“I have come here to make it as clear as possible as to why I am endorsing Hillary Clinton,” said Bernie Sanders on Tuesday, “and why she must become our next president.”
With that, it was over. While Sanders has not officially suspended his campaign, the deal has gone down. The success he earned on the campaign trail gave him a seat at the table when the platform was drafted, and will almost certainly get him a top speaking slot at the convention, but he has reached the end of the line. His Secret Service protection detail has been dismissed. That is about as final as it gets.
It is, at first glance, a preposterous thing in modern American politics that Bernie Sanders did so well. Here was a 74-year-old man from a tiny state with wild white hair and a voice like a bowling ball rolling down an alley in Brooklyn matched up against a true juggernaut. The Clinton campaign had all the money, all the endorsements, all the high-profile recognition one could ever ask for. Bernie had Bernie, and a message.
The television behind me is bellowing about Donald Trump and Mike Pence and Newt Gingrich and Hillary Clinton. It yells even when I turn it down, and it still shouts when I turn it off entirely. This is the campaign of The Shout, a roomful of fools and frauds and farce that beggars likeness. Donald Trump is the Republican nominee. Donald Trump is the Republican nominee. I have to keep repeating it to myself in order to make it real.
And then there was Bernie with a bird on his podium and a message redolent of Occupy. “This election,” said Sanders on Tuesday, “is about the single mom I saw in Nevada who, with tears in her eyes, told me that she was scared to death about the future because she and her young daughter were not making it on the $10.45 cents an hour she was earning. This election is about that woman, and the millions of other workers in this country who are falling further and further behind as they try to survive on totally inadequate wages.”
This was his message. Low pay, economic inequality, Wall Street crime, looming environmental catastrophe, free or affordable education; he gave the same speech by rote for more than a year because the message cannot be repeated often enough, and in doing so, Bernie Sanders inspired millions. He showed us what we can be instead of what we are, and it was balm for the soul. The most unexpected presidential candidacy in modern American history very nearly pulled it off.
That gives me hope. There are a lot of people today walking around with their heads down, and rightly so: This Trump v. Clinton contest is a perfect nightmare, made entirely for television and with all the honor and character of a hard fall down a long set of stairs. No matter who wins, we will all lose. People got invested in the Sanders candidacy in a way not seen for decades. His departure is like the tolling of a grim bell, solemn, distant and gone, leaving only a hum in the ears to remind you it was there at all.
But it happened. By God and sonny Jesus, it happened. For a time, Bernie Sanders showed us something other than fear or corporate hegemony or permanent war. He showed us our best selves with a bull-throated roar, and people listened. He reminded us that despite what we hear from the media, the struggle for justice and equality is far from over. His departure from the presidential race signals no end point in this fight; that it happened at all is proof positive that the ground is richly fertile for genuine change.
Hillary Clinton is a fully owned corporate entity with a faux-populist message drafted on the back of a cocktail napkin at a Goldman Sachs convention. Donald Trump is a punchline who speaks in befuddled half-sentences and who wouldn’t know a policy position if it squatted on his face and farted up his nose. These are our alleged options now, a choice between Wall Street and reality TV.
But Bernie happened, is happening, is. Not since Robert Kennedy have we witnessed so transformative a presidential candidate. He raced down the long campaign highway that had been promised to Hillary Clinton and fell ten steps short. His success is ours; it is the scholarship of the possible, of what people sick of corporate politics can accomplish. He did not win, but stands victorious. Do not forget what he has done. Do not let your children forget.