Last week at the Berklee Performance Center in Boston, Bernie Sanders gave a speech to a full house as he addressed the fears and concerns that many have moving forward under a Trump presidency. After the election, Sanders was quick to point out the flaws of the Clinton campaign, citing its ultimate failure in persuading working class voters that eventually voted for Trump. Sanders placed much of the blame on the Clinton campaign and Clinton herself, during his speech at the BPC stating, “It is not good enough for someone to say, ‘I’m a woman! Vote for me!’” However, Hillary Clinton had much to offer her campaign, and being a woman was well down on the list. With this statement, Sanders urged Democrats to forgo their ‘identity politics’ and to dig deeper to fight for the working class by thwarting big business interests. Although Sanders makes a compelling point in the aftermath of the election, it is worth analyzing who he is, as a speaker. Bernie Sanders prides himself on coming from modest beginnings, but what else? Although ethnically Jewish, he leans toward atheism, and beyond that, he is a white male who governs a mostly white state. Bernie Sanders can easily tell us to forgo identity politics, as they are mostly not relevant to him.
Prior to the aforementioned statement, Sanders made a similar statement in response to an audience member who wanted to be the second elected Latina to the Senate: “It is not good enough for somebody to say, ‘Hey, I’m a Latina, vote for me.’” First, Senator Sanders is wrong to assume that a young person will run their campaign solely on ethnicity because they are proud of their heritage. Also, these statements assume that there is a trend of candidates running campaigns solely based on their identities. Most candidates with underrepresented identities run with a full platform centered around their positions, background and experience. However, they can easily be dismissed, as we saw in this election, as running solely because of their identity.
There is also something off with Sanders’ statements encouraging us to abandon these identity politics. Sanders’ reasoning behind this is to capture more working class votes so that we don’t repeat the last election. In essence, Sanders wants to incorporate working-class Trump voters into the Democratic party. However, when Sanders talks about these voters, he is almost exclusively referring to white working class voters. Breaking his statement down even further, Sanders urges minorities and women to forgo their identities to make white voters feel more comfortable with voting for a Democratic candidate.
Although I completely disagree with Sanders’ statements and rhetoric, I do recognize that there is a problem within our country, as exemplified by our recent election. Hillary Clinton did have her shortcomings with her campaign, as she presented herself as a continuation of the Obama administration and America as it is. She failed to realize that there were a large amount of people dissatisfied with our current situation. Clinton’s greatest strength was also her weakness. Her long experience spoke to her wisdom for some and others saw her establishment ties as being too strong. We must also realize that voters are at fault as well. Voters want “change,” or even revolution, every general election and then are usually dissatisfied with the resulting four years. While change should be made within the Democratic Party, it should also be made within voters.
As we reevaluate ourselves in the upcoming Trump presidency, we should not disregard identity politics or the importance that representation has for underrepresented groups. Candidates who are proud of their identity are simply just that: identity is a part of who you are and shapes your experiences when you are not part of the majority. At the same time it is up to voters to make sure that they encapsulate the whole picture of every candidate instead of dismissing them because of their identities. As long as America remains a heterogenous country, identities will play a crucial part in its making.