Late yesterday afternoon, I introduced the #WeWontBeErased hashtag on Twitter, inspired by Joan Walsh’s forceful and eloquent endorsement of Hillary Clinton. Within hours, it was one of the top trends in US politics and it continues to be highly active today.
Joan, who I’ve known for a decade, is a thoughtful and fair-minded political observer. I admit to being stunned by the force of her words about the “vile trolling” she and her daughter have endured:
When I’ve disclosed that my daughter works for Clinton we’ve both come in for trolling so vile it’s made me not merely defensive of her. It’s forced me to recognize how little society respects the passion of the many young women—and men—who are putting their souls into electing the first female president.
Joan crystalizes what so many Hillary supporters feel:
I’m tired of seeing her confronted by entitled men weighing in on her personal honesty and likability, treating the most admired woman in the world like a woman who’s applying to be his secretary. I’m stunned anew by the misogyny behind the attacks on her, and her female supporters, including my daughter. I’m sick of the way so many Sanders supporters, most of them men, feel absolutely no compunction to see things through female Clinton supporters’ eyes, or to worry they might have to court us down the road, take special care not to alienate us lest we sit the race out in November, if our candidate loses. I stand with a lot of women who feel the same way, including my daughter, and we won’t be erased.
An increasing number of people have voiced a suspicion that the ferocious trolling instigated by the slightest positive mention of Hillary has its roots in shadowy conservative astroturf operations.
Paul Krugman alludes to it here:
Right now I’m getting the kind of correspondence I usually get from Rush Limbaugh listeners, although this time it’s from the left — I’m a crook, I’m a Hillary crony, etc., etc.
As a progressive activist whose views align with Bernie’s, Hillary’s and Elizabeth Warren’s on most issues, and as a former Hillary adviser who knows how deeply she believes in progressive values, I don’t make it my business to question the sincerity of Bernie’s core supporters. We’re all one Blue family trying to achieve the same goals. The essence of our electoral process is to draw contrasts, to debate positions, to flesh out issues and make informed choices among candidates. It would be folly to dispute the right of fellow progressives to pick one leader over another, to disagree with the positions of one politician over the other.
It’s another thing altogether to remain silent while some on the left echo deceitful and sexist GOP talking points about one of the most accomplished women in the world. In the case of anti-Hillary trolling, there are communities of young males who congregate on sites like Reddit and 4chan, where Hillary-bashing is just the thing to do. And there are too many thought-leaders on the left who have a visceral dislike of Hillary that often has less to do with politics (Hillary’s voting record is more liberal than most Dems) and more with three decades of imbibing rightwing narratives. Most importantly, gender bias exists on the right and left, and we are not true progressives if we don’t acknowledge and fight to root it out.
But this piece is not about a few over-eager Bernie supporters and die-hard Hillary critics. There’s something more sinister going on if you dig below the surface. A substantial cohort of the most virulent anti-Hillary trolls seem to be working from a script, echoing longstanding rightwing frames, referencing Vince Foster and Whitewater, thoroughly debunked conspiracy theories that predate the adulthood of Bernie’s millennial supporters. It’s no secret that Republicans are actively trying to tilt the election to Bernie, in a belief, mistaken or not, that he will be easier to defeat than Hillary.
Look no further than this Bloomberg headline: Republicans Take Their Sanders Advocacy to the Next Level.
We’re working on tracing these suspicious and clearly coordinated online attacks to the GOP’s billionaire funders and rightwing operatives, who have openly admitted to spending hundreds of millions of dollars to destroy Hillary’s public image.
The Washington Post uncovers a perfect example:
Something happened Tuesday that exposed the pervasive nature of sexism in American political life. It came in the form of this hashtag: #WordsThatDontDescribeHillary. As far as we can trace it, the hashtag appeared to come from [a] tweet by conservative radio talk show host Doc Thompson at 12:20 a.m. Tuesday.
Doc Thompson is connected to Glenn Beck, which leads to the unpleasant conclusion that Bernie Sanders supporters who jumped on the hashtag were goaded into doing the right’s dirty work by spreading lies about the Democratic frontrunner.
The result of this torrent of invective directed at Hillary supporters is twofold. First, since most of Bernie’s younger supporters get their political news online, some have become convinced that Hillary is the world’s worst human being. It doesn’t help that the national media echo rightwing anti-Hillary narratives and reinforce false impressions about her. The combination of online lies and media irresponsibility (not to mention Maureen Dowd-style vendettas) account for negative perceptions of Hillary.
The second outcome is the unanticipated one for Hillary’s detractors: Many progressives who would otherwise express more qualified support of Hillary are being pushed into full-throated advocacy. Joan Walsh’s piece is just one of a recent flood of opinion pieces from the left questioning Bernie and his campaign.
If Hillary wins the nomination, it will be due, in no small part, to the savagery of the systematic trolling that she and her supporters have been exposed to from individuals who we believe are anonymous and organized GOP operatives aided by a segment of misguided Bernie supporters.
Which brings us back to #WeWontBeErased, chock-full of beautiful declarations about what Hillary’s candidacy means to Americans of all ages and genders. The tag is also inundated with the usual, by-now-numbing, anti-Hillary memes. Here’s the point: When enraged trolls hijack a tag about the empowerment of women and girls, the backlash is against Bernie, not Hillary.