Part One: Yang and Biden: A Paranoiac’s Episode
For the fourth year in a row, autumn and winter have run together in New Hampshire. Back when I was a kid, as New Hampshirites are obsessively fond of saying, the Indian summer and the winter were partitioned clearly and cleanly by six or seven weeks of distinctly autumn weather, the type of weather that the hacks describe as crisp. But the evolving climate has shuffled the deck, and fall has been reduced to a two-week afterthought, sandwiched between an overextended summer and an aggressive winter. Nowadays, we don’t gradually wade into the wintry freeze: when it arrives, it kicks in the door and tears down the curtains and tosses out into the bitter wind. The last several winters have been especially windy, sweeping through the state with seriously skin-splitting force. When Dickens said the cold moved through Scrooge, he meant the old man was oblivious to the chill, but the reality of such wintry penetration isn’t quite so painless.
[What were you doing? Standing outside in the nude, waiting for the men in white coats to punch your ticket?]
No, I was on my way to the capitol building on Main Street in Concord, New Hampshire, where Andrew Yang and Joe Biden were signing the papers to appear on the ballot in the New Hampshire primary. The candidates have been flooding the state in the past couple of weeks for this specific purpose. Tulsi Gabbard filed earlier in the week, Pete Buttigieg had been here a couple of days before, and Amy Klobuchar made her own embarrassing appearance around the same time. Beto O’Rourke had arranged to file a few hours after Biden, but that was before he ended his surreal odyssey prematurely. Only the memory remains, the memory and the uncomfortable fantasy of what might have been.
[So, the candidates hole themselves up in the Secretary of State’s office as their adoring fans flood the adjacent hall?]
Exactly. A lot of them volunteer for the campaign, but a top-flight candidate like Biden can afford to pay people to pose for photos and pretend they like him.
[How can you tell they’re phonies?]
Because you don’t see them at Biden’s other campaign events. If you follow Gabbard through the Granite State, then you’re going to see the same six or seven members of the campaign staff every time. She can’t afford to pay actors to stand in the crowd and scream her name. Biden, on the other hand, has money to spare, so he can round up these extras and hand them some cash on their way out the door. It’s not quite that sloppy, of course, but you see how this works.
[Do you think it’s worth it?]
Probably not. The corporate media is instructed to be friendly to Biden and hostile to Yang, so even if Biden draws meager crowds and Yang fills the house, neither surprise will make the front page. Soon, you will read about the dwindling crowds at Kamala Harris’s rallies, but only because her campaign is collapsing: once the candidate is dead in the water, then the piranhas may finally feast. In the meantime, the traitors to journalism will go through the motions, and the establishment candidates will observe them, too.
[Is this practice of paying people to stand in the crowd a matter of going through the motions, too?]
Certainly, it’s an old-fashioned method, probably an anachronistic method, so of course it appeals to an atavist like Biden. I can’t speak to the (in)organic composition of the Yang Gang; typically, his base as the best of Internet activists, but we should question their motivation to leave the house on a cold November morning and stand on the sidewalk for more than an hour while they wait for Yang. Appearances are preternaturally deceiving on the campaign trail: you never know, and never can know, if something is what it appears to be. Politics and paranoia are not only compatible, but synonymous.
[As you stood outside the capitol, did anything give you the creeps?]
You mean, did anything give me the chills? Seasonal joke. Well, there wasn’t much to note among the Yang Gang, although I did wonder how they convinced the City of Concord to allow them to park a tractor trailer on the sidewalk. Yang has commiserated with the truckers of America for a while now, railing against automated transportation—but what if the robotized truck decides to take vengeance on Yang by running amok and terrorizing Main Street? It could obliterate the clock tower and demolish Eagle Square, or maybe it would just roll through the intersection and slaughter as many motorists as it could. We might witness a real-life reenactment of Maximum Overdrive, and Yang will be responsible for effecting our technocratic Armageddon.
[That’s not paranoia, that’s just psychosis. Might you restrict your commentary to reality?]
Like I said, it’s hard to demarcate fantasy and reality at political rallies. So much is synthetic, and it is sometimes the authentic that is truly repugnant—but that’s a different story. Right now, let us look at the young women, probably fresh out of college, who were getting ready to hold up large cardboard letters spelling out J-O-E B-I-D-E-N. One of them had stuck her head through the O, either for her own amusement or for the amusement of those around her, and was waddling back and forth with it, even though Joe was nowhere to be found, and would remain unfound for a few hours’ more. I needed a picture of this, but I couldn’t very well ask her to pose, so obvious was it that I wasn’t here to support the campaign.
Accordingly, I decided to stand at a distance and pretend to take a panoramic shot. However, these campaign employees knew I was up to something, and they immediately whispered to one another, warning of the creep in the black leather jacket. You have to remark on these loyalists’ ability to sniff out the troublemakers, even when the troublemakers are not actively disruptive. These were not the same bulldogs who declared me persona non grata five months ago—I suspect those goons have since accepted alternative employment—but they were no less alert, no less perturbed by the possibility of an outsider attending an event that was open to the public. “Attending” is too much of an exaggeration, even, as the event was nowhere close to beginning.
Still, it is deeply disturbing, this compulsion to conform to unleashed enthusiasm—and to nothing less. Why must every single person who comes within spitting distance of the perimeter show an unqualified emotional submission to the candidate in question? This obsession with behavior and appearance betrays an obsession with outside perception of the event—but aren’t we supposed to be focused on the people within the event, the people who are actually attending? In any case, there is an image or a message that needs to be conveyed, a selling point that needs to be broadcast, and anyone who is interfering, however indirectly, with that advertisement is to be treated as an enemy. Perhaps the campaign trail is not really a trail at all, but a battlefield on which every body must be counted, every body must be used.
Yet, if these docile twentysomethings are keeping a watchful eye on everyone around them, then who else is standing guard for the former vice-president of the American Empire? You know there are men in civilian clothing, sitting in parked cars, or maybe standing in second-floor apartments, always looking through windows, constantly asking themselves, “Who is this guy? Who is that guy? What is he doing here?” It would be all too easy for a federal agent to snatch me up on basic fascistic principle and ask questions later, in which case his superiors might say, “Ah! This is that little pest who’s been going around, exposing the candidates’ authoritarian stance on Assange! We should say he had a gun on him, and if he denies it, we can torture him until he signs a confession!” If this reads like a dystopian fantasy, then your gullibility runs deeper than mine.
[Something tells me you were running from that scene faster than you could think.]
I wouldn’t say I ran, but I did leave. I wasn’t planning to ask Biden or Yang about Assange, so I saw no reason to stick around and take my chances. I just kept walking, walking through the bitter portent of winter. As the trees wither and the snow begins to fall, the heat of the campaign season rises.
Part Two: Autumn: An Exercise in Pomposity
Autumn. The most pretentious season. The other three compete for the most nauseating brand of romantic sentimentality, but autumn is the preferred imaginative retreat of pseudointellectuals. No number of centuries will ever exhaust our unlimited interest in the meaning of autumn, its richest symbolism, its unfathomable and inescapable significance. Of course autumn, the shortest season, would command the greatest fascination for our inattentive culture: we stare at the leaves in their sensational bursts of color for less than a minute, and then they are ripped from the trees and tossed into the abyss of wilderness. It is also a season of decline, a season of moribundity, which naturally appeals to the suicidal, masochistic citizens of an Empire approaching its own willful destruction. When nothing remains, when the last monument has fallen to pieces and the people are reduced to post-people, then they will turn their affections to winter.
[What are we supposed to do? Hate every season? Does affection for spring connote immaturity? What is your problem with summer, I wonder?]
I don’t have one. I don’t have a problem with autumn, either. I’m saying this culture is enamored with autumn for the wrong reasons. This culture takes a shallow interest in the momentary visuals and stands shamelessly ignorant of the redemptive and cathartic elements. What else can we expect from people who are too narcissistic to consider redemption, and too ethereal and frivolous to have something to release? These people should seek their own psychic depth within dead branches and early sunsets, lest an abundance of time and matter expose the vapidity of their souls.
[Are you quite finished?]
I will be, once I point out the complementary failings of the names Summer and Autumn. Luckily for the girls of this species, we are not yet so graceless as to name our daughters Winter and Spring, but the current options are sufficiently dangerous. A girl named Summer is destined—or cursed—for insouciant silliness, but a woman named Autumn is condemned to carry crippling baggage of a most foolish sort.
[Wow. That was the most condescending and ridiculous thing you’ve written in a week. Weren’t you saying something about pretentious pseudointellectuals?]