Consider the "Bernie bro" phenomenon, the nickname given to a subset of Bernie Sanders supporters who like to deride Hillary Clinton using parts of the female anatomy that they clearly don't understand. Like the Trump fans who coined the phrase "cuckservative" and the PUMAs before them, this group of online trolls has gained considerable buzz in the political press, buzz that reached peak volume this weekend.
They're a difficult-to-quantify yet visible part of this presidential campaign, and on Sunday morning's State of the Union, host Jake Tapper confronted Bernie Sanders about the phenomenon, which Sanders denounced in no uncertain terms:
Tapper: Have you heard about this phenomenon "Bernie bros?" People who support you, and sometimes attack in very crude and sexist ways...
Sanders: Yeah, I have heard about it. It's disgusting. We don't want that crap. And we will do everything we can, and I think we have tried. Look, anybody who is supporting me is doing sexist things is -- we don't want them. I don't want them. That is not what this campaign is about.
here are some who would criticize Tapper for even asking, but I think it was a good opportunity to let Sanders have at them. The real problem here is that the thing ever reached the critical mass to warrant a rebuke in the first place. Yes, there have been a few missteps by the Sanders campaign when it comes to sexism, but nothing that would indicate a kinship with the vile likes of the Bernie bros.
Slate's Amanda Hess has a pretty good handle on what went wrong with the Bernie bro narrative, which is essentially that it was taken over by people for whom scoring political points is more important than tackling the underlying issue, which is the rampant sexism that still infects the left just as it does everyone else:
But as soon as the Bernie Bro materialized, the conversation around it deteriorated. As the meme gained momentum, some popularizers stopped bothering to marshal any kind of evidence that Sanders supporters were sexist. The argument bottomed out with a Mashable article branding Sanders supporters as “a sexist mob” while doing little to justify the claim beyond conjuring the word “Reddit.” On the other side, Greenwald centered his debunking of the Bernie Bro narrative on the shakiest specimens of the genre. He chose to ignore the most substantive accounts of Bernie Bro behavior, like this piece from Sanders supporter Kathleen Geier, who says that a fellow #Berner accused her of “angling for a job in the Clinton administration” when she took note of anti-Clinton sexism online.
This is a familiar online phenomenon. Just as mansplaining “morphed from a useful descriptor of a real problem in contemporary gender dynamics to an increasingly vague catchall expression,” as Salon’s Benjamin Hart put it in 2014, the Bernie Bro argument has been stretched beyond recognition by both its champions and its critics. What began as a necessary critique of leftist sexism has been replaced by a pair of straw men waving their arms in the wind.
Unfortunately, there will only be two settings for this narrative: that the Bernie bros are a concoction to smear Bernie Sanders, or they're proof positive that Bernie Sanders skins women in his basement and makes his spare underwear out of them.