“What’s actually making them mad? Let’s lay it out in ten easy steps:
1. Many of Clinton’s supporters were politically progressive before this election, and would have been quite happy with a presidential candidate like Elizabeth Warren. Happier, actually, because she embodied their beliefs—especially in the economic realm—in a way that Clinton did not. It’s the self-identified progressives, as opposed to the actual centrists, are the ones displaying the most anger today.
2. These progressive voters seized on Clinton’s candidacy based largely on identity politics. They wanted a female president, and the emergence of Sanders’ candidacy was a complicating nuisance, coming after they’d committed ideologically.
3. At the same time, they didn’t want to believe that they were supporting a war hawk and a fiscal conservative, because that ran against their progressive ideals. Life was better when Clinton was the only viable non-Republican option, because they didn’t have to explain themselves.
4. On some level, they recognized that their politics were more closely aligned with Bernie. Nevertheless, identity politics kept them in Clinton’s camp.
5. In order to erase the cognitive dissonance and justify their support to themselves, they employed several strategies, like falsely attributing widespread sexism to Sanders supporters, and trying to paint them as exclusively male in an attempt to efface the vast majority of young women and people of color who backed him. If Bernie and all his people were covert misogynists, then their progressivism was phony, and it was okay to support Hillary. It also erased the need to discuss real issues—a convenient out, since Hillary’s political history doesn’t stack up well from a progressive standpoint.
6. By muddying the waters, they could convince themselves that in reality, there wasn’t much policy difference between the two.
7. Adding Elizabeth Warren as an ally made them feel good, because it reinforced that idea—if a true progressive is supporting our candidate, it must be okay.
8. After Clinton won, and Bernie began to fight for the platform, the cognitive dissonance began to rear its ugly head once again. A look at the finer points revealed the truth mentioned above—that if you support Clinton, you’re also on the side of fracking, free trade, carbon pollution, increased fossil fuel drilling, non-universal health care, and a frozen minimum wage. Again, this had the potential to make them question their progressive bona fides.
9. They didn’t want to feel like political centrists, much less fiscal, environmental, and foreign policy conservatives, so yet again, they had to drum up anger against Sanders. Sexism wouldn’t work this time, so the narrative shifted—Bernie is arrogant, Bernie is presumptuous, Bernie should just shut up and pretend everything is hunky-dory.
10. In this way, their self-conception is preserved, and the narrative is once again shifted away from actual policy. The dominant discussion is not whether fracking is a good thing that should go on indefinitely, but whether Bernie Sanders is hurting the country and the party by being a stick in the mud.
It’s a pretty impressive act of self-delusion. This is how certain progressives, faced with a real chance to change the country, have betrayed their own politics—and in many cases, their own generation—and handed the presidential election to neoliberals that will inevitably disappoint them. The only way to avoid looking in the mirror, it turns out, is to remain in a state of vigilant anger against anyone who threatens your feeble, contradictory belief system. In this way, they have more in common with Trump’s supporters than they’d ever like to admit.