A scourge is plaguing America. The political class doesn’t know how to handle it, while the media class is dissecting it endlessly.
Is it the brutal, for-profit health care system callously extorting the sick and injured day after day, grinding human beings into slurry to inflate their profits?
Is it an impending climate crisis that could spiral into eco-fascism and threaten the future of life on this planet?
It’s not the sprawling, inhumane prison system whose caged inhabitants could rival the population of small countries, spiking rates of opiate overdoses or even the rising tide of far-right violence.
No, what I’m referring to is much worse: It’s Mean Tweets, and it’s threatening to tear the United States apart, apparently.
The terrifying, existential threat of Mean Tweets isn’t new to U.S. political discourse, as it began in earnest during the 2016 Democratic primary between Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton. Instead of attempting to critique Sanders’ policy ideas — aimed at making life in the U.S. slightly less unbearable for those living paycheque to paycheque — opponents focused on his enthusiastic online supporters, claiming they were proof the candidate and his movement were sexist.
The fact that many of these supporters were women or racialized people didn’t seem to matter, and the phrase Bernie Bros entered political discourse, succeeding wildly where its previous iteration, Obama Boys, had failed.
After Clinton went on to lose the general election to Donald Trump, the Bernie Bros took on a more sinister form, getting retroactively blamed for her spectacular failure. This idea has not just been promoted by extremely online liberals whose brains have been liquified by cable news, but actual Democratic staffers and advisors all the way up to Clinton.
Even the multiple years of extensive investigation into the Russian government’s possible meddling in the 2016 election essentially boiled down to Mean Tweets. Supposedly the election hadn’t been fair because devious Russians had been using KGB mind-control techniques to convince Americans to not vote, such as posting images of a shirtless, muscle-bound Sanders or organizing Facebook groups called “Hillary for Prison” out of a St. Petersburg clickfarm.
American liberals had the excuse they needed to move on from the election without accepting any mistakes had been made, but nevertheless the threat of Mean Tweets receded, except for news cycles breaking down the microblogging addiction of Trump, the first ever Shitposter-in-Chief.
This brings us to the beginning of the 2020 Democratic primary. Sanders supporters were anxiously awaiting the pushback they’d been assured was coming since he’d apparently “never been vetted” and the Democratic Party was supposedly sitting on an extensive cache of oppo research they’d refused to deploy in 2016 because of their famous benevolence and restraint.
So, it was surprising and shocking when the moment finally came and it seemed to be almost entirely based, once again, on Mean Tweets. The discussion has been going on for weeks now in the media with no sign of slowing or stopping. Even most presidential candidates have had something to say
People are sending snake emojis to Elizabeth Warren! People are sending rat emojis to Pete Buttigieg! Sanders is being made to denounce his followers every time he sits down for an interview, and for some reason, no matter how many times he obliges, it doesn’t seem to make a difference.
This week, a popular field organizer for the Sanders campaign was outed by the Daily Beast in an All The President’s Men-style journalistic sting operation for occasionally logging on to a private, anonymous Twitter account to say things such as, “Hillary Clinton should literally be catapulted off the planet.” It’s good to know that in the era of Fake News, the Fourth Estate is alive and well. After publishing this exposé, the journalist who worked on the piece, tragically, became the focus of many Mean Tweets, which turned into its own micro news cycle.
Even candidate Mike Bloomberg has gotten in on the action as part of his obvious wrecker campaign to deny Bernie the nomination, putting out glossy online ads with spooky music highlighting Mean Tweets from Sanders supporters, like one from this particularly intrepid truth teller whose identity we’ll never know.
Curiously, Bloomberg’s campaign hasn’t been highlighting the thousands of responses to his ads mentioning sexual harassment accusations he’s facing, his open embrace of racial profiling or his association with alleged prominent heads of underage sex trafficking rings. Probably just an oversight of some kind!
So, with all this endless hand wringing about Sanders supporters, surely no other candidate has online followings that plumb similar depths? Actually, not so much!
It turns out being mean online is a common phenomenon. Supporters of other presidential candidates routinely fantasize about Sanders suffering another heart attack, or hurl abuse at Sanders surrogates like Senator Nina Turner or National Press Secretary Briahna Joy Gray. Just take a look at how some MSNBC watchers responded to this video of anchor Chris Hayes calmly explaining basic facts in the Democratic primary. So many Mean Tweets!
In particular, former candidate Kamala Harris’ online supporters, the KHive, have essentially morphed into a leaderless death cult with no apparent motivation other than revenge and wanton destruction — and that’s fine! But no one on cable news has any interest in talking about it, and you don’t really need to think too hard about why that’s the case.
Twitter is a fascinating online space because people with no institutional power whatsoever can have just as much influence over political narratives as traditional media or political figures. So, while everyone sends Mean Tweets, in the case of Bernie’s supporters it’s an example of power flowing in the wrong direction.
We’ve already seen it multiple times this election cycle. Harris felt the need to address the online meme describing her as “a cop,” and the previously mentioned KHive seem to agree with the suggestion that it sunk her campaign. Buttigieg was infamously questioned in his New York Times endorsement interview about whether he’d been involved in fixing Canadian bread prices, a meme that began with a small, dedicated group of Canadian leftist shitposters. The true test now is to see whether the Mean Tweets being sent at Bloomberg are able to successfully counteract his hundreds of millions of dollars image rehabilitation program.
This type of online activity has legitimately damaged Bernie’s primary opponents, and throughout the endless media cycles covering this phenomenon, his poll numbers have steadily climbed.
While all this may be uncomfortable for media and political gatekeepers opposed to Sanders, that could soon change. If current trends hold, Sanders is going into this election as the Democratic Party nominee, and Trump is certain to mobilize what remains of his much-discussed online army.
Perhaps if American liberals can get over their permanent state of scandalized pearl-clutching from having their names purposely misspelled by thousands of angry Bernie Bros, they might realize Mean Tweets are all that’s standing between them and oblivion.