I wrote recently about how some of Bernie Sanders’ supporters are hurting him with their seeming inability to allow anything positive to be said about Hillary Clinton or anything negative to be said about Sanders. The term “Bernie Bros” has been coined for this group, though they are certainly not all men. Some Sanders supporters have also been on the receiving end of negative comments by Clinton supporters, though not to the same degree. I am not interested so much in casting blame as in trying to understand the intense hatred that some Sanders supporters harbor for Hillary Clinton.
In doing some reading this morning for my class — Sex and Sexuality in Early Christianity — I was rereading Stephanie Cobb’s fantastic book, Dying to Be Men: Gender and Language in Early Christian Martyr Texts, and it hit me. Hillary Clinton is the progressive proximate other.
In other words, the proximate or near other presents a greater threat to one’s identity than does the radically or far other. Thus, the Republican candidates for President pose very little threat to the identity of Bernie Sanders and his supporters as liberal, progressive, democratic socialists. Hillary Clinton, on the other hand, a moderate mainstream Democrat, posses an enormous threat to his and his supporters' identity because she claims to be one of them. “I am a progressive who gets things done for people,” Clinton said in her speech Monday night after the Iowa Caucuses closed.
Stephanie Cobb uses the proximate other theory to explain early Christian group identity as seen through martyrologies and the danger that Jews pose (as opposed to pagans) to the identity of Christians as well as the danger that an apostate poses. The theory is applicable here as well. Many of Bernie Sanders’ supporters do not think that Hillary Clinton’s actions “conform to group norms” and thus she is “perceived as a threat to group identity and is rejected” (Cobb, 22). Cobb goes on to describe the reaction to those in-group members who have not, to some, adequately performed their group identity.
And so, according to Cobb, we should expect to see some Sanders supporters viewing Clinton as even more undesirable than the Republican candidates and to see them propagating negative attitudes about her. Unsurprisingly, this is precisely what we have seen. I’ve heard some Sanders supporters say they would vote for Donald Trump over Hillary Clinton, for instance. And Clinton has been labeled a “liar,” a “cheat,” a “shill,” “cold," “calculating,” etc. — and all of this by other Democrats.
When it comes to the “progressive” identity, Hillary Clinton is the proximate other and as such is more dangerous to the identity of progressives who support Bernie Sanders than even Donald Trump or Ted Cruz. Because of this she must be exposed as the imposter they perceive her to be.
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* Jonathan Z. Smith, "What a Difference a Difference Makes," in "To See Ourselves as Others See Us": Christians, Jews, "Others" in Late Antiquity, ed. Jacob Neusner and Ernest S. Frerichs (Chico, Calif.: Scholars Press, 1985), 25.