Dear Pete Buttigieg,
A couple of months ago, somebody on your payroll wrote a letter on your behalf, and one of your lesser-paid employees put it in an envelope and sent it to me. I suppose every one of my neighbors received a copy of the same, but I seriously doubt that any one of them appreciated it half as much as I did. Whoever mailed it out to me had not a clue that I was the same person who stood beneath you in the auditorium of Bow High School on a cool October night and asked if you would pardon Julian Assange. Any honest witness of our exchange would have been impressed by your unctuous style, the viscosity with which you seized to my question even as you slipped away from my point: “I’m not going to make any commitment as a candidate to issue a pardon to any individual.” You scarcely had time to finish your sentence before the audience—your audience and mine—erupted and spilled out their applause. Had I been permitted to ask a second question—and questions, I’ve learned, are the most precious commodity to be found at a political campaign event—I would have addressed it not to you, but to our audience, and asked them: “What part of his disinterest delights you?”
Such a question would have been rather misleading: you are far from disinterested in Assange, and we are not such an undemanding culture that we would cheer for someone else’s boredom. There may have been as many as five hundred people sitting in that venue on the night in question, and as many as half of them had never even heard of Julian Assange. The hundreds who had were far from sympathetic to the man and his plight, rigorously trained as they were to believe that he posed an existential threat to democracy and progress, a threat that was ineffably malicious; quite literally so, for it remains undefined, even to this day. Nevertheless, the attendees associated his name with esoteric evil, and because you refused to speak in his defense, they read this, not incorrectly, as an assault, and one of which they could wholly approve as bitterly cold and satisfying justice.
Needless to say, the footage of their spirited applause depicts not the thrill of righteous retribution, but the unmasking of the liberal bourgeois. I never believed that those applauding hundreds were possessed of a singular psychopathy; on the contrary, I know that their bloodlust is all too common in the United States. The freewheeling hatred that guides the hand of the Trumpeter as he places a MAGA hat upon his head set the palms of your adoring fans to clapping. In both cases, indignation is the psychic catalyst, the motivating fuel derived from the aghast conviction that one’s country, one’s cultural and political power and control, has been seized by a gang of unworthy barbarians—repulsive not for their barbarism, but for their incurable unworthiness. Unworthy of what, you ask? Of a voice, of acknowledgment, of representation.
The Left’s dehumanization of the Trumpeters completes the Trumpeters’ demonization of the Left. Formerly concealed and cautiously conserved, this caustic contempt has now become conspicuous and comprehensive. You did not engender this societal unravel, but you cheerfully contributed to it by promoting the irrational pride of ressentiment. You have sought to reassure millions of people that their nation is not inherently or fundamentally flawed, and that its internal system can endure as well as thrive in its present, unaltered, unquestioned form—permitted that the toxins and sludge clogging its engine be purged by President Pete. President Pete is the sublimation, the apotheosis, of Mayor Pete, the essence of political purity manifested in the practical realization of man. He is the antithesis, physical and moral, of the crude and unbecoming primitivism of the Trumpeters. If he is handed the keys to the kingdom, then he will blind these savages and philistines through the incandescent power of his relative light, relative to the darkness of his millions of opponents.
Your light is relative because, like the evasive self-congratulation of ressentiment, it is defined not by your own sustaining virtue, but by your enemy’s determined immorality. You have expatiated on the Trumpeters’ many failings, especially their insensitivity to the compulsory ethics of identity politics, but you never explained what made your cosmopolitan gestures, your claims to urbanity, so incontestably superior. We know how relentlessly you roped, and sometimes coerced, women of color into standing behind you, thereby giving yourself a haunting portrait of artificial diversity to distinguish yourself from anonymous bigots, but you never bothered to explain to us why your shepherding skills separated you from the patronizing neoconservatives—or, for that matter, from the patronizing multiculturalists.
Try as you did to claim the corporate rainbow, evidently it has come to swallow you, reducing you to the “drab diversity” initially forecasted by Allan Bloom. What, now, should we expect of your future as a public figure? If your quest for political celebrity endures beyond the campaign of 2020, then it will only confirm the lesson of 2016; namely, that anyone, in particular the most shameless, can and ought to run for the presidency. In the process, you have strengthened the dystopian myth that the Little Guy from Middle America with no resources or corrupt connections can become the President of the United States, and by perpetuating this ominous fantasy, you have facilitated the vulgarization of our public discourse. You did not lead us into the darkness, but you did your best to keep us engulfed by it, to force us deeper into the murky ignorance.
How ironic, then, that you spoke of the sunrise on that January morning when Donald Trump has ceased to occupy the White House. We are still far away from the realization of this your fantasy, but we are several hours past the setting of the sun on the day when you ceased to be a contender for the nomination of the Democratic Party. As the next day approaches, I’m beginning to suspect we are fortunate that you would not make any commitment as a candidate.
P.S. I didn’t vote for you in the New Hampshire primary.