The Elephant In the Room (Final Essay) – By Ursula Muñoz Schaefer

Hi Ursula,

Very impressive! Your images are not only excellent but well-integrated within the text of your essay.  Truly good analysis – thorough and well-written.  You did a superb job on this assignment. It was terrific to read. Well-done Ursula!

Through the increasing polarization between the left and right, the Democratic party has been split between moderates and those further left quarreling over the correct way to combat Trump’s far right wave. The differences in news coverage received by the various Democrats who have announced their candidacy for 2020 demonstrates this better than anything else, as do the various social media campaigns surrounding them. These differences aren’t just reflective of the divide within the left—they also echo the toxicity that permeated during the 2016 elections as our political analysis became rooted in feelings rather than facts or ethos.

As Saturday Night Live hilariously showed in their “Women of Congress” sketch, our government is more diverse than ever before and the Democrats are doing their best to battle Donald Trump while upholding their moral values. It’s too bad then that they all have different ways of doing this and can’t seem to agree on an effective strategy. From House Speaker Nancy Pelosi emphasizing bipartisanship on the first day of the 116th Congress to Representative Rashida Tlaib shouting to “impeach the motherf•cker” only shortly after, it’s clear who is a stickler for tradition and who opts for more radical rhetoric (Abramson).

The new women of Congress are fierce as hell.

“It’s not that Pelosi and her aides favor politesse over throwing punches; it’s about the effective use of newfound power,” Alana Abramson of Time magazine says. Being a masterclass snarker has earned Pelosi titles like “Madame Clapback” on SNL as well as positive coverage on the mainstream news, but her constant emphasis on moderacy and the lack of radical pathos in her words don’t quite score her points with everyone (Abramson).

One politician who represents the split like none other is Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders. Since having lost against former Secretary Of State Hillary Clinton in the Democratic primaries leading up to the 2016 elections, Sanders has built a social media empire, hosting Facebook Live interviews dubbed “The Bernie Sanders Show,” which have generated millions of views. Since then, audio recordings of these conversations have been made available as podcasts on iTunes, and his press staff has worked to upload short policy-focused videos in the style of Now This all over Facebook (Debenedetti).

Between his press staff’s efforts, Facebook town halls, massive following, and the Bernie Sanders Show, Sanders is unrivaled on social media.

“The corporate media, by definition, is owned by large multinational corporations,” Sanders says. “Their bottom line is to make as much money as they can. They are part of the Establishment” (Debenedetti). This is a man who has been complaining about corporate programming for decades now. His bold rhetoric uses ethos and logos to give him an aura of intellectualism but also sneaky pathos tapping into the psyche of angry anti-capitalists perpetually obsessed with Big Brother. Whether or not his claims that the mainstream media hasn’t been paying him enough attention are true, his “fake news” rhetoric resonates well with fans who are still angry about the 2016 primary results and distrust moderate Democrats more than the GOP. Ironically, Sanders’ strong mainstream media distaste and anti-establishment rhetoric is similar to that of Trump and other Republican incumbents, their arguments high in pathos generating passion from their feverous fanbases (Fried).

Sanders’ base is mostly made up of millenials and Gen-Z voters who have a greater understanding of social media and its ability to change public opinion, so you can bet they’ve already begun their crusades on the other Democrats running against Trump in 2020. Before popular Texas politician Beto O’Rourke even announced his candidacy in March, Tina Nguyen of Vanity Fair was already predicting the backlash he’d receive from voters of his own party, even going so far to say that Republicans’ strategy for 2020 will be to attack his centrism and “unleash the Bernie Bros” (Nguyen).

“They think the Establishment is always looking for someone to go against Sanders—to run against progressives in the party and stop them from being ascendant,” says Georgetown University historian Michael Kazin. It extends further than just #FeelTheBern hashtags and Facebook pages dedicated to knocking Sanders’ competition. According to Nguyen, “Sanders-friendly” podcasts like Chapo Trap House have already begun their crusade against O’Rourke and other Democrats, accusing them of “slapping a cool coat” on his centrism in a desperate attempt to snag voters old and young (Nguyen).

Ideological purity and the insistence with Sanders above all other Democratic frontrunners can be seen on Twitter.

Senator Kamala Harris has received similar treatment from Sanders’ supporters. Since announcing her candidacy in January, they have criticized her liberal track record and made assumptions about her supposed ties to Wall Street (Nichols). This backlash brings to mind the 2016 elections, in which fans’ dead-set belief in Clinton’s rigging of the primaries resulted in disaster.

In fact, some would argue that the distaste for Clinton stemmed from more than her general unfavorability and poor campaigning strategies. It’s been suggested that many of Sanders’ most ardent fans expressed rampant sexism over social media sites like Twitter, Reddit, and YouTube. “it seems more likely that misogynistic elements of attacks on Clinton have more to do with the anonymity of the Internet and the friction of heated arguments,” UWSP professor Kelly Wilz suggests.

Sanders fans express their rampant anger towards Clinton in the YouTube comments section to a video that waves away her concerns of implied sexism during a CNN debate.

Simply put, the pushback on her pulling out the “woman card,” every time she even hinted at Sanders’ patronizing tone during the CNN debates (“all the shouting in the world is not going to do what I hope all of us would want,” he said), was a double standard, as was the network’s reluctance to ask specific questions concerning sexism during these debates (Wilz).

Still, others consider it irresponsible to generalize Berniecrats so much. “Clinton was undoubtedly and unequivocally a victim of sexism during her campaign, but to paint all Sanders supporters with that broad brush is mistaken,” says Jason Nichols of The Hill, pointing to MSNBC’s Joy Reid and other mainstream news anchors for bias. “Mainline party members accuse them of sexism and racism without a solid basis for the allegation” (Nichols).

Regardless, modern insistence on ideological purity is not wise. Since 2015, both social and news media have been used as power tools to further divide the left and if we are not careful, history will repeat itself next year.


Works Cited:

“Halsey.” Saturday Night Live, season 44, episode 12, NBC, 9 Feb. 2019.

Abramson, Alana. “ House Democrats Gird to Fight Trump. And Each Other. .” Time, 21 Jan. 2019, pp. 29–31.

Debenedetti, Gabriel. “Bernie Sanders Is Quietly Building a Digital Media Empire.” Intelligencer, 22 Apr. 2018,

Fried, Joseph. Democrats and Republicans–Rhetoric and Reality: Comparing the Voters in Statistics and Anecdotes. Algora Publishing, 2008.

Nichols, Jason. “Some Democrats Won’t Feel the Burn for Kamala Harris, but Should It Matter?” TheHill, Capitol Hill, 8 Aug. 2017,

Nguyen, Tina. “The G.O.P.’s Plan to Take Down Beto: Unleash the Bernie Bros.” The Hive, Vanity Fair, 8 Jan. 2019,

Wilz, Kelly. “Bernie Bros and Woman Cards: Rhetorics of Sexism, Misogyny, and Constructed Masculinity in the 2016 Election.” Womens Studies in Communication, vol. 39, no. 4, 2016, pp. 357–360., doi:10.1080/07491409.2016.1227178.


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