I can’t remember why I was lying on my bed, staring at the blades of my overhead fan as they cut past me over and over again. I know only that I was unhappy, rigidly unhappy, and when I fall into that melodramatic funk, I am paralyzed by the same self-aggrandizing thought that has fascinated me since I was five years old, when I was sent to my bedroom for some forgotten offense: “I would be so much better off, and the world would be such a prettier place, if I just gave up and died, right at this moment!” Perhaps I couldn’t articulate it quite so precisely when I was still wearing tighty-whities with cartoon designs, but the sentiment has endured, and resurfaces each time I contemplate my own ineffectuality.
Now, only the most hopelessly incurable narcissist is delusional enough to think that “the world”, whatever that is, would be changed, however superficially, by his absence or his presence, but in America, this pathology is almost our birthright. It is almost an ideal, the apex of achievement: to be useful is one thing, but to be indispensable is the most remarkable of feats. To believe that one’s life could tip the scales of all humanity in either direction is to believe in one’s indisputable value, and because it is far simpler to be a nuisance than it is to be an asset, well, martyrdom is the most convenient means of personal validation. And in America, where politics and wealth are honored most obscenely, it is no coincidence that a presidential campaign is the simplest and the costliest path to martyrdom: either one falls by the wayside on the campaign trail, or one achieves the glory of the democratic crowning.
Were thoughts such as these swirling in my skull as I lay upon my bed, defining my significance in contradictory accord with my own futility? No, I don’t think they were. Probably, I just reached for my phone to look at something on YouTube and I just so happened to notice that it was getting close to six o’clock. Was there something important about that time? Oh, my God! Yes! Tim Ryan was coming to the Franklin Pierce School of Law! He was going to make a speech, less than three hours before the Democratic Party’s third masochistic televised debate! I couldn’t miss that, could I? The speech, I mean; not the debate, for I would have so many opportunities to watch that debate at a different time! No, I had to see Tim Ryan in person, to ask him what he thought about Julian Assange, and to broadcast his predictable opinion to the fifty or sixty people who’d be interested in looking at such footage on YouTube—for free.
Ah, but it would require otherworldly motivation for me to rise from my mattress, get dressed, and drive five whole miles to the aforementioned School of Law, just to listen to a third-tier presidential candidate like Tim Ryan. It wasn’t necessarily that his campaign had been neutered in the first of four (and counting) televised debates, when Tulsi Gabbard reminded him that it was al-Qaeda, not the Taliban, who had the bright idea of hijacking planes on 9/11, even though that really should’ve been enough to abort his campaign in a heartbeat. The real issue was that, in a nonplussing piece recently published by The New York Times, Mr. Ryan had declared he believed the charges against Assange were unconstitutional, but that he would “rely on the Attorney General serving in my cabinet recommendation on this matter” [sic].
Hmm . . . so the same man who declared that we must remain in Afghanistan indefinitely because of an imaginary terroristic threat also believes that Julian Assange has been unjustly charged, but not so unjustly that the charges should be dropped? Hmm . . . it was all very confusing, so perhaps my own intellectual curiosity was enough to compel me out of bed and into my car and towards the School of Law, where I would find out where, exactly, Ryan stood on the prosecution of Julian Assange. Surely that would lift my spirits, eh?
The Franklin Pierce School of Law is a subsidiary of the University of New Hampshire, which is, technically, my alma mater: I graduated from the University of New Hampshire-Manchester, but I’m considering revoking my diploma, since that latter institution employs Seth Abramson, maybe the most repulsive pseudointellectual I have ever met. Ah, but I try not to worry about that kind of thing when I attend events such as this: I’m more concerned with this intertwining of politics and academia, with this attempt to divert students’ energies into politics primarily, as if these students had nothing better to do with their time than to support—financially as well as intellectually—one of the two major political parties. Obviously, the politicization of college campuses is nothing new, but when did twenty-somethings in Concord, New Hampshire, believe themselves to be influential, even dangerous? This diversion of mainstream academic energy into politics—into mainstream politics, especially—portends an imaginatively suffocated future for American scholarship, and I do not have the comfort of saying I’ll be dead long before we harvest from those fallow fields.
Still, I tried to buoy my own expectations, if only because this event was sponsored in part by the American Civil Liberties Union. When I was coming into my own politically, when I still thought that the evangelicals were the greatest threat to my civic liberty, I respected no organization more than I did the ACLU. I saw them as the indefatigable vanguards of the border partitioning “our” liberal democracy from a theocratic chokehold, but as I grew up, and as I came to understand that religion has much less to do with fascism than the rhetoric suggests, I learned that the ACLU was little more than a scarecrow—or, at least, it had been for the last few decades. Concordantly, you will be unsurprised to note that, during this little session with Tim Ryan, the spokeswoman for the ACLU pressed him most aggressively on the question of restoring voting rights to the incarcerated, to prisoners currently serving out their sentences, but said nothing about Julian Assange.
It’s very disconcerting, this ubiquitous assumption of Americans in the Trumpish Age that political action is the exclusive path to practical action, that it is only through electioneering that we can, or will, achieve any kind of meaningful change. I suspect that this assumption follows, at least partly, the universal interest in politics that is characteristic of the Trumpish Age: because everyone is on at least one political bandwagon, it is both convenient and self-congratulatory to hop on board and to become a self-proclaimed activist—and, by contrast, it is both inconvenient and isolating to ask whether the American political system permits any kind of meaningful change in the first place. The latter sentiment has no place on campus, and the Franklin Pierce School of Law is no exception: here, any form of democracy, even one enervated and hopeless enough to be represented by a man like Tim Ryan, is palatable to the student body, even if, and especially if, the student body is politically illiterate.
My first clue as to the political illiteracy of that student body emerged in the form of silence, in the absence of any terrified screams, when one of Tim Ryan’s former professors described him as “one of the most genuine politicians I have ever met.” At the very least, I would have expected to hear the sudden splattering of vomit, but this was a group with no taste for irony. They didn’t even seem to be especially interested in the fact that Ryan graduated from this institution, back when it was known as the University of New Hampshire School of Law. I was, but only because Andrew Yang told us in June that he attended an aristocratic boarding school in New Hampshire, too: how many of these politicians are pasteurized in New Hampshire, in my backyard, and without us even knowing about it?
Well, the UNH School of Law is now the Franklin Pierce School of Law, and one of the students—this was my second clue as to the political illiteracy of the student body—asked Ryan “where [he] stood” on the change of name in honor of a man who, as President of the United States, actively resisted the abolitionist movement. Can you imagine a worthier representative of the social justice warriors, with their dishonest fixation on ornamentation and symbolic concessions, than this young man? What, exactly, does he want Tim Ryan to do about this “issue”? “As President, I unilaterally declare that the Franklin Pierce School of Law—no, never mind that you’ve never heard of it—is now the Frederick Douglass School of Law.” The question betrays an astonishing ignorance of all relevant context, which is only the most consistent characteristic of the social justice warriors, in the first place. Forgive my schadenfreude, but Tim Ryan inadvertently delivered the perfect reply when he told this young man that he was “unfamiliar with the issue” and would “have to look into it”. No doubt, that young man thought it was a dodge, but perhaps, in his disappointment, he will ask himself why he expected Ryan to know anything about Franklin Pierce, a man who has been forgotten in forty-nine states and who is remembered in New Hampshire only because he was born here.
The full video of Tim Ryan’s event at the Franklin Pierce School of Law. See me in the fedora in the front row? I ask my question at 39:00.
In his speech, Ryan actually made a couple of interesting points about our dysfunctional approach to labor in the United States. He believes that manufacturing has become a lost art partly because our education system discourages our youth from exploring manufacturing: children are told from a very young age that, if they don’t attend a four-year university, then they’re limiting themselves economically. Therefore, Ryan recommends state-sponsored vocational schools as an alternative, for those who prefer it, to the traditional program of liberal arts. Now that is a decent idea, and it isn’t wholly theoretical, either: as he explained to the audience, “I want fifty percent of all electric cars made in the U.S. by unionized workers.”
Presumably, he has some familiarity with the unsettling socioeconomic effects of the decline of manufacturing, being a representative of the State of Ohio. He must see a lot of shuttered factories and desultory drug addicts—assuming, of course, that he ever really explores his district. Does he see the subsidized housing complexes? Does he ever meet the inhabitants within? Well, when one of the “local manufacturing plants” went kaput, Tim Ryan felt the loss personally: “We know who works in that plant … my daughter told me that her friend had to move because her dad was out of work … it’s a very tight-knit community.” He goes on to explain that this same daughter, plus his other children, attend public schools, which is why he wants a mental health counselor and an “emotional learning curriculum” in every school in the country.
His point, it would appear, is that he is “just like us”, that he does not see himself as being above the plebs whom he represents. Every politician makes the same mendacious claim, underlining his connection to “the community” of which he knows nothing, and while this particular lie abounded long before the present primary season started, it has become the new standard as these Democratic Party challengers attempt to distinguish themselves from the aristocrat in the White House. We’ve already examined Cory Booker’s pathetic effort to depict himself within “the community”, so there is no reason to exhume that fallacy here. All I will say is that Ryan would probably have an easier time convincing us that he is a commoner if he were not flanked by security detail.
Regardless of how many mornings he rides the bus to work or how many nights he leaves the front door unlocked, Ryan’s approach to law and order is about as far from a populist’s as you can get. When asked how he would stop technology conglomerates from surveilling their customers, Ryan suggested: “Congress and the government must monitor Google.” I’m not sure what, specifically, he means by this; if he believes “the government” can and will ensure that Google behaves morally and responsibly, then surely he is ignorant of the government’s inextricable role in harnessing the data acquired through Google’s surveillance? In any event, he expresses no interest in halting the surveillance itself, which, to my mind, means he would do absolutely nothing to restore our digital sovereignty. Concordantly, he expressed enthusiasm for facial recognition technology, especially when employed to detect “potential criminals” at spectator events, such as concerts.
As for his stance on Julian Assange, well, why don’t you hear it from the man himself?
“I would not [pardon him or commute his sentence]. I think releasing important state secrets or information that you’ve gotten inappropriately is wrong and I would not . . . Although, let me be clear about my position with Donald Trump, my position with Russia is very, very clear: I believe Russia did and was involved in the elections, I think they were trying to tip the scales for Donald Trump, I think there was some level of connection between the campaign and what was happening—I’m not sure we know exactly how coordinated that was—but I would not do that.”
Have you ever noticed how uncomfortable these politicians get when I ask them where they stand on Julian Assange? They trip over their own tongues and formulate all kinds of bizarre sentences. Take this fragment, for instance: “I believe Russia did and was involved in the elections …” Can anyone explain to me what is the point of saying “did and was” instead of simply “was”? “Did and was” . . . are you trying to say that Russia is going to do whatever it “did and was involved in” the next time around? Also, the framing of “did … involved” makes no grammatical sense. I thought it was bad when Andrew Yang said “like” or “you know” five times in thirty seconds, but this was just embarrassing . . .
. . . though not nearly as embarrassing as this attempted resurrection and resuscitation of the Russiagate conspiracy theory. For two years, the Left castigated Trump for his hostile relationship with reality, but in the wake of the release of the Mueller Report, the Left has proven itself to be equally intolerant of unpleasant truths. Tim Ryan’s dishonest insistence that Trump colluded with the Russian government—although, as he damningly admits, he is “not sure we know exactly how coordinated that was”—should be an automatic and irrevocable disqualification for all thoughtful observers, but it may yet redound to his political viability. It sure hasn’t hurt Seth Abramson, so what harm could it do Ryan?
Perhaps most disturbing was Ryan’s belief that “releasing important state secret or information that you’ve gotten inappropriately is wrong”. Once again, his message is undermined by his own functional illiteracy, and it is difficult to say what, exactly, he means. However, if we take him at his word, then he appears to believe that Julian Assange should be punished because he released confidential information, which is the hardline legal theory that so many of us in the alternative media fear would effectively abolish the 1st Amendment. To be fair, the second half of Ryan’s statement seems to refer to the fictitious hacking charge awaiting Assange, but in any event, it is painfully clear that Ryan is not on Assange’s side . . . unless, of course, he can use this question as an opportunity to distance himself, however invisibly, from Donald Trump.
When the event came to an end, I approached Ryan and asked him why he told Charlie Savage of The New York Times that the charges against Assange were unconstitutional. Ryan was bewildered, and even after I described the article to him three times, he insisted he had never heard of it. He told me to speak to his assistant, which is usually just a method to get rid of an annoying person—I’m looking at you, Cory Booker—but in this case, he seemed to be sincerely bewildered and truly interested in knowing what I was talking about. I showed his assistant the article, and this assistant took down my email address, but he never sent me a message, and it doesn’t seem that he has made any kind of public statement on Savage’s piece. Who knows? Maybe he was trying to get rid of an annoying person.
Well, at least I got out of bed for something.