Pundits get justifiably upset when voters or political candidates suggest that Hillary Clinton is just as bad as Donald Trump. The differences between Clinton and Trump and the dangers Trump poses are frequently overstated, but for those of us who believe in social justice, there’s no denying that four years of Trump would be expected to be worse than four years of Clinton.
Yet the pundits themselves commit a much greater sin of false equivalence when expressing their unhappiness with those critiquing the Democratic Party. Jonathan Chait, for example, recently equated protesters at the Democratic convention with Republican politicians, asserting that the only difference between these two groups of “unhinged extremists” was that the former had been “screaming at the stage” in Philadelphia while the latter had been “screaming from the stage” in Cleveland.
On Saturday night, I met one of the people Chait maligned, a Bernie Sanders delegate from California named Yolanda Gonzalez. A veteran elementary school teacher in Los Angeles, Yolanda has been touring the country as a volunteer for Brand New Congress during her summer break. The organization plans to run a full slate of congressional candidates in 2018 who commit to a grassroots-developed platform in the mold of the Sanders agenda: getting money out of politics, taking bold action on climate change, revamping our criminal justice system, ensuring a basic standard of living for everyone, and ending discrimination against historically disadvantaged communities.
Yolanda is proud of her protests at the DNC; in contrast to Chait’s insistence that critiques of Clinton are “more characterological than ideological,” Yolanda’s beef with the Democratic nominee is substantive. She takes issue with Clinton’s history of pushing fracking around the world and her hawkish foreign policy and believes that Clinton faced far fewer consequences for what FBI director James Comey called “extremely careless…handling of very sensitive, highly classified information” than would have been faced by a less powerful person (Yolanda is almost certainly right). Yolanda says her students deserve politicians who will fight for the real changes they need, not those who insist that incremental change is all that’s accomplishable.
That’s why Yolanda became a Sanders delegate. It’s why, despite the rudeness she endured from Clinton delegates (one of whom called a member of her delegation a “fag”) and the Democratic Party’s attempts to silence her protests (which included the installation of noise-cancelling machines) throughout the convention, she continued to show up every day and join her fellow delegates in chants like “No More War,” “Stop the TPP,” “Ban Fracking Now,” and “Black Lives Matter.”
Chait may not share Yolanda’s social justice inclinations and might disagree with her tactics. But “unhinged extremism” comparable to what you saw from the likes of Rudy Giuliani at the Republican convention those tactics most certainly were not. In fact, it’s a lot less accurate to say that than to say that Clinton is the same as Trump.