Last night around 1 a.m., as I tossed in bed, it began to dawn on me that the dream might be dying. The polls weren’t wrong, the forecasts weren’t biased—something had flipped in the ether, the hum of electricity had dimmed into silence, and Joe Biden was going to beat Bernie Sanders bad enough on Super Tuesday to slash all remaining hope. Things change quickly in these campaigns, so quickly that you wonder if they ever really changed at all. Was Bernie’s national lead after the early primaries just a mirage? If they had held the elections before South Carolina, could he have won?
And those questions are followed quickly by rage. How on earth could one victory in a deep-red state so completely alter the race? How could America buy into the final-hour machinations of a party desperately clinging to power?? How could they not see that Joe Biden is degenerating mentally in front of us, and that a vote for him is, ultimately, a vote for Trump? What the hell is Elizabeth Warren doing
There are a few ways to cope with that anger, but one mechanism I find particularly tempting is performative fatalism. I want to declare, to the world and everyone in it, that they screwed up, all is lost, and we’re going to pay dearly. From what I’ve seen on social media in the last 18 hours, I’m not alone. On some level, I believe it—if Bernie Sanders doesn’t get the nomination, I’m convinced Joe Biden will humiliate himself in the general election and we’ll have to endure four more years of hell under Trump.
All of this could be wrong, from beginning to end. Bernie might not lose. Biden might win the nomination, and prove surprisingly durable through November on his way to beating Trump. His presidency might even be good. I simply don’t know—just like I don’t know exactly why Bernie’s flame was snuffed out, even though I have a few guesses.
What I do know, definitively, is that the fatalism I found myself sinking into was not productive. And last night, two tweets served as the reminder I needed:
Mr. Judah Fishmonger (probably…no, definitely his real name) is absolutely right. We’re living in a time of change, Bernie Sanders was never going to be our savior even if he won, and the work continues. The fact that he’s commanded this kind of national movement, and that his support overwhelming comes from the under-45 crowd, proves that progressive politics is on an upswing. Yes, 2020 may not be the year it comes to fruition, but demographics alone ensure it will become the dominant ideology of the left before long.
Fatalism treats pain and failure as a foregone conclusion, and it’s insidious because of the way it subtly pushes people to stop trying, stop hoping. Which is not a rational way to live—we’ve been given a human life for a reason, and once you’ve quit the struggle to make things better, you’ve fundamentally quit on life. The only productive move is to keep working, keep believing, even if the ultimate result will be failure. If someone visited you from the future and told you that fascism and feckless centrism will snuff out leftism at every juncture, the correct reaction would be to keep trying.
Luckily, we have a better chance than that. Barring a surprise, tonight will hurt. It’s supposed to hurt. But when the hurt wears off, the correct reaction is not to give up, or to retreat into the “we live in hell” mindset. The correct reaction is to recognize that the Joe Bidens and Elizabeth Warrens of the world are holding on by a thread, that they had to pull a desperate last-minute maneuver to curb the progressive momentum. The correct reaction is to realize that a dying party managed to resuscitate itself one last time, putting up the kind of fight we’ve never seen it muster against any right-wing opponent, but that the next time, and the next time, and the next time, we’ll crush them. As long as we don’t give in to fatalism.