Is white rum a microaggression? What if the victim is too sloshed to be wounded? Does it become . . . a supermicroaggression?
Cullen Tiernan spoke much too gently when he compared the fifth round of the Democratic Party’s presidential debates to The Godfather: Part III. It is true that both of these frivolous spectacles ran for three unforgivably protracted hours, and it is true that neither had any clear raison d’être, but whereas every self-preserving person has already forgotten the “third” debate, the third installment of the Godfather series has achieved a perverse cultural persistence: it invariably resurfaces in any conversation pertaining to the series, though usually only as an easy punchline. Not everyone is clever, but almost anyone can craft an amusing joke at the expense of The Godfather: Part III; yet, conversely, it is nigh impossible to say anything funny about the third debate, not because it can’t or shouldn’t be ridiculed, but because it has been universally forgotten, no one is in on the joke!
I watched that debate, but my memory is fuzzier than the final inch of tape on a VHS copy of The Empire Strikes Back. I thought about revisiting that debate and watching the highlights—as much of the highlights as I could tolerate, I mean—but even I am unprepared to subject myself to such a mastery of masochism four months before the New Hampshire primary. I can offer you only the notes that I hurriedly took on my phone before Captain Morgan flushed me away. For some reason, it became more coherent as I went along, as I plunged deeper and deeper into my liquor cabinet. I necessarily conclude that inebriation is required if one is to understand the political process in the United States, which more closely resembles a mating ritual than any past ethnographer allowed himself to see.
Why did I need to remind myself that it was Beto O’Rourke who promised to disarm the citizens—sorry, to take away their AR-15s? It must have seemed reasonable at the time to suspect the media would overwrite that statement, conceal it amidst coverage of something less ominous. Thereafter, Cory Booker made another embarrassing attempt at political philosophizing, lauding the inherent benevolence of the State, even amidst overwhelming evidence to the contrary—an interesting topic for a treatise, no doubt, but not for a single installment of this series. Hmm, let’s see: Joe Biden is asking every nation on earth to join America in threatening China with an unfathomable fusillade of firepower to compel China to . . . to do what, exactly? Of course, so reckless a statement remains unfinished: we must make time for the BBC, who asks which candidate had the sharpest one-liner.
Ah, I don’t want to write any more about this. Out with the old, in with the new!
If the “third” debate was a shameless ceremony of political strappado, then the fourth was billed—in alternative media, at least—as the deliverance of the wounded body unto lubricity, to a gentle caressing of the cerebral faculties culminating in orgiastic release. Anyone who believed that must have been suffering from political malnourishment, starved by the absence, by the denial, of Tulsi Gabbard from the third debate. Hunger can lead to psychosis, and anyone who expects deliverance of any form in the form of a political forum aired on corporate television obviously needed to eat, yet a political discussion is an act of digestion. Here, the desperate placed the cart before the horse, as if they were reading the closing chapter first.
Gabbard could not redeem the event by herself, especially not when she was asked three questions and permitted only one opportunity to respond to another candidate’s accusatory remarks. We are told that each debate is a generous offer for the candidates, the more obscure candidates especially, to make an impression on the widest audience possible. In reality, the debate allows the Democratic Party to narrow the walls and squeeze out the undesirable people, to smash them against the outer corners of the camera that records the event and makes it real. It’s an expensive, convoluted act of legerdemain, but one that is necessary so as to maintain the cruel illusion of our anti-democracy.
We will decline comment on Gabbard’s denunciation of The New York Times and CNN, the former of whom sponsored the event, the latter of whom aired it, and both of whom have written and spoken exhaustively on imaginary moral quibbles with her campaign. Their gripes, most of which are based on hallucinatory perceptions of her holding improper relations with foreign governments, have already been covered at length, including in these pages, and Gabbard’s response has already inspired much in the way of efflorescent praise. In the interest of doing something new, we might address Pete Buttigieg, who scolded her for suggesting that the United States find something better to do than overthrow the Assad Administration. His rebuttal, which included a sadly unironic ode to the courageous janitors employed by the Department of Defense, was no highfalutin jingoism, but an uncommonly direct and unpretentious pledge to maintain the malicious machinery of the military-industrial complex. It is hardly uncommon, this undignified display of unquestioning submission to the arms industry, least of all at a political pageant staged and directed by a committee of conglomerates, but as a veteran, Buttigieg’s promise to rejuvenate our bloodthirst is preternaturally tasteless.
Buttigieg—or Mayor Pete, as he prefers to be known, and as Gabbard refers to him, even—seems to have charmed a powerful overseer in the Democratic Party, as he was given an ordinate amount of attention in this debate. Perhaps the party is grooming him to take over, should Joe Biden finally surpass the point of respectability and Elizabeth Warren present decisive proof that she will never earn the voting public’s trust. However, it’s much likelier that he is being polished to assume the Vice-Presidential slot in the event that Hillary Clinton rises from the grave and demands that the nomination be placed in her hand—again. Buttigieg, whom I refuse to call by his marketing slogan, presents an ambiguously youthful complement to the moribund Clinton—and, by extension, he is a safely postmodernist contrast to the atavistic Trump. He has many years of warmongering ahead of him, and the Democratic Party wants to preserve him. Who knows? He may be too young now, but after eight years of serving under President Clinton, perhaps then it will be his time to run.
In any event, he proves himself to quite the moral student of Clinton. Buttigieg went on the record to express grave concern about then-President Obama’s decision to commute the prison sentence of Chelsea Manning. Somehow, Buttigieg had arrived at the conclusion that Manning’s multiple-decade internment in solitary confinement was an appropriate punishment for revealing the crimes of the American Empire and its many mercenaries, which raises questions about the kind of moral impulse that drew Buttigieg to the military in the first place. Is Buttigieg’s psychopathy the norm or the exception among military enlistees? Popular stereotyping suggests the latter, but I wonder if pacifistic and anti-imperialist perspectives, acquired through the military’s brutal education, are not more widespread than we have been led to believe, and it is only recently that they have found something preceding social acceptance.
The military-industrial complex is always a fascinating subject for critique, and although it wasn’t named at the fourth debate, it occupied an incredibly unbalanced share of time, as every candidate hurried to condemn President Trump’s recent change of pace on Syria’s northern border. While it has been uncommonly arduous to predict Trump’s strategy on this specific subject, his challengers in the Democratic Party have no trouble at all explaining what they would do instead. As you may have guessed, eleven of the twelve contestants advocated for a resumption of the policies that the Obama Administration had implemented, although no one can explain what those policies are, and no one can explain the benefit of “our” relationship to the Kurds. Furthermore, it’s a little strange to hear these candidates vociferously explain what they would do when none of them will occupy the White House for another fifteen months. In the absence of an opportunity for volitional change, their hypothetical complaints amount to little more than a strangely unselfconscious game of make-believe, “playing house” for millionaires who aspire to place their paws on the triggers of nuclear weapons.
Of course, their fearmongering isn’t limited to the threat of international warfare. There is plenty of grisly carnage on the streets at home, which presents a welcome opportunity for the innumerable paid representatives of Raytheon and Haliburton to lecture the American people on how to become less wrathfully violent. Gun control is a popular proposal, but while our aspiring national leaders envision their glorious neutering of the American people, might one ask what effect their constant fearmongering—as distinguished from their warmongering—has on our collective psyche? Even if none of these people was speaking to the virtue of killing thousands of colored foreigners, still, their predictions of irreversible cultural damage if Trump is re-elected really ought to be evaluated as the volatile and hostile agitprop that it so obviously is. In the Obama years, we concernedly remarked on the constant dire warnings released by Fox News, none of which came to fruition, but which some of us suggested may inspire an unstable person to take to arms. That fear, I think, had some credibility, and with the irresponsible messaging becoming far more prominent, even unavoidable, in the Trumpish Age, perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised when someone performs a senseless, chaotic, and immoral act.
Such disheartening introspection is inconceivable, alas: humility is anathema to political campaigns, which is why Joe Biden, an accomplished terrorist whose most significant achievement was the obliteration of the Libyan state, can describe Trump’s shuffling on the Syrian border as the most egregious action performed in modern American history. The overwhelming irony is lost not only on him, but on the American people, who neither remember what their government did to Libya nor understand what their government has been doing to Syria. By extension, we should have serious doubts about the efficacy of this criticism as a political selling point: because the American people heard about the Kurds only within the last week, it will be difficult for them to vote Trump out of office because of his supposed disloyalty to them.
But that is a discussion for another piece, and so, it has no place here. In fact, any serious discussion has no place in connection with the Democratic Party’s televised debates: such would imply not only that the event is serious, but that it involves any real discussion.