Unless you’ve been living under a rock in the last 48 hours, you’ve probably heard that a Sanders surrogate, by Dr. Paul Song, referred in his opening remarks to “corporate Democratic whores.” Of course, such a comment would be problematic in the best of times, but it is especially so during a campaign in which one of the two leading candidates in the Democratic race has the very real possibility of becoming the first female President of the United States. Fortunately, Sanders did disavow the remark, but it took a rather long time to do it, and that strikes me as especially troubling and, dare I say it, problematic.
I guess I’m not entirely surprised by this course of events. I’ve long suspected that there is a strong edge of misogyny lurking underneath many of those who support Bernie Sanders. This is not to say that everyone who supports him is a misogynist, only that there is a great deal of woman-hating animus motivating the opposition to Hillary. There is something deeply threatening about the idea of a woman, especially this woman, ascending to the nation’s top executive position, so it makes sense that many would leap to the use of words like “whore” to disparage her.
And make no mistake, the use of the word “whore” was deliberate. For all that some might like to make the argument that assuming the word is gendered feminine is the sexist act, we cannot escape the fact that, like so many words in our cultural lexicon, this word carries cultural baggage along with it. To pretend otherwise, or to somehow argue that pointing out that words matter is somehow disingenuous or making a mountain out of a molehill, is a betrayal of the very progressive politics that we all claim to espouse. Progressives, of all people, should know the importance of words and how they carry with them implications and connotations that are deeply embedded in structures of power.
Even more discouraging was the fact that the hashtag #DemocraticWhores began trending on Twitter, unironically. How is it possible that the Democratic Party, the party that has long taken the lead for the rights and dignity of women, would give birth to the use of the word “whore” in the public sphere? Did I somehow blink and miss our conversion to the Donald Trump method of politics? Somehow, legions of Bernie supporters were using the word “whore” as if it were suddenly a word that hadn’t been used to viciously and poisonously denigrate women’s sexuality for centuries. Whatever candidate you support, you should be concerned. This is not acceptable, and you should spread that message as far as possible.
So, what’s to be done? Well, for one thing, both campaigns should begin demanding more accountability from their followers. That’s not likely to come from either of the two candidates, not least because the stakes are so very high for both of them, and they have both gone too far to come back. Perhaps just as importantly, the followers for each candidate are unlikely to be allow them to make too many concessions to the other. The splintering of the Democratic Party has well and truly begun (I think), and we have only ourselves to blame.
The worst thing about this is that people will excuse it all as just another aspect of the dark vortex of American politics. For me, however, that excuse just isn’t good enough. We’re Democrats, progressives, and radicals. We’re the Left, damn it, and I continue to insist that we are better than this. If we are truly invested in a better future for everyone, we can, we must, do better.