A few weeks ago, the Institute of Politics and Public Service hosted a mock Iowa caucus event where students could go and learn how caucusing works while advocating for their favorite presidential candidates. After hearing experts from both sides of the political aisle explain the process, the room was divided into two different sections: Republicans and Democrats.
On the Democratic side, student leaders were asked to give speeches for each of the — then three — candidates, after which we would separate into groups depending on the candidate we chose to support. It was at this point in the evening, when the Hoyas for Hillary and Georgetown for Bernie students shouted each other down to try and win people to their sides, when nasty comments were flung across the room, when I found myself wishing to leave rather than engage in the hostile debate, that I really began to understand how ugly this election was getting.
It would be naive to say that politics are kind. I have had my fair share of discussions with Republicans about social, economic and foreign policy issues that have escalated into heated arguments. I have seen the tension between liberal and conservative groups on campus, and the way that political inclination can affect friendships. On a national level, I have seen countless attack ads produced by Democratic and Republican candidates bashing each other to get ahead. I understand this, because our two parties have fundamentally different perspectives on how our country should be run. But never in my life have I seen a caucus so vicious, or seen my party be so savagely ripped in two.
While Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) himself continues to attack former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on her close ties to Wall Street and her support of big banks, Sanders’ supporter base has turned viciously sexist, belittling and cruel. The comment section on Clinton’s latest video, an attack ad against Sanders, contains statements like “Crash and Bern, bitch” and “Her one claim to the White House is that she has a vagina.” Comments about her wardrobe are only just outnumbered by vitriolic statements about her hair, appearance and inability to be “personable.”
On the other hand, Clinton has turned more and more toward negative campaigning, calling Sanders a “one-issue candidate” and denouncing his stances on gun violence and his poor relationship with President Barack Obama. Clinton supporters, for their part, have characterized Sanders as an old man with no experience and little grasp on economics.
There are many differences between the two candidates, and it is important to have viable options when choosing a party’s nominee. Sanders’ rapid rise in popularity has pushed Clinton left, made her a more vocal proponent of LGBTQ rights and the Trans-Pacific Partnership and forced her confront her wealthy roots. Having to face off against the former secretary of state has caused Sanders to have to defend his voting record and create more specific platform proposals. These are the positives of a contentious race, things that we see in nearly every primary; it is the deeply hateful consequences of this cycle that have been so unique.
I want to go back to those first few debates when Sanders urged us to stop talking about Clinton’s emails and when the two candidates would shake hands and laugh. I want to return to the time when we remembered that we all want the same thing: for a Democrat to stay in the White House in 2016. I want us to engage in meaningful dialogue about the differences between candidates but to stop forgetting that we are fighting for a better America, not a meaner one. I want us to step back and look at the 2016 presidential race for what it is: a place for us to choose the man or woman that we think is the most fit to serve as our chief executive.
Most of all, I do not want half of Democratic voters to disappear when the nominee is announced because of the environment of hate and mistrust that we have fostered within our party. When that moment comes, I hope we can set aside our pride and vote with purpose. I do not want to imagine what will happen if we fail.
Mattie Haag is a sophomore in the College. She is the chair of the College Democrats.