Berned Out
Bernie Bro culture is seriously damaging the reputation of the Vermont senator

Bernie Sanders wearing American Flag glasses next to a stereotypical Bernie bro. illustration by Haley Riley

As a longtime Bernie Sanders supporter, I must admit: Something went wrong along the way.

At this point in the tiresome world of American political online discourse, we’ve probably all heard the term “Bernie Bro.” Perhaps you’ve even met him. Often, he interrupts discussions of politics to bring talk back to his favorite Vermont senator and seems to have a problem with what he calls “identity politics.” Stereotypically, Bernie Bros are white, young, and not so self-aware. As one self-confessed Bro told Slate, “Someone came out and said we don’t need Bernie, we have enough old white men. …I wish Bernie wasn’t 100 years old and that his hair wasn’t crazy, but are we really having that conversation?… When you hear that this Congress needs to be more brown, or the future is female, I’m not even sure what it means. To a dude, it’s like, ‘No men on the earth.’” 

To many, the ignorant and combative behavior of Bernie’s supporters is a major turn-off. “All the Bernie bros are rising from their caskets now, stirring to life, growling in their caps, ready to send female candidates a bunch of where-were-you-whens,” Twitter user @bethwritesstuff said. In her mentions was, in fact, a Bro waiting to attack. “It’s insulting to whitewash Bernie supporters,” he replied. Of course, Beth never said his supporters were white. Latching onto straw man arguments regarding identity politics are a hallmark of Bro behavior, as well as her mentioned “where-were-you-whens.” Bernie’s track record of being present at MLK’s March on Washington (where the “I Have a Dream” speech was cemented in history) or being consistently supportive of LGBTQ rights is often seen as a positive by all of his supporters. However, these pros are weaponized by Bros to make discussions less productive and more “persuasive.” 

In all fairness, not all Sanders supporters are this particular brand of young, college-aged man. Sanders’ base is split almost evenly between men and women, has more Latino supporters than any other candidate, and is second only to Biden with Black voters. They do, however, skew very young. Perhaps this is why some of his supporters have taken so quickly to online attacks. Immaturity has been allowed to reign within Bernie circles and it’s not a good look. Though it’s fun and mostly innocent to take part in memes about Sanders, like the now-classic running down the escalator Vines from 2016, attacking others online as a joke doesn’t make others so inclined to check out your candidate of choice. 

Unsurprisingly, Bernie Sanders has responded to this behavior negatively. “It’s disgusting,” he stated to Jake Tapper of CNN. “That is not what this campaign is about.” He has also apologized for any potential vitriol directed toward Hillary Clinton in the last election, telling Anderson Cooper, “I certainly apologize to any woman who felt she was not treated appropriately, and of course, if I run, we will do better the next time.”

Whether or not this is the case is still up in the air. Luckily, there are a large number of non-Bros fighting the fight for Sanders this time around. “You’re going to tell me that a few thousand men with facial hair are going to erase the body of work that I’ve helped create?” said People for Bernie founder Winnie Wong. “I’m an Asian American woman. So there’s something particularly hilarious about that.” Putting all of Sanders fans in one confrontational, stereotyped box isn’t exactly fair, especially when some of his most active supporters don’t fit the Bro label at all. There’s also proof that some Bros were actually Russian bots, created to further divide the Democratic voting base.

That being said, there are lots of other candidates out there without an abrasive base. Perhaps the most similar candidate to Sanders is Elizabeth Warren. Like Sanders, she supports Medicare for All and debt-free college. They both stand for a decidedly anti-Wall Street ethos. Though Warren isn’t exactly a Socialist (a main selling point for Sanders), she is more revolutionary than the rest of the bunch. Though less progressive, Beto O’Rourke and Kamala Harris have also proved potentially attractive to the leftist base, with O’Rourke being considered in touch with young people and Harris proving her knowledge on the rights of immigrants. 

For now, it’s still too early to tell which candidates are worth supporting. I, like many others, was mobilized by the Sanders campaign in 2016 and feel a degree of loyalty to the Vermont senator. Despite the bigotry surrounding some of his supporters, Sanders himself is decidedly for the rights of women, people of color, and queer people. Regardless, I understand that many have been turned off of his campaign forever because of the hate Bros have spouted online. Even though I’d prefer Bernie, we must take into account the reputation that his supporters have created for themselves. We either find a way to turn it around or find another candidate. 

 

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