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A Radical Idea

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What I’m about to say might sound crazy, but hear me out. It is my considered theory that 1)Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren would both be infinitely preferable to Donald Trump and 2)both would be far to the left of the median votes in both houses of Congress even in the most optimistic scenario. Strange but true:

Regardless, your position on these matters will not change three brute facts: (1) There are not very many people in this country who are eager to spend copious amounts of time, money, and attention on progressive politics. (2) There are not very many politicians in America who are as responsive to the demands and desires of such people as Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren. (3) As a consequence of the first two points, Bernie and Warren supporters cannot win much of anything without each other.

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There are some “normie” suburban Democrats who are receptive to a social democratic message when it comes from Warren and her allies, but not when it comes from Bernie or his. And the reverse is true of some disaffected, non-college-educated voters who’ve given up on both parties. A movement that cultivates a comradely attitude between Bernie and Warren activists will be one that is better able to cohere the candidates’ disparate bases into a faction large enough to compete for hegemony within the Democratic Party. A movement that cultivates internecine conflict for its own sake — which is to say, for cathartic, expressive, or media brand-building purposes — will allow meek centrists to inherit the (increasingly uninhabitable) Earth.

Cultivating intra-left solidarity does not mean keeping silent about substantive conflicts, or sincerely liking or respecting everyone to the left of Amy Klobuchar. But it does mean making some effort to interpret other progressives’ actions and intentions with charity, and keeping in mind that the world is shot through with ambiguity, that all us our prisoners to your own subjectivity, and thus, that people can earnestly share most of our values without sharing our perception of any given event. And it means — once you’ve extended such charity and epistemic modesty, and arrived at the unavoidable conclusion that a supposed ally is just an incontrovertible jerk or hack or wrecker — at least considering whether saying as much serves a constructive political purpose, or just a cathartic, personal one. In simpler terms, it means not filling Elizabeth Warren’s mentions with snake emoji.Twitter may reward brawling factionalists. But the American political system rewards movements with numbers. And no faction of the U.S. left has much hope of building that kind of movement without all of the others.

It’s fine to have a clear preference for one or the other, even a strong one. But to completely lose perspective just makes it all the more likely that the next lesson will have to be “Joe Biden would both be infinitely preferable to Donald Trump and somewhat to the left of the median votes in both houses of Congress even in the most optimistic scenario.”

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