One of the more embarrassing statistics in American politics is that non-Hispanic white men make up an estimated 31 percent of the U.S. population but a whopping 64 percent of Congress. By contrast, people of color, in general, make up about 38 percent of Americans but only 20 percent of Congress. Women have it worse: just over 50 percent of the populace but 19.7 percent of the folks who decide our national laws.
There are similar statistics of power in law, media, sports, academia, and so on. By any standard, to be a white male in America is to have better odds of professional success and general happiness than members of every other demographic. Add to the mix heterosexuality and Christianity, and half the work is already done relative to peers who are women, people of color, LGBTQ, non-Christian, etc. God forgive you if you happen to be all of these.
Yet, the balance of power is shifting to something more equitable. Marginalized groups are taking bigger and bigger pieces of the pie (though still not big enough), and this is scaring the hell out of many white men. It would be easy to write about the paranoia and ignorance that has thoroughly gripped the Republican Party in the past decade and has seemingly found its nadir in Donald Trump’s rise, but so, too, does that insecurity exist in progressive circles, where many white males have mistaken “diversity” for meaning that their opinions matter less when all it really means is that the experiences of others will come to take on greater importance.
That insecurity — invariably referred to as masculine fragility or white fragility — has been on ugly display since Bernie Sanders announced his presidential campaign last year. What was meant to be a challenge to the status quo has long devolved into harassing behavior by white male progressives (called “Bernie Bros”) that is sexist, racist, and disgusting.
The candidate himself, once a voice of reason and much-needed passion (if, perhaps, unrealistic), has become a parody of the supporters his campaign has struggled to keep in line throughout the primary season. The finger-wagging, the speaking over women, the assertion that Hillary Clinton isn’t qualified, the bizarre declaration that struggling pro-choice groups are part of “The Establishment”, all of it is symptomatic of a man who clearly respects women less than their male counterparts.
So, last night, when Donald Trump appeared on Jimmy Kimmel Live and publicly stated he would debate Bernie and Bernie quickly agreed via Twitter, it was both surprising in the blatant misogyny of the moment and unsurprising considering the behavior of Bernie over the past several months.
This is not a man who understands the experiences of women or, apparently, has made an effort to understand. He’s either unaware or doesn’t care about the workplace divides that keep women out of the boardroom: the golf outings (or whatever equivalent), the drinks after work, the inside jokes, anything that is personal on the surface but wholly related to professional success in the long-run. Or the tendency of women to be silenced or have their ideas stolen when they do get in the boardroom. Or the common phenomenon of highly-qualified women being usurped by less-qualified men for advancement up the career ladder.
Because that’s what a glass ceiling entails: working hard enough to get high enough to have a full view of the organization and understand its workings and having to stay there and watch while the men (often less qualified) go further and make the important decisions among themselves.
The agreement on Weds. night between Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders is a glaring and brutal example of what happens to women in just about every male-dominated space in our society: being shut out of a conversation in which they are eminently qualified to partake by less-qualified men eager to express their less-nuanced opinions.
Never before has a presidential candidate running for a major party nomination sought to debate the opposing party’s presumptive nominee, much less a candidate who is clearly on his way to losing the nomination unless our society’s understanding of math and/or logic dramatically changes overnight.
There is no precedent for a candidate still supposedly participating in a nomination contest seeking to debate their general election opponent. None. Zero.
And it’s not about legality. Bernie Sanders can legally debate whomever he wants. It’s about the symbolism of a less-qualified white man (Sanders) disrespecting the presumptive nominee of his supposed party, who is a woman (Clinton), by agreeing to debate another less-qualified white man (Trump) because he, Sanders, will most certainly lose the nomination and can’t stand the fact that Clinton has declined to debate him again and has turned her attention toward the general election.
It’s petty. It’s childish. It’s incredibly sexist. And it’s par for the course for a campaign that has routinely ignored and/or mocked the concerns of violent misogyny so prevalent among its supporters.
I don’t want to hear the excuses. This is not about “having an open democratic process” or a “frank discussion” on the issues. This is about the preservation of Bernie Sanders’ massive ego (and that of his supporters) and his petulance in the midst of a candidacy that has won less total votes, less states, and less delegates than his opponent, a woman who is the only person in this race with a rightful claim to debate Donald Trump on the national stage.
This is about a full manifestation of white male mediocrity and pettiness.
So, take your moment, Bernie. Have at it. Enjoy these last gasps of relevance in the spotlight. I’ll look forward to ignoring the inevitable documentary that comes out in a few years about what a “revolution” you led that forgot to include those who don’t look like you and wondering what might have been had you done so.
Charles Clymer is an Army Veteran and blogger based out of Washington, D.C., where they live with their girlfriend and two cats. They have been published in several places and quoted by Time, Newsweek, The Guardian, and numerous other publications. You can follow them on Twitter here.