Why That Bernie Meme Says So Much About American Politics


Ritual and ceremony are undeniably important in helping to vitally shape our conscious experience of reality. Release, exhale, and ceremonial and psychological celebration are certainly important release valves at moments such as this. However, it is for that same exact reason that I am wary of this type of celebrating without it being firmly rooted in concrete and actionable ways that Americans can feel more deeply connected to the actual political process. The pomp and circumstance should not serve to psychologically satisfy our desire to see a better future in and of itself. In resting in the glorification of the personal stories of these identities, we hand over deep psychological trust to these leaders, to carry us on into the “happily ever after” after the perceived “battle” of the election. Unity was wisely the theme of yesterday, but in our reporting endlessly on the fashion of the day, we should not get so swept up in the pageantry alone, lest we forget the core intentions of our democracy: to work for the representation of the people.

The resounding statement of relief that we will no longer have to “pay attention” or worry about what our president is doing is precisely the wrong response to this moment. That doesn’t mean we need to endlessly fret over things that we cannot affect change in (in fact we perhaps should not have wantonly fretted over Trump’s tweets as much as we did without rooting it in action), but so often we begin to fall down an intellectual slippery slope when we walk down the path of simple narratives and easy endings and clear and direct metaphors to the good and bad or to “the rebellion and the empire”. The truth is, our world is a bit messier than that, and while we do need to protect our mental health and not endlessly wash ourselves in cycles of fretting, we cannot simply wipe away what our leaders do, regardless of party affiliation. And if we do not (separated from party) acknowledge policies or lack of movement on policies as a quantifiable marker for success in and of itself, we very often fall prey to identity politics, to media cycles of caricatures of characters in a movie we’d like to be playing out on our nation’s screen. And the more and more we refuse to listen to one another and to dig deep into the understanding of what people are calling for and need, regardless of surface supplications to any cause, the less and less we will understand what is actually going on in our country. The more than we focus on the dazzling archetypes of characters we’d like to follow based on word and presentation alone without acknowledging and recognizing what work is accomplished, or not accomplished, on its own merits, the more our political intentions will be replaced with stories, mythologies, and emotional pandering. We must actively seek, as I believe would be in line with the intention of our Founding Fathers, to separate image from action. This isn’t to say we must be inhuman or devoid of joy and celebration, but perhaps Bernie did display an important lesson on Inauguration Day, as amusing as it all was. Politics has nothing to do with fashion, and it should have everything to do with real, concrete work to bring about a better society. It is important that the media does not treat this ritual like the Oscars. We should remain, particularly in the field of politics where emotional manipulation and propaganda is an ever-present danger, distant from glamorization. We should judge politicians on policy and policy alone, lest we fall too deeply into believing that our leaders are their image and not their actions.

Pay attention and do not let your leaders off the hook. Do not fall prey to a game of teams or sides or red versus blue, or red states vs blue states; we are people and we are people in a crisis. We are a people that need our crises addressed. We are a nation of stratified classes and we need to work to uplift those that need to be uplifted. It goes far beyond party lines. And now that we are in a blue government from top to bottom for at least two years we do not need to say that there will be time “later” or that we should “wait for the right time”. The conditions in this country that need to be addressed must be addressed or a more confident tyrant than Trump will come both to speak to those needs and to distract from those needs with even more fear-mongering.

We will not move this country forward by sitting back and imagining that this is a conclusion to a simple movie whose writers are writing the kind of story we want to hear. A moment like this can be many things all at the same time; we can recognize celebration, we can recognize relief, we can even celebrate beautiful coats if you care to, and at the same time, we can recognize the urgency to move forward quickly and without hesitation. We do not need to release ourselves from holding our leaders accountable and recognizing and acknowledging policy. I think there is a difference between celebration and what becomes the seeds of beginning to watch another reality show, but with characters that you like. This shouldn’t be about names or identities. It should be about policies. And some of our most progressive policies, which are now on the table, got to the table through grassroots organizing and the conscious uplift of these ideas from mass movements all across the country. So raising the awareness and popularity of the policies that can make actionable change in our lives is always important and always worth fighting for.

Ritual is vitally important in shaping our consciousness, and we should acknowledge what this ritual sets us up to expect, whether it focuses on concrete action or whether it plays into emotionality to allow us a psychological release. And then what do we do with that release? Do we use it as an intentional reaffirmation of the importance of fighting for this country? Or do we treat it solely as a celebration of victory and the imagery of the characters we begin to create? Please let us focus on policy more than we focus on politicians themselves. Please let us hold this much celebration and ritual for the policies we wish to enact rather than for the figureheads we hope will take our worries away. Do not be mired and sucked down by worry, but use this moment to propel us forward into productive and actionable change and honest accountability, rather than a beautiful bow at the end of a picture-perfect finish line.