Psychology is a powerful force in politics. Voters who believe in Donald Trump’s vow to “make America great again” have a vision of themselves, and what they are owed, by whom and what for, that is distinct from the supporters of other candidates.
The division between Hillary Clinton supporters and Bernie Sanders supporters is also partly psychological. Issues matter greatly. The minimum wage, global trade, military adventurism and the health-care system were all animating forces behind Sanders’ candidacy. The pressure the Vermont senator brought on Clinton pushed her to adopt different positions from what she would have absent his potent challenge.
But Sanders people are also just different from Clinton people in a profound way. I’m about to make a broad generalization, so supply your own caveats. But, in general, Bernie’s people approach the world as outsiders looking in, Clinton people as insiders working a room. That has consequences.
On Monday night, Clinton fundraiser Daniel Halpern hosted a party for donors in Philadelphia. The party-goers included more than a few sons of prominent men, all of whom owed some piece of their good fortune to connections — familial, social, political or all three.
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Halpern is the CEO of Jackmont Hospitality Inc., a large franchisee of TGI Friday’s. He co-founded the company with Maynard Jackson Jr., the legendary Atlanta mayor, and Jackson’s widow and daughter are part of its corporate leadership. Halpern’s company bio reads like a web of connections across Atlanta and national politics and industry groups. He is Clintonian in his approach to the world.
Remember the Friends of Bill? The Renaissance Weekend? The seemingly inexhaustible drive to network and then catalog and file the personnel yield for future deployment? The Clintons are a type — they always know someone who knows someone. And they understand how to draw on their investments in relationships and advance themselves through an ever-expanding web of contacts.
At a Bloomberg Politics breakfast this morning, I asked Sanders how he would describe the culture of his movement. (It’s not the sort of question Sanders likes; he prefers to discuss issues.) “I believe very strongly in grassroots democracy,” he replied.
“Grassroots” is a word used for collective action. But it’s a collective action very different from the networking action of the Clinton contingent. Grassroots action is a way for people to acquire and exercise collective power without ever gaining individual power. It’s the way people on the outside push against people on the inside.
“The Democratic Party is a lot of elite people or wealthy people that want to control the country,” said Lori Miller, a Sanders delegate from Weston, Wisconsin. Miller didn’t want her job disclosed but she has worked for two decades in a position not readily associated with riches. When I asked if she was a political outsider, she immediately answered, “Yes.” She said she has never been involved in politics before.
“I think to get ahead in the political system, you have to be willing to do what the upper people believe,” she said. I pointed out that wealthy and powerful people have divergent opinions about all sorts of things. Then I asked her what she thinks the “upper people” believe.
“I don’t know,” she said. “There are so many conspiracy theories going around that it’s hard to know what to believe.”
There are Clintonians and Sandersites in every town in every state, including Wisconsin. It’s a personality divide as much as a political divide. The Sanders people will never like the Clinton people. And if they were invited to high-donor parties populated by sons of, and daughters of, and friends of, it would only concentrate the sour taste already in their mouths.
Sanders people, for all their collective success in this campaign, could not accomplish all that the Clinton people are capable of. From time to time, Sanders people can stop the world in its tracks. They can produce revolutions and great social movements that liberate souls or crush them. They have had a huge impact on the world. But day to day, it’s the Clintons who make it go round.