One of the videos currently doing the rounds on the internet is a pixellated animation of the Democratic nominee Bernie Sanders apparently flapping his arms like a bird, accompanied by the ‘Bird is the Word’ song from Family Guy. Bernie’s cavorting is punctuated by captions zooming towards the viewer, like those on an old time film trailer, announcing support statistics (Idaho 78%, Utah 79%, Washington 75%). His #FeelTheBern hashtag has been complemented by #BirdieSanders. This derives, of course, from the now famous moment when a finch flew down during one of Sanders’ recent speeches and perched on the podium for some minutes. The speaker had the nous to welcome the feathered supporter and drew laughter and applause from the crowd in doing so.
In Family Guy, Peter’s incessant singing of ‘The Bird is the Word’ keeps his wife Lois awake. Bernie’s nickname and video convey a more light-hearted or positive identification with a bird. Sanders himself reminded his audience of the dove that returned to Noah with an olive branch. Be that as it may, the moniker could never be applied to the Republican nominee Donald Trump. Both Sanders and Trump are in (or approaching) their eighth decade; both derive support from members of working and middle class who cannot identify with current elite politicians. But Sanders’ appeal, unlike Trump’s, derives from policies very different from Trump’s (so far as it is possible to discern Trump’s policies). He wants affordable college education, health care as a right rather than a privilege, a minimum wage above the poverty line and reform of campaign finance. Trump, as Henry Giroux has argued, draws on deep veins of racism and misogyny that have defaced US culture for decades. Trump Towers may reach toward the sky, but the name associates a lumbering earth-bound destructiveness.
US politics is often criticised as being inordinately focused on personalities rather than policies. In the case of Sanders and Trump, however, the policies have become signified by their supporters’ given names. Birdie vs Trump – a clear choice for the US.