Donald Trump's supporters can be a rough bunch, but it turns out they're nothing compared to a cadre of angry Bernie Bros.
When the Democratic Party convention in Nevada gave a majority of delegates to Hillary Clinton, Sanders supporters went berserk. They threw chairs, screamed obscenities, and pitched such a fit that the event had to be shut down over security concerns. Then they went digital, sending thousands of obscenity-laced death threats to state party chairwoman Roberta Lang: "Praying to God someone shoots you in the FACE"; "Hey, b, we know where you live, where you work, where you eat, where your kids go to school… Prepare for hell." Nice.
In response, Bernie the Magnificent hemmed and hawed and, eventually, denounced the violence. "Our campaign of course believes in nonviolent change and it goes without saying that I condemn any and all forms of violence, including the personal harassment of individuals."
Which, to be blunt about it, is a crock. Sanders' entire campaign is premised on the idea of violent change—lots of it. His supporters just want someone else to do the dirty work.
Sanders proposes hiking the minimum wage to $15 an hour, which is another way of saying he wants to make it illegal for employers to pay workers less than $15 an hour—even when there are workers who are willing to take less. He also proposes to make employers provide 12 weeks paid family and medical leave, two weeks of paid vacation, and seven paid sick days.
How is he going to achieve all that? By changing the law and then enforcing it. Note the root of the word "enforce." If a company chooses not to comply the consequences will, eventually, entail the use of armed officers of the law.
Sanders wants to take a blue pencil to the First Amendment to overturn Citizens United. In that case, the government tried to stop a nonprofit corporation from advertising and distributing a movie about Hillary Clinton. This is censorship—and Sanders thinks it is the right thing to do. How does Sanders propose to enforce such restrictions? He's not going to do it by saying "pretty please with sugar on top."
Sanders wants to increase spending on U.S. infrastructure by hundreds of billions of dollars a year. Where will the money come from? You, of course. And if you decline to pay? You could end up like actor Wesley Snipes, who went to prison for tax evasion.
Sanders is a fierce opponent of free trade—which is the radical notion that if two parties freely agree to exchange goods or services, nobody else has a right to stop them. Bernie thinks somebody—namely the federal government—should. "The federal government" is a nicer way to say "armed federal agents."
Sanders wants to "bring climate deniers to justice" and has called for the Justice Department to investigate "climate change skepticism." (Another ugly attack on the First Amendment.)
Even if the effort goes no further than that, it would entail the threat of force, since the government would have to obtain documents, conduct interviews, and otherwise collect information from people who would prefer not to provide it.
Sanders also wants to "stop dirty pipeline projects," "stop exports of liquefied natural gas and crude oil" and "increase fuel economy standards to 65 miles per gallon by 2025." How is he going to do that? By imposing those policies through force.
There are many more examples, but you get the point.
Progressives like to say government is just a word for things we all do together, but that misses a crucial point. Left to their own devices, a lot of people would choose not to do certain things at all—or would choose to do them less, or differently, or with somebody else. Government actually is the way some people get other people to do things without their consent and even in the face of their strenuous objection. If the non-consenting people object too obstinately, the government will bring physical violence to bear. Government is not in the habit of taking no for an answer.
That doesn't mean all government is evil. It doesn't even mean Sanders' policy proposals are wrong on the merits. A sharp advocate could make a good case for some of them.
But it does mean that Sanders wants to bring about a huge amount of social change—not only without many people's consent, but despite many people's vigorous resistance. In a sense, that's the whole point of running for president: If he could achieve his policy aims through persuasion alone, what would he need the government for?
Sanders supporters in Nevada threatened people with violence when they didn't get their way. That's not an aberration. It's the essence of his whole campaign.
This column originally appeared at the Richmond Times-Dispatch.