In recent days, the Democratic presidential campaign has become increasingly fractious. From questions about each other’s “qualifications” for the job to the fierce exchanges during their heated debate in Brooklyn, tension between Clinton and Sanders is on the rise. As comedian Paula Poundstone tweeted, “You’re both qualified. You also both need a nap.” And it’s not just the candidates who need to give it a rest.
It seems like everyone on the left is cranky—and it’s only getting worse. Recent primary wins by Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton’s continuing lead in delegate count mean that the Democratic Primary ain’t over till it’s over on June 25th. That’s nearly 100 days of your Facebook feed filled with people who agree on most issues being totally dismissive and mean to one another. Sure, it’s not as bad as on the other side of the political spectrum, where comparing penis size and spousal hotness has become the norm. But do we really have to accuse one another of lying, cheating, head-in-the-sand stupidity when we more or less want the same things? Universal healthcare, reproductive justice, livable wages, humane immigration policies, and an end to endless war?
The nastiness can get even more personal when you’re a mixed-candidate couple, like we are. We won’t lie to you: We don’t have it all figured out. In fact, we are the kind of couple that can get into a serious argument over things like how to properly make a hard-boiled egg or the best curriculum for a gender studies program. And of course we debate—sometimes vociferously—the merits of our preferred candidates. Yet somehow in this most contentious of election seasons, we have managed to maintain our pro-Bernie/pro-Hillary stances without a single fight. No-one has slept on the couch… yet.
Friends are surprised. Last fall they asked us, “How will you survive the primaries?” And their concern was hardly misplaced. We’ve seen friendships unravel over Facebook posts for or against this or that candidate. But until recently, we were heartened that Hillary and Bernie—like us—acknowledged that they have much more in common than not. They both repeated the truism that the differences between them paled in comparison to the vast chasm between the Democrats and Republicans on just about every issue. Their debates were issue-based, serious, and substantive. They agreed and disagreed, but clearly shared commitments to economic, racial, gender equity. They reminded us that they were united in opposition to the Draconian and xenophobic policies of the Republican candidates.
But as things have taken a nastier turn—with accusations flying and social and traditional media fanning the flames of animosity in the tedious attempt to transform a presidential election into a boxing match—we can’t help wondering if our candidates and the more bellicose and contentious of their supporters might want a bit of advice from a Hillary/Bernie happy homestead. Here are four suggestions for keeping the peace.
- Think before you tweet. You might not have the whole story. And, moreover, the story might not really be a story. Ask yourself if tweeting “Bernie needs an economics lesson” or “Hillary is a corporate shill” really advances the dialogue.
- Related to number 1, if you take a deep breath and actually let facts come into the equation, you might find less to fight about. Like the fact that both Bernie and Hillary believe that climate change is real, that racism is real, that sexism is real, and that we should actually do something about these problems. The Republicans, not so much.
- Hyperbole is cute when you’re 15 and in love (as in, “If she doesn’t go out with me I will literally die”) but embarrassing when you’re an adult (as in, “Hillary is a fascist” or “Bernie is a sexist and racist”).
- Keep your eyes on the prize. Like every hot-headed couple, we know that often the small things seem bigger than they are. Sometimes, even the way the other person chews can send you into paroxysms of irritation. In relationships as in politics, we often cling to these childish and petty grievances and lose sight of the big picture—the shared love, the humanity of the other, the complexity of differences or, in this case, the fate of our democracy.
As feminist theorists, we have long understood that “othering” is precisely how we enable violence and dehumanization. And as feminist and leftist activists, we have watched in dismay as this othering—and more banal and everyday forms of demonization—have infiltrated the conversation among progressives. The “Bernie or Bust” and “Hillary is the only electable candidate” phenomena are as empty as insisting your partner load the dishwasher correctly or you’re walking out the door. We don’t mean to minimize the differences in policy approaches of the two candidates; we do, however, want to insist that these differences don’t have to turn the other into the enemy or evil incarnate. Because if we progressives decide to break up with one another, our next boyfriend will be Donald Trump or Ted Cruz.