The Danger of a Cult of Personality

by Jason Frerichs

I need to have a conversation with both my Bernie and Hillary folks.  Politicians are not perfect.  People are flawed and politicians are still people.  There isn’t a perfect candidate.  There isn’t a leader you are going to agree with 100% of the time.  According to modern day neuroscience, reasoning is permeated with emotion.  The two are extremely intertwined.  It’s important to remember this when we decide which candidate we will support.  As logical and objective as we try to be, emotion will always play a part.  That is why it’s important that we do not reject those who supported a different Democratic presidential candidate.  I know why I supported Bernie Sanders.  He was the first politician who echoed my political beliefs and my values.  I had an immediate emotional connection to him.  Those who know me personally or even those who only know me from my writing, know that I am a strong supporter of Bernie Sanders, so Bernie family, I’m going to address you first.

The Cult of Personality for Bernie Sanders has got to end.  He isn’t always right.  In fact, sometimes he’s 100% wrong.  The latest controversy is Bernie standing by anti-choice Omaha Mayoral candidate Heath Mello.  While a state senator in Nebraska, Mello co-sponsored a 20-week abortion ban and that was signed by the governor in 2010.  I am very disappointed to see a decent amount of mostly male Bernie supporters supporting Bernie on this.  I suspect that many of them would have been up in arms if  Hillary Clinton had been the one standing with Heath Mello.  I suspect many supported Bernie’s stance solely because Bernie made it.  Bernie Sanders has a lot of great ideas, but I wish he would shut up about identity politics and recognize that economic justice and identity politics are intertwined.  He’s wrong on this issue and furthermore, he comes across as tone deaf on racial issues.  It’s important that we call out our leaders when they are wrong.  Bernie would ask that we hold a neoliberal’s feet to the fire.  We must also hold his feet to the fire.  My support for Senator Sanders has not diminished.  He would not vote to limit a woman’s right to choose.  I merely disagree with him for supporting someone who would.

Hillary supporters, she lost and it sucks.  I voted for her.  I was heartbroken when Trump won.  She was the better candidate and we’d be much better off right now if she were the president.  Racism and misogyny were big reasons she lost.  They weren’t the only reasons.  There are many legitimate reasons people were not comfortable with her as a candidate.  It is possible to reject her candidacy for well thought out reasons that have nothing to do with buying into 30 years of right-wing attacks.  Her campaign team did an extremely bad job and if she had a decent staff, I honestly believe she could have overcome all her baggage and won the election.  Hindsight is 20/20 though.  I can’t remember a losing candidate ever having the cult of personality of Hillary Clinton.  I’ve read tweets, articles, and essays blaming everyone under the sun except Hillary Clinton for her loss.  Professor Susan Bordo actually wrote a horrible, poorly researched, and frankly insulting take on the entire matter.  Anyone who values competent analysis and reasoning should reject it entirely.   Her basic premise is that if you didn’t support Hillary Clinton, you were ignorant and believed Republican lies.  Not only is that inaccurate, it’s personally insulting.

To summarize, hero worship isn’t helpful.  Neither Bernie or Hillary is perfect or the devil.  They are flawed human beings, just like all of us.  They also happened to inspire us for many different reasons.  We should praise them when they are right and harshly call them out when they are wrong.  They wouldn’t expect any less from us.  It’s what we should do because no one is above being called out.  I’ll drink with a Bernie supporter and I’ll drink with a Hillary supporters.  I find my allies through shared values, not based who supported who in the 2016 Democratic Primary.

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