Because I supported his position that America is long overdue for a reversal of economic inequality back in the 2016 primary, I put ‘Vote Bernie … you know you wanna’ stickers on my Pathfinder and guitar case … and left them there even after he didn’t get the nomination.
Since that time I’ve gotten everything from thumbs ups and nods of approval to enlightening disagreements about Bernie’s position on the need to raise the minimum wage, address climate change, roll back the tax cuts for the super rich, and ensure health care for all.
A couple of weeks back the Law of Averages finally caught up with me.
As I was donning my mask to enter Braum’s Ice Cream and pick up some milk and bananas, I glanced sidelong to see a car swerving into the left lane toward me. “I SAW YOUR BERNIE STICKER,” the man inside yelled as he jolted to a halt.
Startled, I said nothing. “HE’S A SOCIALIST. TELL ME ONE COUNTRY WHERE SOCIALISM HAS EVER WORKED?” he blasted with indignant vibrato.
“Well, you know Bernie is more of a social democrat and the reason I …”
“NO, NO HE’S NOT! HE’S A SOCIALIST!” the man countered with a spew of vapor that caused me to check to see that my mask was on properly. Having been raised in the Republic of Frontenac and, therefore, never one to turn away from verbal repartee punctuated by a little sign language, I automatically thought of an appropriate response in the form of a certain Italian gesture along with a pithy remark about him having consumed a little too much MAGA Kool-Aid … but thought better of it as the man seemed to be seriously off the handle.
“Gee, you might be right about that. I have some friends who see it that way. But why are you so mad at me?”
“I’M NOT MAD! YOU TELL ME ONE COUNTRY WHERE SOCIALISM HAS EVER WORKED. TELL ME EVEN ONE!”
“Well, there’s Denmark and …”
“YEAH SURE. AND THEY’RE TAXED OUT THE ROOF! ARE YOU WILLING TO PAY HALF YOUR INCOME IN TAXES?”
“If it would help balance the inequality in the country I’d sure be willing to consider ….”
“NO YOU WOULDN’T. THAT’S A LIE!
At this point I had a flashback to being a crisis counselor on the street in Chicago in the ‘70s. Specifically, a time I found myself backing slowly away from a wild-eyed man on Wilson Avenue who was ‘itchin’ for a fight.’
“AND ANOTHER THING: I SAW YOUR ‘BLACK LIVES MATTER’ STICKER TOO. BLACK LIVES DO MATTER, BUT THEY’RE JUST USING IT AS AN EXCUSE TO RIOT.”
“Yes,” I nodded. “I believe some of the protesters are. That’s something we agree on. You know, overall, I’m really more of a moderate on most political issues.”
“NO YOU’RE NOT. YOU’RE A DAMNED LIAR!” was the last denunciation I heard as the automatic sliding doors to asylum parted and I entered the store.
I must admit I felt a bit shaken. So much so that I took a good look around for Angry Man as I exited, lest I again be the object of his vitriol.
Later that day, while reflecting on my first thought that the man was a freaked out follower of the Tweeter In Chief, it came to me that he could well have been a Black Belt Democrat; one afraid of Bernie’s challenges to the status quo.
It’s not just Republicans who sometimes act as though Sanders walked out of an Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn novel to propose herding us all into collective work farms, starving half the population and establishing a gulag where he’ll send his political foes, there’s a bunch of Democrats who fear him as well.
True, they’ve started to chill a little since Sanders conceded to Biden and they’ve been working on a joint plan to address health care, criminal justice reform, climate change, jobs programs, education and undoing Trump’s immigration policies, but Bernie’s views and his progressive followers still make them nervous.
So it could be that Angry Man was a Democrat who had recently gotten out of Covid quarantine and had just listened to a PBS interview in which Sanders asserted “Biden’s views are not mine, my program was much more progressive” right before he pulled into the Braum’s lot and spied my Bernie sticker.
Then again, maybe not.
In any case, I got online that afternoon and ordered a BIDEN 2020 sticker which I’ve decided to position over my BERNIE 2016. No sense tempting another civic-minded citizen of either party to go haywire. I also ordered one to stick next to it that says ‘Practice Random Acts of Kindness … and senseless beauty.’
If someone starts yelling at me about that one in the Braum’s lot, this time I won’t hold back; I’ll ask them to wait right there while I run in and buy them a double-dip ice cream cone.
Come to think of it, that’s probably what I should have done in the first place.
J.T. Knoll is a writer, speaker and eulogist. He also operates Knoll Training & Consulting in Pittsburg. He can be reached at 231-0499 or email@example.com