In the hours since Bernie Sanders vigorously and without ambiguity endorsed Hillary Clinton for president, a change has come over the protests still pervading Philadelphia. The Bernie or Bust train has lost its conductor, but the train, it seems, is chugging forward on its own. Too much swag has been printed to go back now.
“I think what Bernie has to realize is that his followers are independent thinkers. We do our research,” said Marie Adams, 66, who was perched in the shade in Thomas Paine Plaza. “We cannot support Hillary. She is 180 degrees opposed to many of the ideas.”
The city was beset by dueling protests even before Sanders stood in front of a fraught room and declared his allegiance to her late Monday night. One telling moment occurred Monday afternoon, with Black Lives Matter protesters struggling to be heard over Westboro Baptist goons struggling to be heard over one man with long, tangled gray hair screaming “Microphones are for pussies.” It would be wrong, however, to think that the endless sea of identical Bernie shirts implied a sense of ideological cohesion.
In practical terms, little has changed. Sanders supporters, by and large, did not turn out in unexpected droves to Philly because they thought he would win. They were there to protest a rigged system, and Monday's endorsement by their leader seems to have done little to shake their resolve.
Bill Burke, 38, a beefy man who wears his beard in a braid, said he turned Sanders’s speech off halfway through. “They were forcing him to fall in line, and I didn’t want to hear it,” he said.
Who’s “they”? I asked. Burke paused. “I think the DNC, since he’s not a Democrat, threatened to take away his spots on some of the committees that he holds.”
Burke is not sure where he got that information, but he said it felt plausible since conceding to Hillary seemed so out of character. “It’s a conspiracy theory, maybe,” he said, “but it’s happened more than once, so I’m starting to believe it.”
Alex Eason, 27, whose T-shirt corresponded with her Bernie or Bust sign, said that Sanders's speech actually fueled her disdain of Clinton.
“I was inside the convention hall last night when he spoke, and hearing it and all the other completely manufactured propaganda speeches was very disheartening,” she said. “But it was a good reality check that the democratic system is not democratic.”
If never Hillary, then who? The majority of people I spoke with had shifted their allegiance to Green Party candidate Jill Stein, who they said holds many of the same values as Sanders on such issues as war, climate change, and the Trans Pacific Partnership.
I shouldn’t have been as startled as I was, though, by the number of Bernie supporters who said that if it came down to it, they’d sooner support Trump than Clinton.
Claudia Cass, a corrections officer from New Hampshire, said that she expects Trump to win, but doesn't think him capable of producing any lasting damage. Clinton, she said, would be far more detrimental, particularly since Cass thinks she stands a better chance of sticking around for eight years.
“Republicans hate to spend money,” she said. “Are they gonna put a bunch of money toward building a wall that’s never going to freakin’ work? Probably not! It won’t stand up to the scrutiny of the Supreme Court. I think it will be kind of like Obama—we’ll have four more years of constipation.”
Cass, like many Bernie supporters, found herself so sickened by what she feels was a hijacking of the election by Clinton that the actual outcome—which is to say, the president who eventually does take office, the one responsible for negotiating with foreign leaders, waging nuclear war, reshaping the Supreme Court—is less important than the moral road they took to get there. It’s strange to think of a Trump presidency as the byproduct of anyone’s idea of principles, but here we are.
“I don’t think he’ll be better, but I can’t say for certain that he’ll be worse,” Eason said. “He says a lot of crazy, terrible things, but I think you can trust that as much as you can trust all the things that Hillary promises to do, that she also won’t do, based on her past record and performance.”
Kathy Manning, 53, embraces a similar sentiment. Clinton, she said, is a Republican in disguise.
“I do think Trump wouldn’t be as scary as Hillary, because he’s all talk,” she said. “And maybe if we get a better Congress, they won’t pass anything he wants to do anyway.”
“I don’t think he’s less of a threat,” she added. “I think they’re equal threats.”