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White Entitlement?

I’ve been having conversations recently with Bernie Sanders supporters and have felt a kind of desperation coming from them. Like if Sanders doesn’t win (and most of them are still holding out hope for that unlikely outcome) they will be very depressed or angry. Some are saying that they plan to vote for Trump if Sanders doesn’t get the nomination, and many of them are saying that they just won’t vote.

It isn’t like I don’t understand. I feel depressed and angry when I think about Donald Trump becoming president. Ironically, the Sanders supporters I’ve talked to all admit that Trump is much worse than Clinton, but that doesn’t seem to matter.

Is the prospect of Hillary Clinton becoming president really that horrible? Up until two years ago, Bill Clinton was the favorite president of most Democrats. But recently his popularity has been slipping. What’s going on?

But today I read an interesting article by Barrett Holmes Pitner titled “The White Entitlement of Some Sanders Supporters“. Now, Pitner is a Sanders supporter and even interned for Sanders. But he is noticing the same things I have — Sanders supporters trash talking Clinton, talking about how “Killary Clinton” has stolen the nomination, that she is cheating, and that she can’t be trusted. But Pitner has a theory:

The main source of their frustration was merely the fact that they had lost. The fact that she is ahead in the popular vote, has won more primaries and caucuses, and has earned more delegates was to them a minor nuisance. They had their absurd talking points and were unwilling to deviate into reality.

The more I reflected on them, the more I realized the key point: They felt entitled to win, and a defeat meant that someone must have cheated or that their opinions did not matter, which of course couldn’t be true. They preferred to suspend reality and fabricate injustices rather than concede that Sanders has lost fair and square.

Essentially, we disagreed on what America supposedly promised or owed us. They felt success was promised to them. The entitlement to believe that you should always win allowed them to overlook how the system in many ways has always been unjustly rigged in their favor because they’re white.

This could explain why Sanders supporters are predominantly white, while most minority voters favor Clinton. Could it be that Sanders (if even unintentionally) is benefiting from the same white tribalism that appears to be the driving force behind Trump’s appeal?

Well, I expect some of my readers to strongly disagree with this idea. I’m not even totally convinced of it, but so far it is the only explanation I’ve heard that makes any sense.



  1. Rick wrote:

    Agreed. I’ve lost track of the number of times that I’ve either had or overheard almost exactly this conversation in the last couple of months. Pitner’s theory matches what I’m seeing.

    Monday, June 6, 2016 at 3:03 am | Permalink
  2. Hassan wrote:

    I am neither white nor liberal, and I would vote for Bernie in Bernie vs Trump matchup. But if it is Hillary vs Trump, I will vote Gary Johnson.

    Monday, June 6, 2016 at 4:54 am | Permalink
  3. zyvlyn wrote:

    As a white, liberal millenial, I understand the appeal of Sanders.

    When we were kids, we were promised that after college, the world was our oyster. We would get high paying jobs in the field of our choice, we would start families and live happy, fulfilling lives.

    But then we did start graduating college and reality punched us in the teeth. I graduated in 2008 and was immediately smacked down by the recession, forcing me into a low paying, dead-end job that could not possibly satisfy the immense amount of student debt that I was assured would not be a problem to pay off. I am now 30 years old and am just now starting to finally get my feet under me, financially speaking. And my story is hardly unique.

    Many people in this circumstance blamed wall street and the banks for this, and it’s easy to see why. They stole our promised lives from us.

    Sanders is the only candidate who speaks directly to that anger. So, many in my situation find anyone else unacceptable. The fact that Sanders is about to lose is just more proof that our old nemesis Wall Street has screwed us over again by forcing one of their own down our throats over the only candidate who actually cares about us.

    Personally, I am able to see past all of that and understand that electing Clinton is too important to risk by acting like a child, but not everyone in my situation is there yet.

    Monday, June 6, 2016 at 6:27 am | Permalink
  4. Iron Knee wrote:

    Zyvlyn, you make an important point, and I think that your anger is not only justified, but is having an important and very positive effect on this election by pushing the Democratic party toward the progressive end of the spectrum.

    I’m really hoping that Wall Street and other greedy corporations wake up and realize that there are limits to greed. Eventually the peasants revolt. Well, at least the rest of them will once they stop allowing themselves to be manipulated by Fox News.

    I’m still a bit curious why this anger is coming primarily from white people (with the exception of our Hassan 🙂 ). And ironically, many of the Sanders supporters I’ve talked to are actually financially well off.

    Monday, June 6, 2016 at 8:20 am | Permalink
  5. zyvlyn wrote:

    If I had to guess why the anger is mostly white, I would guess that it’s because white people heard the promises the most and had the furthest to fall. White people are used to having the system work FOR them, so when the system screwed them over, it was like a slap in the face.

    Monday, June 6, 2016 at 8:43 am | Permalink
  6. ThatGuy wrote:

    I think Zyvlyn is spot on. I was lucky to get out of college with effectively no debt (hooray, privilege) but it was still a bit of a shock to enter the work force at a pay rate just slightly better than if I’d stayed with my high school job at a butcher shop (while adding significantly to rent and other expenses, hooray DC).

    So I think that’s a big source of the anger. The drop overall in social mobility has hit white millennials the hardest, relatively, so there’s an instinct to look for more drastic change. We helped drive Obama into office but none of the everyday problems really went away, so further leftward we look.

    While I completely agree that privilege plays a part here, even a major one, I do chafe at the constant mention of “entitlement.” This is the left eating its own by appropriating a usually conservative talking point to treat part of its base like children who feel owed for no other reason than their own perceived self-worth. This is where Zyvlyn’s 2nd paragraph from post 3 comes in. We were told “work hard and you’ll get x, y, and z.” Then 2007 happened and the brakes were thrown on our futures by people we hadn’t elected.

    Now, plenty of generations have dealt with a cooling or even frigid job market once they left school. My parents ran into the 80s slowdowns shortly after school. But college was so relatively cheap back then that my Dad going from a forestry major to an engineering major wasn’t a big pull. Try doing that now. Oh, by the way, Masters degrees are par for the course now in many fields.

    All of this is a ranty way of saying that I don’t feel many of my peers feel entitled to anything beyond what they’ve worked for. If anything there’s a slight psychological shock to having to swallow a candidate for President that we didn’t vote for the whole way. But there’s also the fact that we don’t count on Clinton to care about the environment as much as she should or curb income inequality as much as she should because she’s campaigning on incrementalism. In a lot of ways, that’s too little too late for many of us.

    I have the worst habit of writing way too much here.

    Monday, June 6, 2016 at 9:02 am | Permalink
  7. James wrote:

    Trumps themes are inherently and obviously racist. Bernie’s not. Why the desire to find an explanation that fits Bernie supporters to the same conclusion?

    The core of this narrative struck me as being equally applicable to the 2008 election and the die hard support HRC enjoyed. I think this has more to do with a candidate who’s able to inspire people deeply and with conviction.

    HRC has always enjoyed a strong core of support from those who believe that electing a woman the the office of president is the most important objective, but we never heard about “female entitlement” in 2008 or now.

    The truth is, there will always be sore winners and sore losers, whoever the candidate and whatever the platform or issues. Sometimes it’s possible to over-analyze a situation, rarely less then in a presidential election.

    Monday, June 6, 2016 at 9:17 am | Permalink
  8. Hassan wrote:

    Ironically, Bernie is the one fighting the white privileged system. I don’t see blacks controlling Goldman Sachs, Bank of America, Chase, AIG etc. The white corporate welfare will be biggest loser if he wins.

    Monday, June 6, 2016 at 10:38 am | Permalink
  9. westomoon wrote:

    Not to worry — at this point in 2008, Hillary’s supporters were saying the exact same stuff.

    Because of the horse-race approach the media takes to elections, our understanding is based on personalities, but what’s really at stake is the definition of the Democratic party.

    I have rued the party’s giant step to the right since the DLC took over, along with its whole “kick the hippie” disregard of the liberal base, so I am a Bernie Geezer. If I were 40 years younger, I would probably be feeling — and sounding — much like Bernie’s millennial supporters.

    I’ve been seeing, and hearing, Hillary Clinton for nearly 25 years now — it feels like my distaste for her has a pretty sound basis. But I am old enough to know that when it comes down to filling out my ballot, I will vote for the person who’ll come closest to supporting what I hold dear — and against the person who’ll endanger it. So will Bernie’s young supporters — they just haven’t been voting long enough to know that yet.

    Monday, June 6, 2016 at 11:15 am | Permalink
  10. Iron Knee wrote:

    I just want to point out that I am only talking about supporters, not Sanders himself.

    Monday, June 6, 2016 at 1:06 pm | Permalink
  11. Wildwood wrote:

    The idealists remind me of the protesters of the Viet Nam war. Many have never voted and feel that they can change the world if Sanders wins. It would be nice were this to happen, but it is highly unlikely. Some will stay home and some will grudgingly vote for Clinton. I understand the frustration they are feeling and the anger. I’ve lived through enough elections to have that feeling quite often. I decided long ago that voting is virtually always picking the lesser of two evils. That’s a lesson they will have to learn for themselves.

    Monday, June 6, 2016 at 1:49 pm | Permalink
  12. redjon wrote:

    Based on the way things actually were when my parents were growing up and as hard as they worked to get to where they eventually got, and based on my own experience and that of my wife, I’m thinking it’s just possible that (if we’re going to generalize) Zyvlyn’s generation’s expectations might have been set unrealistically high. Maybe by people like Trump, to some extent; or maybe by people like Sanders.

    Universal health care is a great idea (and a great ideal), but nobody should pretend it won’t cost us dearly… especially when trying to implement it suddenly. Those of us who are paying attention understand that one reason Obamacare has crippled more than one health insurance carrier is that carriers were unprepared for the very large number of people who have been living with preexisting conditions for a very long time. They didn’t know and could only guess, and some guessed worse than others.

    It’s nice to think about free college for everyone, and that’s also an excellent idea (and ideal) at least at the state college/university level but, again, it will cost something. And how many students will be still be interested in working hard enough to earn the grades which must be a minimum requirement for admission when there are already so many Zyvlyns out there who have already earned diplomas and are willing to compete with them? And, keep in mind that, free college or not, there still needs to be a way to pay for living expenses… unless that too will be covered, which is unlikely.

    Nothing is free, is my point, and those of us with discretionary income must be willing to part with more of that income in the form of taxes than we do right now if we are going to do the things we agree should be done.

    Hell, we can’t even convince people to pony up for maintaining and marginally improving primary and secondary education or infrastructure or police protection, much less paying for things on our collective wish list.

    And then, there’s Social Security, part of the original idea of which was to get older and very experienced workers who maybe only understood old technology but could get it right and who BUILT the new technology, by the way, out of the way to make room for up and coming youngsters who had plenty of book learning but no experience on which to build.

    Think China is a threat to us now? China just really began to industrialize in a serious way after Nixon visited China in 1972 and we only established full trade relations in 1979. Less than two generations have passed, and China is BEGINNING to develop what will be the first generation of mentors for THEIR up and comers, and American taxpayers continue to complain about the generally high cost of education. The reality is that, China knows firsthand what it’s like to be desperately poor and is way hungrier that we are and has barely begun to compete.

    Not to minimize your plight, Zyvlyn, but, like most of us, you’re going to be working hard for what you want until you either retire or die… or lower your expectations… or make a living in a less than honest way and risk the consequences.

    Monday, June 6, 2016 at 3:43 pm | Permalink
  13. Zyvlyn wrote:

    Yeah, I don’t remember saying that I was unwilling to work to earn the life I want. I don’t even think that college or healthcare need be free.

    Over the last few decades one’s prospects when entering the workforce have changed significantly.

    College tuition rates have skyrocketed, which has lead to massive amounts of debt for both parents and students.

    You might say, well then just don’t go to college. But that’s a tough proposition given that a bachelor’s degree is considered the BARE MINIMUM requirement for most jobs in most fields.

    In addition to the massive amounts of debt recent graduates are shouldered with, cost of living is steadily increasing and wages have remained stagnant, even though unemployment is down.

    Many millennials look at this situation and have to resort to things like staying home with their parents to cut costs. Which ends up making us the butts of many jokes by the same generation of people who told us all those lies when we were growing up in the first place.

    To be clear, I am not accusing you, RedJon, of crapping on millennials after sticking them with massive bills and stagnant wages. But your opinions on my “expectations” are definitely from that same side of the street and so I invite you to keep them to yourself.

    I and my cohort have already heard plenty from smug baby boomers about our “expectations.”

    Monday, June 6, 2016 at 8:26 pm | Permalink
  14. zyvlyn wrote:

    I doubt anyone is going to scroll back to check on this post, but in case anyone does, this is exactly what I am talking about.

    Sunday, June 12, 2016 at 5:25 am | Permalink
  15. Iron Knee wrote:

    Zyvlyn, I checked!

    I think the experience of the boomers was that they did work really hard, and they got ahead. They then presumed that if they could make it, then anyone could (even in a world of declining opportunities). And this sense of “I worked hard and deserve all the money and privileges I received” got passed down to young people and became a similar sense of entitlement.

    Whose fault is it? Probably both. Or neither. Boomers naturally wanted their children to have a better life than they had, potentially skipping the “worked hard” part of the equation. Young people saw the boomers sitting on top of housing that had exploded in value, and naturally asked “why not me?”

    Monday, June 13, 2016 at 9:36 am | Permalink

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    […] White Entitlement? I’ve been having conversations recently with Bernie Sanders supporters and have felt a kind of desperation coming from them. Like if Sanders doesn’t win (and most of them are still holding out hope for that unlikely outcome) they will be very depressed or angry. Some are saying that they plan to vot … more info… […]