The figure of the “Bernie bro” entered the last election cycle thanks to a zippy Atlantic essay by Robinson Meyer published in October 2015. Meyer described this new archetype as a young white male specimen who was well-educated, performatively progressive, and extremely online. “The Berniebro asks what you thought of the first Democratic debate, then interrupts to say that you shouldn’t confuse Clinton’s soundbites for actual substance,” he wrote. “By the way, the Berniebro adds, he was really impressed with Bernie.” (Meyer styled his coinage Berniebro, but the term morphed into two words in some media outlets as it took off.)
Almost instantly, the Bernie bro was everywhere. “The Berniebro is now what happens when Reddit eats a fairly liberal, if irritatingly opinionated white guy, and spits him out,” Jezebel opined. For many young Clinton supporters, the stereotype captured the exhaustion of standing up for their candidate online in progressive spaces. In New York magazine, Rebecca Traister acknowledged that the characterizations of the Bernie bro could be careless, but argued that they got at something real: “They exist because they describe a dynamic—sexist condescension and dismissal of feminist argument—that is happening online.” In a cultural moment when terms like manspreading and mansplaining had recently illuminated various specimens of clueless boor, the Bernie bro was instantly recognizable. By February of 2016, Meyer cheekily apologized for unleashing the term.
Last week, Sanders announced he is running for president again in 2020. Bernie is back. So: Whither the Bernie bro? I talked to several young people who supported Sanders in 2016 about how they reflect on that election now, whether they’d vote for Bernie again, and what they think of the term that came to define their cohort—for better or for worse.
Jordan, 29, unemployed, Florida
His big speech at the conservative college [Liberty University] was about whether it’s moral to be millionaires and billionaires. It was that that awakened me to feel the Bern.
I post memes every day of Bernie kicking Trump’s ass from the podium. We’re all dying to see it. We need to see it. … Trump makes my life better just by making me laugh—but to vote for his politics would be treasonous.
I do [still] identify as a Bernie bro, because I’m a bro and I’m for Bernie. It’s a conversation that needs to be had. Someone came out and said we don’t need Bernie, we have enough old white men. … I wish Bernie wasn’t 100 years old and that his hair wasn’t crazy, but are we really having that conversation? It’s like we didn’t get past identity politics. … But I identify with the Bernie bro thing because I try to be a bro as much as possible. I can chill with the theater kids and the sports kids.
I’m not even going to say “identity politics” but identity crisis, where people feel the need to defend their identity more than their politics … I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard that with this new Congress. It bothers me being a white man who honestly has gotten schlonged most of his life. I didn’t have the privilege of having my parents go to a great school. When you hear that this Congress needs to be more brown, or the future is female, I’m not even sure what it means. To a dude, it’s like, “No men on the earth.”
Bernie’s the man, I just donated to him. But I’m also very big on Tulsi Gabbard. … I’m not voting for Tulsi [just] because she’s a woman. … Really her message of peace is something we’ve never heard.
Paul, age 24, hotel night manager, New Orleans
If someone wants to call me a Bernie bro, I don’t have much I can say back. Last [election] I was [in fact a] 21-year-old online, so I don’t have much to say back to that. I’m sure [the stereotype is] more frustrating for people who aren’t that. It was very much a way of avoiding the policy argument. I think people just didn’t want to say they had a different worldview than the one Bernie was supporting. Now they’re saying, oh, he’s too old. … If this was an average election cycle, I’d agree, he’s too old. But this is not average: We’re trying to get rid of Trump. … I was strongly opposed to Hillary … I have the exact same feeling about all of [the non-Bernie Democratic candidates for 2020] that I felt about Hillary.
Trevor, 25, works in advertising, Brooklyn, New York
I grew up in Long Island, upper middle class. I would probably fit the Bernie bro demographic, to be honest. … I think it’s comical more than anything. The problem with the Bernie bro stereotype is it’s an erasure of a lot of people who do not fit that stereotype within Bernie’s movement. … It’s a straw man for people who are already inclined to dismiss and oppose him. At this stage I think it’s almost a willful delusion.
Whitney, 35, nanny, Brooklyn, New York
I love Bernie. I really love him. I just think Bernie or someone like him is what we really, really need. I just fully support him. As [the 2020 primary] moves on, I’ll look into more candidates, but I just fully support Bernie. … I donated $3 when it was official. I had no money but I gave the $3, and as it moves on, I’ll get more involved.
I never really understood what the Bernie bro was, exactly. I don’t even know where it came from. It seems like it’s supposed to make you feel like [you’re] some angry white Twitter guy, and I just don’t think those are the majority of Bernie’s supporters. If someone would call me a Bernie bro, I’d be like, fine, whatever, I support Bernie. The Bernie bros are the people supporting him: They’re people of color, women of color [like me]. … When I hear it, I think it’s a person who’s not paying attention.
Jonathan, 38, project engineer, Colorado Springs, Colorado
[In 2016], I liked his message, I liked who he was as a person. I felt he’d been true to himself for his entire career. I appreciated that and could get behind that.
I went to the El Paso County Democratic Convention. That was a circus. It was crazy. … The young Bernie bros shouted everyone down and were already starting their protests. … They came in with their guard up, shouting down anything that wasn’t part of “the collective.” I didn’t know what to expect, but it was not that. … If that’s the stereotype of the Bernie bro, I want nothing to do with that.
I’m undecided [for 2020]. I still very much respect the man and want to see him do well. I like him. But did he have his time, even though it was kind of taken away from him by the DNC? Is it time to get behind a woman or a minority who would be more galvanizing to the base? It’s just, wait and see what shakes out.