It was with a heavy heart and an even heavier headache that I turned my television on for the first of way too many presidential debates. These contests, which somehow become more embarrassing every four years, are supposedly intended to enlighten the voting public, to articulate to the American people the thoughtful philosophies of the twenty people vying for the office of the presidency. A lovely notion, this, and a fantastical one, as well: the real purpose of these pageants is to grant the twenty millionaires onstage, most of whom are effectively identical to one another in the substance of their ideologies, to utter misleading and vacuous answers to equally misleading and vacuous questions.
If I come across a bit too cynically for your tastes, just give me a few minutes of your time. When one of the moderators—all of whom are millionaires, as well—asks Elizabeth Warren what she intends to do for the millions of Americans whose incomes fall below “the poverty line”, she tells the world: “This is an economy that does not work for all Americans. It works only for the people at the very top. I want to be the president for every person in the United States.” What a laudable goal! Now, how do you intend to be such a president? How will you pull those indigent Americans out of their economic misery?
Of course, neither of these follow-up questions, these necessary follow-up questions, will ever be asked. The closest we come to such relevant interrogation is when Warren, or perhaps a different candidate, calls on Congress to “raise taxes” on “the wealthiest people in this country”. It’s not the most detailed plan, but at least it is, technically, a plan; the only problem is that we have no idea how this new tax system will benefit impoverished Americans. Will this newfound tax revenue be awarded to the less-than-wealthy? If not, then how do they benefit? Unsurprisingly, none of these follow-up questions will ever be asked, either. We are not meant to follow the proposal, whatever it may be, to its potential culminations, whatever those may be: we are meant to get swept up in the sophistry and, more importantly, to vote.
Before we go any further, let me say that I am not necessarily opposed to raising taxes on the rich. It is entirely possible that that tax revenue could or should be used to fund public programs, like education and healthcare. My point is that the statement, “We will help low-income Americans by raising taxes on the rich”, is completely meaningless. It’s not an argument; it’s a rallying cry, and one that we have heard many times before.
And that is probably the biggest problem with the concept of these debates. The rhetorical vapidity described above is the biggest problem with the execution of these debates, but the biggest problem with the concept is its familiarity of failure: we have heard these lies and empty promises way too many times before, including, most notably, by the current president, a man who insisted that we could trust him because he was not a politician. Trump’s presidential failures represent the death, the official and undeniable death, of the monstrous organism that embodies the American political system. In this postmodern state of political science, you can’t just prop up a gray-faced senator, ask him or her to utter clichés, and expect to gin the American people up. This isn’t 2004, and the Democratic Party ought to know better.
I can tolerate platitudes, no matter how stale, if only because they often make me laugh. The one thing I truly cannot stand about these political debates is the moderators’ blatant bias. I watched almost all of the Republican Party debates in 2012, and the consistency with which Ron Paul was ignored should have infuriated everyone who was paying attention. In reviewing those debates today, it is incredibly obvious that Paul was blotted out because he was drawing attention to the massive domestic danger, let alone the foreign threat, posed by the military-industrial complex. It is hard to believe that a presidential candidate—especially one who wasn’t “fringe”, despite all of the press reports to the contrary—actually referred to the United States as an empire seven years ago, but Ron Paul did, and that’s why he was undermined and minimized in the debates.
Today, we call that process “shadow blocking”, named for its practice on the Internet. Want a fun example? Try going on Google and searching: “Andrew Yang Julian Assange”. You will have to dodge several op-eds on Vox, The New York Times, The Verge, and Rolling Stone, none of which even mention Julian Assange, before you find the clip, posted to YouTube by yours truly, of Yang voicing support for the Trump Administration in its prosecution of Assange. My video hasn’t gone viral—it has only a few hundred views as of this writing—but it isn’t exactly an unseen video, either, and it is certainly far more relevant to the original search than any of the articles that appear before it, so why do we have to dig through sediment in order to unearth it? Why do we have to know what Google is doing to the video in order to find it?
MSNBC, which moderated and broadcasted the first Democratic Party debate on Wednesday the 26th, made sure to shadow block Tulsi Gabbard. It’s very strange that the ultra-progressive media, which can never spend enough time reassuring consumers that they are getting the best in diversity, takes absolutely no interest in a multiracial female Hindu who supports Medicare-for-all and who wants to raise the minimum wage to $15 per hour. She didn’t receive much attention at the first debate, either: she was almost completely ignored for the third segment, and despite the promise of the moderators to include all of the candidates in a question about gun control, she was passed over quite conspicuously.
What inspires the media to take such a remarkable disinterest in this woman? You don’t suppose it might have something to do with her opposition to the military-industrial complex? You don’t suppose it might have something to do with her criticism of the moral hypocrisy of our foreign policy, including our disgraceful alliance with Saudi Arabia? You don’t suppose it might have something to do with her pledge to pardon Edward Snowden and to drop all charges against Julian Assange?
The rationalization offered by the so-called progressive media is that Gabbard is unpalatable because she spoke against gay marriage fifteen years ago. In fact, after receiving no questions for almost an hour in the middle of the debate, Gabbard was finally acknowledged . . . but only to be asked to explain why she had spoken out against gay marriage fifteen years ago. Curiously, none of the other candidates were asked to explain their own evolving views, even though their views have, in fact, evolved over the course of their political careers, most of which are much longer than Gabbard’s. I understand that Joe Biden wasn’t onstage with Gabbard, but the ease with which the so-called progressive media is willing to forgive his own inconsistent history is, in light of the faux controversy facing Gabbard, amusingly pathetic.
Even as the media takes no interest in Gabbard’s high diversity scorecard, relentless fascination is directed towards the other candidates’ demographic innovation. Quite a few of the candidates took the time to address the audience in Spanish—the purpose of which escapes me, other than to further humiliate themselves by wearing the thinnest of multicultural masks. It was especially sickening to see that kind of racist pandering from Beto O’Rourke, whose record on forcing Latin Americans out of their homes to accommodate industrial developmentwhose record on forcing Latin Americans out of their homes to accommodate industrial development remains inexcusably concealed. Still, it was hardly more redeeming when Bill de Blasio, who ordinarily talks a pretty good game, attempted to pimp out his own child by declaring that he is the only candidate onstage who has a black son. I know that Cory Booker doesn’t have any children, but all the same: come on . . .
De Blasio made another shameful error when he said that Russia presents the greatest threat to the United States because of their supposed interference in our last presidential election. Of course, he wasn’t the only one to say something ridiculous: Castro, Delaney, Klobuchar, and Ryan all piled on the propaganda by claiming that China poses the gravest geopolitical threat to the United States, even though it is so obvious that the United States is antagonizing China, and not the other way around. However, their comments were enlightened compared to those of Insley, when he shouted, to thunderous applause, that Donald Trump is the most serious threat to the security of the United States. The animalistic shouting of the crowd nearly drowned out Tulsi Gabbard, who said that the most serious threat to the United States is the imminence of nuclear war.
And lest I seem to be completely biased, I would like to give Booker, O’Rourke, and Warren credit for stating that climate change is the greatest threat to the United States. Whether they would take any meaningful steps to halt climate change is another question altogether, but we should respect their decision not to join the jackals in shouting for a war with China or Russia. And while we’re at it, I understand completely that Gabbard, if elected, might not do anything to dismantle the American empire. I am not embracing Gabbard; in fact, I’m very suspicious of her, in part because she was once powerful enough to become Vice-Chair of the Democratic National Committee. However, at this point, I will take her criticisms of the American empire as a welcome mechanism of mass education, and to that end, I think we should promote her, if only as a public intellectual, and not necessarily as a political candidate.
Unfortunately, her philosophy will receive no serious attention in the corporate media. There was some initial excitement surrounding her performance, as she delivered a righteous rebuke to Tim Ryan’s embarrassing claim that the Taliban was responsible for the attacks of 9/11, but within hours, MSNBC, of all the possible outlets, reassured us that Gabbard is completely uninteresting to the American people and that any claims to the contrary are fictions conjured up by right-wing trolls. Evidently, these media powerhouses have become much more efficient in their shadow blocking in the years since Ron Paul’s last stand, and we will have to work harder than ever before to overcome their imprisoning structures.
And overcome them, we will. Hence why we watch the Democratic debates: because, despite all of the incoherence and stupidity and submission their promote, they inadvertently teach us valuable lessons about the forms of propaganda facing us today, and therefore, we must study them, lest we be overpowered by that which we never troubled ourselves to understand.