Increasingly, the comment section of any thread on Reddit has become an incestuous circle-jerk of casual racism, and has always been a stronghold of by-the-bootstraps anarcho-capitalism pretending to be libertarianism. It’s not that every Reddit user embraces these things, but rather, the vocal parts of Reddit and a disturbing number of upvotes are dedicated to keeping comments like, “Most of what I’ve heard about the college black activists is they want to get rid of the ‘systematic racism’ in the colleges. I agree it’s about time to drop the affirmative action laws.” That comment had more than a thousand upvotes—tokens of agreement—and dozens upon dozens of crappy, unthoughtful replies that jacked off other racists for agreeing that non-whites are just big stupid goons.The comment is made in complete, disgusting, and likely willful ignorance of what affirmative action is, and the same is true about the commenter’s understanding of institutional racism. This kind of thinking is common and pervasive on Reddit, which is especially popular with 20-something males.
There is a counter-culture on Reddit that opposes these things, but they’re largely relegated to their own spaces of the website, where they can discuss heinous crap like the above safe from being threatened and harassed by a culture of users who have made it abundantly clear that they’re more than happy quietly promoting white supremacist ideals and threatening or harassing people with different opinions. (I’ll be pleasantly surprised if this article doesn’t net me at least one impotent death threat from a neckbeard who has no idea why oh why it’s so hard to have healthy relationships with other adults.)
But so what, right? The comment section on any high-traffic website is a magnet for human garbage (and while conservatives are far better and far more prolific at this sort of brain dead trolling, liberals and centrists have produced a number of equally thoughtless, cringeworthy comments.) The “so what” – the mind-boggling aspect to this – is that for whatever reason, Reddit has also managed to attract and mobilize a massive, massive body of support for left-wing politician and presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders of Vermont on a platform that’s promising free college educations for U.S. citizens, removing the prison industry from the private sector, and other details that Reddit’s core user base don’t seem like they should care much about.
So here’s this node of extremely conservative culture, helping foster what is possibly the strongest bastion of support for the single most liberal presidential candidate in the running. Weird, right? Self-identifying racists and people too far gone to realize why Bernie Sander’s platform would be good for America are very likely NOT members of Bernie Sanders’ Reddit army, but it’s incredibly unlikely that there isn’t at least some intersection between people who give knee-jerk upvotes to racist comments and who also want Bernie Sanders to be president.
The simple explanation is that Reddit is not a monolith, and while it’s true, it’s also true that the majority of people still upvote loathsome, bigoted comments on hypothetically ideologically neutral subreddits, such as /r/news or /r/politics. It might not be a monolith, but it’s definitely a safe space for white males who want to say off-color things about other identities with the protection of both communal agreement and anonymity.
So why Bernie Sanders? What has this liberal who fully supports the Black Lives Matter movement, who supports universal healthcare, free education, minority and women’s rights, and touts himself as being a socialist (…which, eh, isn’t super true, but hey, whatever) done to garner this support? I think the answer is twofold, and fairly simple: 1) Sanders’ stump speeches and logical progressions are so powerful that even the ideologically or emotionally opposed to listen to what he says and nod in quiet agreement, and that his emphasis of an economic platform that focuses on the growing problems caused by popular villains like big box retailers and private prisons. 2) Sanders’ blunt honesty and consistency in a time of Orwellian double-speak and weekly flip-flops is so refreshing that it’s cracking the thick shell of cynicism that most Redditers find themselves wearing.
At least part of the above is true about Donald Trump, as well, so why hasn’t a popular following of Trumpeters spilled over into Reddit? Why don’t the words of an overt racist seem to appeal en mass to a community that’s more than happy to upvote racism? The answer is—I hope—that Redditers, despite my complaints, remain a pointedly intelligent mob who are still savvy enough to realize that the political platform of their insane hyper-conservative uncle with a seventh grade education isn’t a good idea, even if they do appreciate blunt honesty and a plain-spoken way.
Also, I suspect they are suspicious of him. Once upon a time, after all, Donald Trump was a Democrat, and toed the party line fairly closely. His sudden shift makes very little sense, and a lot of us are, I think, waiting for a Jimmy Kimmel routine where he reveals that Trump’s entire run was a massive prank.