“Why are you here?”
That’s an excellent question. Usually, I’m the one making inquiries, especially out on the campaign trail. But every once in a while, someone asks me something truly unnerving and, in the process, brings my heart to a pause. Why am I here, forty miles from home on a cool September morning, standing in line for the amphitheater on the Plymouth State University campus? I’m here because Bernie Sanders is here, holed up somewhere in the concrete labyrinth of the Silver Center for the Arts, from which he will emerge within the next two hours. I am here because he will stand before me and a few hundred others. And I am here because he will be exposed to me and my phone, and in his vulnerability, I’ll have the slightest chance of forcing him to speak, to declare his stance, on the prosecution of Julian Assange.
“Why are you here?” At first, I didn’t know what to say to the gentleman with the Sharpie. He met my puzzlement before he smirked in embarrassment. “I’m sorry. What I meant to ask was, are you here as a volunteer or just as a supporter?”
“Supporter,” I lied. “Just here to listen to the senator speak.”
“Very good. I just need you to sign in here and take a sticker, please.”
Nowadays, you always have to sign in. The ringleaders of the traveling circus always want your name, your email, and your phone number, at the absolute least. Sometimes, they want your home address, as well. It’s a deeply unbecoming, leechlike rite of harvest, the purpose of which is entirely mysterious: do they want a destination for the endless supply of advertisements that they pump out just to purge, or does this practice serve a purpose slightly more fascistic? The elderly gentleman to my right couldn’t have explained why they wanted so much of his personal information, and he didn’t care: he simply loathed the process, especially the rule that he fill out the forms on a laptop. Whether he was technologically illiterate, I don’t know, but it was hard enough for me to read the screen in the glare of the sunlight, so how inconvenient must it have been for him?
I shared his complaints, but I didn’t echo them. I’d performed this dance too many times before, most memorably when Kamala Harris’s vanguards insisted that I wear her purple sticker, which I reluctantly did . . . on my forearm. Not even Joe Biden’s goons had been that aggressive, although they were visibly disappointed when I expressed my disinterest in sporting his brand. I wonder if my obstinance had anything to do with my failure to ask both of those candidates what they thought about Assange. Neither disappointment was particularly painful, as I expected only imaginatively bankrupt talking points prepared by incurably lethargic agents of surveillance.
“Why are you here?” No one asked me this question at Harris’s rally, but if someone had, I would have known to tell a full and complete lie by omission: “I’m just here as a supporter! No, I’m not a journalist, and by no means will I ask her anything about Julian Assange!” By the time I staggered into her rally on a miserably humid July afternoon, I’d already learned the hard way that journalists, independent journalists especially, are unwelcome to stand within a hundred feet of a presidential candidate, least of all a self-recognized “top-tier candidate”. I’d learned this lesson at one, or both, of Biden’s rallies, where the hostility to an unpredictable press was a vindication, a proof that this was an elite campaign, one which could afford to close its doors, and undoubtedly should close its doors, to all who are not affiliated with a media conglomerate. Only those with inexhaustible funds behind them were worthy of Biden’s time, for money dulls curiosity and levels morality far more swiftly than any other blade.
[But what about Fox News? The guys and gals at Fox relish the chance to humiliate Biden and the rest of the Democrats. If he’s so scared of freewheeling journalists asking unpleasant questions, then why doesn’t he keep them out, as well?]
Because Fox News doesn’t produce independent journalism. Fox News is a media conglomerate, as securely encircled within the corporate court as CNN, or MSNBC, or any of the other ostensibly left-wing intellectual outlets—ostensibly being the key word, of course, as each of these captains of industry, the industry of information, is loyal not to political parties, but to its benefactor. And in all instances, the benefactor is the same: the benefactor is the establishment, the government’s unofficial fourth branch. Our inevitable financial subservience to the omnipotent establishment is a hydra, of which the so-called news outlets comprise any number of heads.
[Ah. So, Fox News presents an ostensible challenge, questioning Biden for some stupid comment he made thirty years ago, but never asking him why he advocated for an apocalyptic demolition of the Libyan state shortly after he called for a gruesome undoing of the Iraqi state.]
Exactly. Fox News is just a stock villain, a rubber clown for Biden to punch when he needs to look tough, just as Trump can discredit a poorly researched CNN article when he needs to reinforce his persecution complex. Fox News may not be friendly, per se, but Biden knows where and when it will punch; its strategic menace is about as far from “freewheeling” as you can get. A scrawny guy with a fedora, on the other hand, might as well be packing anthrax in his pen. Such lovely irony: a multibillion-dollar company poses a lesser threat than a random dork living paycheck to paycheck.
“Why are you here?” I’m here to learn if Bernie Sanders is another rubber clown, as impotent and weightless as a Fox News reporter, or if he is what he has presented himself as on every day of his political career: a vigorous, relentless, incorruptible foe of the omnipotent corporate establishment. I believe he is an enemy of the health insurance industry, an industry that profits exclusively from human suffering, which would explain why he has had to overcome so much senseless slandering in the press, but is he equally inflexible, is he equally sincere, in his moral loathing for the military-industrial complex, as well?
I hope so, for his sake: one cannot be seriously hostile to the former unless one is seriously hostile to the latter, as well. What is the man who condemns the pharmaceutical conglomerates for selling insulin at a massive profit moments before he parrots the militaristic propaganda that justifies—in the minds of Americans, at least—the system of sanctions that prevents Venezuelans from getting insulin—and so many other medications, besides. Then again, Americans, even those who state an impassioned belief in progressivism, know nothing of our terroristic endeavors in Venezuela, not to mention so many other countries. In my traumatizing contemplation of our American ignorance, I have to ask: do we deserve free health care if we refuse to resist our government’s slaughter of foreign innocents?
“Why are you here?” If I weren’t to attend one of Bernie Sanders’s rallies, then whose rallies would I be wise to attend? The warmongering that is ubiquitous among pseudo-progressives is understood conceptually, if not specifically or practically, by the self-styled “true progressives” as a damning moral infection—but maybe only when its symptoms are evinced by an individual such as Biden or Harris, who is irredeemably reprehensible even before we reach the question of foreign policy. Sanders, on the other hand—who, like all too many of the Democratic presidential candidates, is known affectionately by his given name—plucks so many of the romantics’ heartstrings that they seem to lack the time, if not the emotional stability, to fathom that a man, that this man, may stand in earnest defense of universal healthcare—universal for Americans, that is—even as he nods his consent to exterminate the helpless. “Bernie wouldn’t be so inconsistent,” I am told. “How could someone maintain such blatant contradictions?”
Do you know one who doesn’t? What is a contradiction: only the most commonplace, quotidian, and unremarkable of all intellectual failings, of all philosophical dysfunctions. Do you know of a single person who doesn’t complain of some element of grotesquerie in civilized society—say, a lack of self-control—who does not also drink to excess, or succumb to temperamentality, or evince irrationality, even if only for the briefest of moments? Why should we expect this human weakness to stop short at the moment of endorsement for militaristic criminality? To do so would only be to expect exceptionality, to expect distinction, to expect intellectual competence, from the man who claims to be exceptional and distinctive enough to act as our intellectual spokesman—and who on earth would be pretentious and impractical enough to hold our self-proclaimed representatives in competence to such an exacting standard as that?
“Why are you here?” If you want the sincerest, though perhaps not the most candid, answer to that question, then you would have to travel back in time, more than three months, to June 18th, 2019, and ask an incurably stupid guy named Dack Rouleau, “Why are you here? Why are you standing in the middle of Gibson’s Bookstore, waiting to ask Andrew Yang if he supports Julian Assange?” The truthful answer would have been that I wanted to know: Andrew Yang has presented himself as an outsider to the Washington establishment, and at the time, I was still gullible enough to think that he was—or maybe I was just ignorant enough, unaware as I was that he had been involved, at least to some extent, with the Obama Administration. In any case, I thought there was a chance—a perfectly realistic chance, no less—that Yang would prove his iconoclastic bona fides by telling me—and, by extension, the entire world—that he strongly disagrees with the federal prosecution of Julian Assange.
Alas, he failed to do so, as everybody knows—everyone, that is, who has seen the video I uploaded to YouTube. I uploaded it, not because I wanted to promote my own image—it was awfully hard to do so at the time, as I didn’t even have a Twitter account when that video reached the web—but because there was literally no information available vis-à-vis Andrew Yang’s position on Assange. Somehow, the corporate media had neglected to ask him about this, even after the British police dragged Assange out of his sanctuary, kidnapped him, and locked him away where the American authoritarians could collect him at some future date. There was quite literally no information as pertained to Assange’s stance on this issue—none, that is, until I asked him what he thought about this issue, until I asked him what, if anything, he would do for him.
Yang disappointed me when he said that he believed Assange would stand trial. In that respect, he was unique: I actually expected something better from him, whereas I expected nothing better than authoritarian talking points from John Delaney, Bill de Blasio, Julian Castro, Beto O’Rourke, and Tim Ryan, all of whom I’d asked about this very issue. Their answers saddened me, but they didn’t disappoint me, not when I never placed any confidence in those people in the first place. Yet, Yang was different, and if he was different, then Bernie Sanders would be very, very different.
“Why are you here?” Because the defense of Julian Assange is the defense of the First Amendment, the last desperate defense of our ability to criticize the government by gathering information about its operations and by developing a coherent context for the manner in which that same disreputable government operates and functions. Even now, with those First Amendment liberties supposedly available and accessible to all, still we are incapable of making sense of all that our government, our government, commits in our name; how can we defend ourselves intellectually, to say nothing of our ability to defend ourselves physically, if we are forbidden access to that information, imperfect and inchoate though it may be?
But . . . but . . . Bernie Sanders is supposed to be better than that! Bernie Sanders is supposed to be the one who will lead the revolution, who will stand with courageous valiance in the face of all of the oppressive forces beset against us! Bernie Sanders is the one who presented the authentic progressive contrast to that center-right fascist, Hillary Clinton! Sure, he endorsed her campaign in the end, but he had to do, didn’t he? He had no choice but to lie prostrate before the manifestation of corruption at the time, but this is 2019, a time of progressivism—unmitigated, unabashed, and bold—and now, more than ever—now, when the chips are down and the walls are closing in and the fate of our nation is suspended in the balance—now, Bernie Sanders will declare his opposition to the military-industrial complex and the national security state and the arms industries and the intelligence agencies by declaring his clear and unambiguous support for Julian Assange . . . right? right? right?
“Why are you here?” I don’t want to be here. I want to be home, vegetating, doing something, anything at all, besides standing out here and waiting for the unlikely chance to ask Sanders an uncomfortable question. I don’t want to be disrespected by yet another vaudevillian actor, and I wasn’t planning to be, but Christy Dopf, one of the most serious activists for Assange, was recently suspended by Twitter for no reason at all, and in the face of an injustice, I had to act. I couldn’t let this opportunity pass me by, not when I could be the next to face the axe. That’s why I’m here: to show us all the blade before it falls upon us.
“That’s a long . . .” A long what? A long process whereby you would offer fluffy fortification to your cowardly refusal to declare your opposition to the omnipresent arms of the intelligence agencies? A long story wherein you would explain how you would love to present your progressive credentials on this particular issue, but the dynamics of realpolitik prevent you from doing so, even though Tulsi Gabbard doesn’t share your cynical perspective? A long shot you have of earning my respect after you suck your thumb, take hold of your security blanket, and pusillanimously refuse to speak a single word in support of the man who exposed the fascistic, anti-fascistic, and thoroughly anti-American process whereby you were denied the nomination of the Democratic Party, in addition to all of the other invaluable information he exposed—that he retrieved for a sorely undeserving public—in the course of his long, but still tragically abbreviated, career?
I asked if he would pardon him, if he would commute his sentence. Alas, this required much too “long” of an explanation. Why is that? Is this a question of health care coverage, which opens the door to an infinite number of intricacies and nuances? Not at all: it’s a simple question of whether or not he will pardon Assange, commute his inevitable sentence, instruct the Department of Justice to drop the charges against him etc. How do these questions necessitate a long explanation? The only answer that would require more than three letters is an answer in affirmative support of the prosecution, an answer that would apologize for these fascistic measures, and which would leave Assange to linger in his cell as his punishment for casting light on deceit.
“Why are you here?” Why are you here, Bernie Sanders? If you’re not here to answer my question, if you’re not here to defend the defenseless, if you’re not here to do anything more than point at my camera when you declare that you can’t tell me what’s on your mind, then why don’t you tell me: why are you here?