Primary Fights on the Internet Bring Out the Worse in People

If you haven’t noticed based on my blog posts, I am somewhat of a politics addict.  In order to get my daily fix this election cycle I have been reading and posting on a website called the Democratic Underground in order to follow my favorite candidate, Hillary Clinton, through the primary process.  Since I joined the site back in July of last year, what I have observed there has been very educational.

Of course, during this entire time period Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders have been battling it out for the Democratic nomination, and their supporters have been also battling for supremacy on DU as the denizens call it.  What has impressed me is the ferocity of those battles.

There were a number of the Sanders supporters nicknamed, “the Bernie Bros” in internet parlance. I suspect they were mostly young people who are very experienced in manipulating the social media.  They developed a well earned reputation for harassing and/or attacking anyone who dared to oppose their candidate on-line and they were out in force on the DU.  That lead to some rather intense engagements on a special board on the site called the DU General Discussion – Primaries (GD-P) reserved for contentious primary discussions.

Like a number of Clinton supporters on the board, initially I kind of liked the old socialist who had been an independent, not a Democrat most of his life.  While I viewed most of Bernie grand socialist programs as totally unworkable in this country, as a moderate progressive I agreed with his goals and I had to admire the zeal and passion with which he pushed his causes.  He may have been frumpy, grouchy old man, but he was definitely authentic.  His followers on DU were quite another story.  Along with the kids and very progressive Democrats, Sanders attracted independents who long ago decided they were far too liberal to be Democrats.  They in particular hated the more moderate Hillary Clinton.

The most zealous Sanders fans tried to dig up any dirt on Hillary they could find, including long debunked conservative talking points.  And posted them on DU-P.  They called her a conservative, a corporate whore, a habitual liar, dishonest, and every other derogatory term they could think of.  They openly claimed that they would never vote for her if she won the nomination. They then sarcastically attacked any Clinton fan who rose to her defense.  At the same time they depicted Sanders as someone who could do no wrong and viciously attacked anyone who claimed otherwise.  The Sanders zealots also systematically used the DU alert and jury systems, which are designed to keep the discussion on the board civil, to try to silence vocal Hillary supporters and exonerate some of their own who were accused of the very same offenses.  And unfortunately they were to a large part successful.

Many Clinton supporters, fed up with the toxic atmosphere of DU-P withdrew to the relative safety of the Hillary Group on the DU site where Sanders zealots could be expelled by the administrators.  They thus effectively abandoned DU-P to Sanders supporters. Others still frequented DU-P and gave as good as they got. This also contributed greatly to the every worsening toxic atmosphere which hovered over the DU-P board like an ugly yellow chemical cloud.

If you haven’t noticed I am biased on this subject. In truth not all of the vicious attacks were directed at Hillary and her supporters.  Some Hillary fans gave Sanders supporters ample reason for hating them in return.

The ill feelings and even hate generated in the Hillary people for the Sanders zealots was over time transferred to their candidate, Bernie Sanders. I know this happened to me and I could see it happening in other Hillary supporters. I got to the point where I seriously questioned whether I could vote for Sanders if he won the Democratic nomination.  And I could tell the same thing was happening among the everyday Democrats who supported Sanders.

I’m not worried about the far left independents who where only frequently DU to support their candidate of a lifetime.  Now that Sanders has lost the nomination fight, they will go back to voting for the totally unqualified Green Party candidate, whoever she is.  They were always lost causes.  However, I can see how it might be very difficult for more reasonable Bernie supporters on DU to switch their allegiance to Hillary.  I hope that eventually most of them will come around, but I know it will be tough, especially if Sanders doesn’t find a way to lead them effectively in that direction.

In discussing this situation with people who frequented the Democratic Underground during the Obama/Clinton match up in 2008, many have told me that atmosphere on DU were just as toxic or worse then than that that prevailed on the site during the just ended primary season.  I found this initially very difficult to believe, but numerous veterans of DU have convinced me that the fights between Clinton and Obama supporters in 2008 were every bit as vicious as the fights between the supporters of Bernie and Hillary.

My experience during that 2008 primary contest was totally different.  Back then I was a big Hillary Clinton supporter, but I watch the primary contests in the rather detached manner of a normal voter.  Throughout the primary season I contributed probably more than I should have to Hillary’s campaign and even volunteered some my time to her cause.  However, I never got deeply involved the primacy fights and I never grew to hate Barrack Obama.  In fact I had been impressed by the young man every since he gave the keynote address at the 2004 Democratic convention. I simply felt that Hillary would be the better President, especially with Bill at her side.  It was all for getting two for the price of one all over again.

Therefore, the news that Clinton and Obama supporters were having a nasty brawl on the DU board at that time was somewhat shocking.  Veterans of those internet board wars who supported Hillary back in 2008 will tell you that they had a very difficult time getting to where they could vote for vote and support Barrack Obama in the general election, though now they are very glad that they did.

I had no such problems.  When Hillary dropped out of the race in 2008 and asked me in an email support Barrack, I had absolutely no problem making the switch.  When Hillary gave her list of supporter contact information to the Obama campaign and they contacted me asking for donations, I contributed generously.  I even ended up making phone calls for the Obama campaign in the final days before the general election.

As I look back, I see that is how it should have been, but that it would have been quite different if I had been involved in the day to day battles on the Democratic Underground site back in 2008.  Primary contests invariably get nasty, at least among the candidates’ supporters on the internet.  It is hard to get involved in internet primary fights without eventually learning to hate the “enemy”.  Normal voters should in general have much easier times switching from supporting Sanders to supporting Hillary.

Hopefully Hillary Clinton will be running for election unopposed during the 2020 primary season, which should cut the drama to a minimum on Democratic sites like DU. However, in 2024, if I am still a member of DU, while I intend to support my chosen candidate, I think perhaps I will try to stay above the ugliness and encourage other to do the same.  However, I know that there is a real danger of being sucked down in the mud again with everyone else.  Maybe it would be better to boycott sites like DU in the primary season all together, but you know, I don’t think that is likely to happen.

Cajun    6/9/2016

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