I’m proud to state that I’ve been a Democrat for as long as I could even try to say the word “politics.” I probably knew more about Mike Dukakis than any other eight year-old in my school. At age 12, I argued with a fellow middle school student that Bill Clinton was going to beat George Bush, and gambled candy on it. I supported and voted for Al Gore in 2000. I supported Howard Dean in 2004, then John Kerry, and backed Barack Obama on day one in 2007, as soon as he announced his candidacy. And as a professional writer, I’ve published thousands of articles supporting progressive ideals, and they’ve been read by millions of people. I think it’s safe to assert that my liberal card checks out pretty soundly.

Or at least, I thought it did. I was confident that I was a true progressive, but apparently this isn’t the case. I was certain of my allegiance to the Democratic Party, but that too is weaker than I previously assumed. Because according to not one, not ten, but hundreds of Hillary supporters, I am, at best, a DINO. A fraud. A Nazi, even. And this is evidenced, apparently, by my support of Bernie Sanders in the 2016 Democratic primary.

First, let me explain why and, more importantly how, I support Bernie Sanders. I consider myself a Progressive first, and a Democrat second. Actually, no… let me rephrase that: I’m a progressive first, a citizen of the Earth second, an American third, and a Democrat fourth. I will always vote for the most progressive candidate in any election, even if that person happens to be a Republican (a predicament I’ve not yet faced in my lifetime). If I deem two candidates to be equally progressive, I’ll measure them by their contributions to the planet, then to our country, and then, lastly, to our party.

Above all the other candidates running in 2016, Bernie Sanders speaks to my progressive values. His stances on education, health care, taxes, the military… Bernie is the whole enchilada. He checks almost every box, and only his stance on gun control is debatable in my view.

But despite how much I approve of his views, I wouldn’t vote for him if he ran as an independent. All he’d do is split the Democratic party vote and hand the White House over to Republicans, similar to what Nader did in 2000. But he’s running as a Democrat, so that isn’t a conflict I need to concern myself with. And if he loses the primary, I’ll of course back Hillary, who would presumably then be the nominee. He’s already pushed her to the left on countless issues, so in the very, very least, we can walk away from this having accomplished that.

Having said all of that, I try my best to engage in reasonable debate with Hillary’s supporters. I challenge their false assertions regarding his platform and the legitimacy of his candidacy. I point out what I feel are shortcomings in her ideology. I encourage others to spend as much time learning about Bernie Sanders’ platform first-hand as I have spent learning of Hillary’s, and I try my best to do so without insulting anyone, or name-calling, or calling into question a person’s progressivism or their allegiance to the party. And most of these interactions have been fair and mutually respectful. They may get heated, but never rancid.

Do note, however, that I said most in that last paragraph. While most of these interactions have been reasonable, a sizable minority — large enough that I’m writing an article about it — haven’t been as peaceful or respectful. Some of Hillary’s supporters have chosen the less tactful road. The lower road. The Republican road.

“Bernie Sanders isn’t a real Democrat,” they’ll often begin, if you’ll allow me to paraphrase on aggregate, “and neither are you if you support him.”

“None of Sanders’ ideas are realistic. What a gullible idiot you must be to think he can get any of that done.”

“I’m a Democrat. I won’t vote for that socialist, and neither should any other REAL Democrat!”

“You realize Bernie Sanders is a `Democratic Socialist,’ right? Do you know who else was a `Democratic Socialist?’ Adolf Hitler.”

You might be thinking those four paraphrased quotes were isolated incidents, but they weren’t. As a writer, I’ve encountered literally hundreds of Hillary supporters sharing these examples of vitriol. Two messages sent to me in response to pro-Bernie articles even included threatening language, not that I really took them as personal threats.

Again, these sorts of hyperbolic pro-Hillary trolls are by no means the norm, but they’re an alarmingly large minority, so much so that I approach any conversation today with a Hillary supporter buffered by a strong sense of caution, preparing myself for their surely inevitable backlash as soon as I identify who I’m voting for in the primary.

I’m sure there are Bernie Sanders supporters who act in the same fashion, but being a Sanders supporter myself, I’m not privy to those sorts of attacks. I’m not trying to claim in this article that Hillary supporters are worse. But I can confirm, from my own personal experiences, that the better Sanders has performed in the primary, the more volatile Hillary’s supporters have grown. And there are still several months left before the opening primary bell… several months in which, given his trajectory, it’s safe to assume Bernie Sanders will close the gap with Hillary Clinton even more.

If you’ve taken the time to research the candidates carefully, and you’re basing your decision on who to support based purely on what your heart tells you is right, then by all means, support whichever candidate you want. And feel free to debate these candidates, and be fiery with your convictions, and express honestly why you support them and why you don’t support others. That’s your right, and it’s something I think should be openly encouraged.

But for the love of God, don’t refer to those who disagree with you as Nazis. Don’t question their party loyalty, or their liberalism, or their sanity. Don’t belittle them, insult their intelligence, or otherwise act holier than thou. Because at the end of the day, we’re all progressives. We’re all Democrats. And if we argue over the hues and spit vitriol at each other, we’re neither progressives nor democrats. We’re something far worse. We’re Republicans.

Photo by marcn