for its traumatic memory endures. So the bumper sticker proves, still in public view more than three years later.

If we are going to repurpose the “Bernie 2016” bumper sticker as an icon of political satire, then I suggest we take the concept one step further and white out everything except the year “2016”. The alabaster blotting would convey the erasure of political participation, as well as the corresponding crime of that erasure, from the historical record. The media’s suspicious silence, the endless white noise pervading the airwaves, on this issue is captured in the empty frost, as well, leaving us with the ghostly proof of an overwritten past. The only problem is that they who are unfamiliar with all of this would not glean from the defaced sticker alone what had happened to Bernie Sanders—but then again, that’s the point.

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