Who can best stand up to the trolls?

Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., speaks to supporters on Saturday, Nov. 9, 2019, at Drake University in Des Moines, Iowa. (Bryon Houlgrave /The Des Moines Register via AP)

Today, in the age of social media, it matters a lot how well a particular candidate can stand up to online harassment, caricature and overall cyber-mud throwing. Beat the trolls, and you might have a good chance. Succumb, and your campaign might as well be six feet under.

With the Iowa caucus less than four weeks away and Bernie Sanders rapidly emerging as the front runner, I’ve been wondering what the attacks on Bernie will look like. Over the last couple days, Trump has begun sending out official emails to millions of Americans attacking Bernie, one accusing him of being “A Wealthy, Fossil Fuel-Guzzling Millionaire” and another arguing that he “Can’t Be Trusted To Defend American Lives.” My guess is they’ll throw everything possible at him: he’s too poor, he’s too rich, he’s too outside, he’s too inside, he’s too cute, he’s too ugly, etc., etc.

And none of it will stick.

Sure, Bernie’s Jewish, and he’s made a little money selling books he’s written, but he definitely isn’t part of a Zionist globalist banking cabal. You should see him try to price out fancy sneakers. He’s hopeless. The idea that he’s a part of some global “elite” is ridiculous. Trolling doesn’t have to be true – satire doesn’t even pretend to be true – it just has to feel true. But this line of attack doesn’t. The bankers hate him. I mean, could somebody make a meme with Sanders as the Monopoly Man? Sure, of course they could, but nobody would share it. After all, he isn’t Mike Bloomberg.

The trolls could also try to paint him as a hypocrite who’s just saying what people want to hear to get them to vote for him. But, even as satire, that just doesn’t feel true either. The dude has been saying the same stuff forever, even when doing so was career crushingly unpopular. He might not always have been the most “effective” at bringing his ideas to fruition, but I think it’s pretty clear that he 100% believes in what he’s saying and tries the best he can to live by it. Why else would he have been saying it for the last 78 years?

He’s old, and a year ago, I definitely thought that could be a deal breaker, but he bounced back from his heart attack like a basketball, and as far as I can tell, the guy seems genuinely full of life. Also, by running such a substantive campaign, Bernie has effectively transformed the primary into a referendum on his platform (universal government healthcare and education; massively taxing the rich; hiking regulations on the private sector; taking significant strides on climate change, just to name a few) vs. Joe Biden’s Obama-era “status quo.” And it’s working. The more the public conversation is about issues, the less it’s about Bernie’s personal health.

They could also try to troll him by painting his ideas as stupid and crazy. Like, wouldn’t it be “enabling” for the federal government to provide education and healthcare to all the American people? Isn’t that “communist”?

But by nature of these programs being universal to all Americans, the Right is in this position of having to look people in the eye, who are currently going broke just going to the doctor and getting an education, and tell them that this current system is perfectly fine and reasonable and being a good patriot means accepting that this is just how it is. That’s just obviously not true. If the worst thing you have to say about somebody is that they think my family should have better access to healthcare and education, and they don’t believe my friends and loved ones should have to die in an unnecessary war, you’re not likely to be very persuasive.

To be clear, if Bernie were explicitly campaigning for poor people or Black people to have better access to government services, on the other hand, that might indeed be a loser. Most people who are trying as hard as they can to provide for their own families really don’t want to pay somebody else’s medical bills and tuition. They just don’t. But once it actually becomes about them and their families too, it becomes a lot easier for them to get on board.

That said, there are lots of people in this country who sincerely want America to be a white Christian nation. They don’t want to live in a mixed place where other languages are being spoken, where other Gods are being prayed to, where anybody can come here from around the world and have an equal shot at getting ahead. Those people won’t ever get on board any campaign that isn’t explicitly dog whistling a vision of our country as a theocratic autocracy. But while there’s a terrifying number of such people, it isn’t most people, thank God, at least not in every state, and I think, if we get organized, we can out power them at the polls.

The proposition behind Bernie is simple. The one thing everybody in the US across the political spectrum agrees on right now is that our federal government has become really corrupt and messed up. Bernie has balls and a heart, and he’ll get in there and stand up to it. Period. That’s it. And when that stand is pure like it is with Bernie, I really believe it’s all you need to beat the trolls.

Rob Korobkin

About Rob Korobkin

Rob is a software engineer, community organizer, teacher and musician. He can often be found at Peloton Labs, staring at his laptop, drafting diatribes and programming software late into the night.