What would Mother Jones do? Probably not bash idealistic young leftists

The left-of-center Mother Jones mag inexplicably is targeting the young people behind Bernie Sanders's movement

Published September 16, 2016 6:38PM (EDT)

 (Reuters/Jim Young)
(Reuters/Jim Young)

Mother Jones was a real-life human being famous for her work as a radical labor organizer in the late 19th and early 20th century. Today, Mother Jones is a left-of-center magazine staffed in part by people who are hostile toward Bernie Sanders in particular, and left politics and the young people at its lead in general. It’s kind of odd. Yesterday, editor Clara Jeffery tweeted that she has “never hated millennials more” because many of them report that they will vote for third party candidates in November.

Someone on Twitter quickly pointed out that young people support Hillary Clinton over Donald Trump by large margins, and that it is fact older people who skew right. Establishment-oriented liberals are still furious that Sanders, a longtime independent, dared run inside the Democratic Party, and that young people supported him overwhelmingly.

Mother Jones writer Kevin Drum chimed in to say that the blame shouldn’t be put on millennials but on Sanders, because it was the old man who led impressionable young people astray.

“He's the one who convinced these folks that Clinton was in the pocket of Wall Street,” Drum wrote. “He's the one who convinced them she was a corporate shill.”

Well, shame on Sanders for telling the truth? Drum argues that young people, if not for Sanders, would love Clinton like they loved Obama. Drum doesn't like Sanders and thinks that Clinton has spent a “literal lifetime” fighting for progressive values. Unfortunately for Drum, many young people disagree.

Drum’s problem, then, is that Sanders inspired young people to dream of something much better for their future, and that it is Sanders’s fault that Clinton does not similarly inspire them? Is it wrong for young people coming of age during the Great Recession and the endless War on Terror to have a problem with six-figure speaking gigs from Goldman Sachs?

If Drum believes what he writes, then he does not simply have a strategic disagreement with Sanders and his supporters — he has fundamentally different political opinions. That’s his right. But he should know that he sounds pretty condescending arguing that youthful Sanders supporters are fundamentally like him and, if only they had not been misled, would think and act as he does. Drum, much like Gloria “the boys are with Bernie” Steinem, doesn’t seem to think that young people can think for themselves.

As I’ve written previously, establishment liberals have an unhealthy relationship with the left: they hate the left, call it names and blame it for everything horrible that happens. Weirdly, they then insist that the left follows its lead every four years and vote for their candidate, treating it as some wayward political subsidiary that they have a right to control. They simultaneously describe the left as marginal and a mortal threat to the party’s future. That historic political pattern is now being expressed in generational terms by Baby Boomer Clinton supporters.

Commentators on the left have no doubt been hard on Clinton. But Clinton-aligned pundits have not only attacked Sanders but also his supporters as well, smearing them en masse as ill-mannered “Bernie Bros.” The campaign pointed to horrible internet trolls (that in at least one major case turned out not to be a real person) so as to paint the median Berner as an unhinged and misogynistic white young man.

In June, Mother Jones reporter Pema Levy posted a short piece on “Bernie Sanders's fans” attacking Elizabeth Warren on Facebook for endorsing Clinton. Quoted in multiple vitriolic posts was someone named Mary Sims-Beckham, who wrote things like "SOUNDS LIKE MUSLIMS ARE IN YOUR BACK POCKET TOO!" and accused President Obama of buying 200 guillotines.

If she doesn’t sound like a Sanders supporter, you’re right, she’s not. I messaged her. Sims-Beckham wrote back saying that she has “never heard of the Mother Jones magazine” and does not “believe Socialism and Freedom have anything in common.” She doesn't support Sanders and believes that Clinton “will lead this country to the Global Government she's been working hard to make it happen.”

Liberal establishment figures would have hated Sanders were he running as a third-party candidate or independent too but that doesn’t matter: they hate the left whether it works inside the party or out. The only thing that would make liberals happy is if the left — and young people — disappeared. Since they wouldn’t disappear, the response has been to relentlessly demonize young people and their geriatric Pied Piper and to render invisible the fact that Sanders support came not just from young white men but also from young people of all genders and races (and many older people too).

Earlier this month, The New York Times wrote with some surprise that “many Democrats are expressing alarm at the lack of enthusiasm, and in some cases outright resistance, some black millennials feel toward Mrs. Clinton.” If the media had previously taken stock of the fact that more young black people supported Sanders than Clinton, this wouldn’t have been so surprising.

Mother Jones, a magazine that purports to be a leading voice for left politics in the United States, finds itself woefully out of step with the left and with its future: young people, also known, annoyingly, as “millennials.” Don’t get me wrong: they publish some really great work. But if they’re going to make maligning the American left and its young leaders a central feature of their publication then they should rename the magazine.

With the poll gap closing between Clinton and Trump, alarmed liberals are predictably laying the groundwork to blame Sanders for a possible loss. Why? Because embattled establishment liberals are eager to maintain control over their party. It won't work. Radicalized millennials aren't going away. No one can stop their rise, both inside the party and out.

By Daniel Denvir

Daniel Denvir is a writer at Salon covering criminal justice, policing, education, inequality and politics. You can follow him at Twitter @DanielDenvir.

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Bernie Sanders Democratic Party Media Mother Jones Magazine Progressivism