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Is It Better To Bern Out Than Fade Away? A Look At What's Next For Sanders Supporters

Now that Hillary Clinton has clinched the nomination, how do Bernie Sanders supporters stay true to his progressive agenda? In this photo, Sanders addresses supporters on Monday, June 6, 2016, in San Francisco. (Noah Berger/AP)
Now that Hillary Clinton has clinched the nomination, how do Bernie Sanders supporters stay true to his progressive agenda? In this photo, Sanders addresses supporters on Monday, June 6, 2016, in San Francisco. (Noah Berger/AP)
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For months now, I have been touting Bernie Sanders as the most inspiring and morally courageous presidential candidate to run in my lifetime.

I have sung his praises far and wide, given money to his campaign, and even tried to convince my wife to vote for him. And I have argued that Sanders shouldn’t quit the race simply because he’s behind in the delegate count.

But I also agree with Sanders that the legacy of his historic campaign — its ideas and principles — mustn’t be limited to the fate of his candidacy. His message has to be deeper, and more enduring, than that.

Sanders has stressed, over and over again, that it will take a political revolution to dismantle the corruption of our political system. Millions of Americans will have to rise up to demand a more compassionate and responsive government, one whose agenda is set by the people, not purchased by billionaire donors.

the legacy of his historic campaign -- its ideas and principles -- mustn’t be limited to the fate of his candidacy. His message has to be deeper, and more enduring, than that.

I still believe that.

But I also accept that Hillary Clinton is the Democratic nominee for president. On Tuesday night, she secured the magic number of pledged delegates. She won, fair and square. More significantly, overall, she received millions more votes than Sanders. (This is a stark contrast from the 2008 primary, in which Clinton lost to Barack Obama despite having won the majority of votes.)

I know that many of my fellow Sanders supporters are frustrated and angry. I know that they view Clinton as a flawed candidate, and perhaps even a stooge for the status quo.

I also know that beneath all this contempt is an honest and understandable sense of disappointment. They believe — and I happen to agree with them — that Bernie would have thumped Trump in the general election, and unmasked him as the hollow demagogue he is.

But Sanders — barring illness or indictment — will not be the nominee. So the question for all of us now is: How do we remain true to his progressive agenda? How do we keep the focus on the ideas that drew us to Bernie: ridding politics of private money, making corporations and plutocrats pay their fair share, ensuring that education and medical care and a livable wage are rights, not privileges?

Every Sanders supporter has to decide that for him or herself. The point of this piece isn’t to urge folks to calm down and fall in line behind Hillary. As I’ve pointed out repeatedly, that’s a condescending attitude.

My point is that we now have to consider our moral and political goals in light of this new reality.

Eight years after conceding she was unable to "shatter that highest, hardest glass ceiling," Hillary Clinton is embracing her place in history as she finally crashes through as the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee. Here, she takes the stage at a rally on Monday. (John Locher/AP)
Eight years after conceding she was unable to "shatter that highest, hardest glass ceiling," Hillary Clinton is embracing her place in history as she finally crashes through as the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee. Here, she takes the stage at a rally on Monday. (John Locher/AP)

For some Bernie supporters, this will mean encouraging him to run as an independent. Others will urge him to contest the Democratic convention. And still others may decide that they want to take their chances with the other “anti-establishment” candidate.

My own hope is that Sanders will broker a deal with Hillary, in which he pledges to throw his support behind her if (and only if) she promises to run a campaign that honors some of the core policy ideas that have so galvanized his supporters.

Sanders was never given a fair shake by our for-profit corporate media. They were too in the thrall of Donald Trump’s seductive dysfunction. But the astonishing outpouring of support for this aging socialist from Vermont translates into real political power. He should use that power to negotiate on behalf of us, his constituents.

It is my devout hope that these goals will be central to Hillary Clinton’s campaign. The more central they are, the more fervent my support for her will be.

Will he get everything he asks for? No. That’s not how politics works. But he needs to get everything he can.

And we, his loyal partisans, need to focus on making sure that we don’t let the larger goals of the movement wither with his candidacy. We need to support other progressive candidates and causes — at the local, state and federal level.

Sanders is right. The American system of democracy has been ravaged for too long by the twin plagues of greed and cynicism. Our challenge now is to stay focused on the goals Sanders has bravely articulated over the course of his career.

It is my devout hope that these goals will be central to Hillary Clinton’s campaign. The more central they are, the more fervent my support for her will be.

And the more likely she will be to win the support of others — progressives, independents and conservatives alike — who are sickened by the politics of rage and hopelessness.

Related:

Steve Almond Twitter Cognoscenti contributor
Steve Almond's new book, "Bad Stories: What the Hell Just Happened to Our Country," is now available. He hosts the Dear Sugars podcast with Cheryl Strayed.

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