By Alexander Zhang '20
Unity. From the very beginning, that was the theme of the Democratic National Convention, the culmination of a contentious primary which had turned the Democratic Party in on itself. To me, a disillusioned first-time voter who fit perfectly into the stereotype of a diehard Bernie Sanders supporter, party unity represented an unachievable ideal in the wake of one too many establishment scandals. I had known for quite a while that if Bernie lost the nomination, I would vote for Hillary - but only to stop Donald Trump. And not without clearly expressing my reluctance to leave behind the glory days of Bernie’s political revolution. There was no passion involved as the convention began.
Rewind to May. By the time I had voted in the Oregon primary, I already knew Bernie was going to lose. The delegate math didn’t add up. The movement had lost its momentum. I followed through with my commitment to cast a ballot in his name, but I wasn’t sure what to do next. Bernie or Bust was never a realistic option, and voting third party sounded neither appealing nor feasible. I would vote Hillary, but I wasn’t quite with Hillary. So I waited to be convinced that she was more than just the proverbial lesser of two evils.
I waited as Hillary went on to dominate the rest of the primary. I waited as Bernie officially endorsed her campaign. All the way up to the DNC, I waited for the sense of unequivocal pride that comes with the ability to fully defend one’s vote. It never came.
Then, on the second day of the convention, as Vermont presented the final roll-call vote, a certain Senator Sanders stood up from the crowd and addressed the Chair:
I move that the convention suspend the procedural rules.
I move that all votes cast by delegates be reflected in the official record.
And I move that Hillary Clinton be selected as the nominee of the Democratic Party for President of the United States.
I knew it was cheesy. I knew it was political. I knew the whole gesture was hashed out between the two campaigns in some private meeting beforehand. But I also knew that I was tired of waiting. I wanted to fight for a candidate in this election, and I figured that it was time to try to understand her. So basically, I went with it.
The thing about presidential elections is that voters rally behind imperfect candidates. We form our opinions (a little too) early and stand behind them (a little too) staunchly, cherry-picking arguments we approve of and doing everything we can to justify and overlook the distinct flaws that come with any politician. Bernie Sanders had uniquely resonated with me as someone with astounding moral consistency, but only in retrospect will I admit that there were legitimate criticisms of his track record and his policies. By the same token, supporting Bernie made it easy to hate Hillary. War in Iraq. NAFTA. TPP. Wall Street. Gay marriage. Trustworthiness. We’ve all heard the same talking points time and time again, and as a Bernie supporter, each one had been fuel for my raging fire of anti-establishment fervor.
But that was the primary. After Bernie moved to nominate Hillary as the Democratic candidate for President, I woke up to the general election.
When I finally decided to try standing with Hillary, I didn’t forget about all my prior condemnation of her. However, I did take a step back to try contextualize her flaws as a politician. That is, I tried to decipher Hillary Rodham Clinton as a person, and in the process, I started to see a woman who embodied both everything wrong with politics and everything right at the same time - the contradiction of a system which relies on inherently flawed individuals to make decisions with impacts long outlasting themselves, yet the ability of those same flawed beings to constantly evolve. When Hillary became human to me, I didn’t accept her mistakes, but I understood how she could have made them. More importantly, I was able to see the good that she had done and start believing in her earnest effort to change. When I learned to trust Hillary, my contempt for the rest of the establishment was abated. I wouldn’t forgive or forget, but I would be willing to take another chance. And so I learned to love another imperfect candidate.
My mentality is back to where it was when I felt the Bern, except this time, I’m with her. I am proud of the influence that Bernie has had on her platform, and I am more than pleased with her performance in the debates. Yet while I stand firmly behind my nominee and do everything possible to vindicate her actions, it is always with the knowledge that she is human. Coming to that realization has allowed me to refocus on the fact that Hillary Clinton, along with all her flaws, is a candidate capable of growth. That’s a significant step towards the type of systemic reform Bernie Sanders stood for, and that’s enough to recapture my faith in a party I had once nearly forsaken. So when Hillary wins this November, find me celebrating in the streets with the rest of the shills.