In Search of Tulsi Gabbard, Part VIII: Winter Descends

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Someday, when the shattered pieces can be reassembled, when the chaotic, absurd, and bittersweet history of Tulsi Gabbard’s presidential campaign is written, there will be several chapters set in the halcyon days and nights of the summer of 2019. That was the carefree beginning of the primary season, when every one of her supporters was still confident, when all of us had a reason to believe. Through a sustained focus on the glowing optimism of the campaign’s origins, the reader shall be suitably susceptible to the brutality of the second act, when the Democratic National Committee, the cancerous corporate media it feeds, and the masses of the herd who are sacrificed unto it pool their ugliness together and upend their bilious concoction unto Gabbard. Her supporters remember that cold shock of sludge, which hit them at the same time that summer turned to winter—there is no autumn in New Hampshire, nor on the campaign trail—and that promise, turned nostalgic, was buried under snow, that electrifying hope halted in frost.

Might we dispense with the romanticism? “Hope is a term invented by politicians to keep their disciples in line.” So observed Pier Paolo Pasolini in 1975, a few months before he was murdered, possibly on the orders of the Italian government. I’ve never forgotten his cold wisdom, even at the crest of my excitement for Gabbard, but it didn’t resonate during this primary season until, at last, it became undeniable—to me, if not to the candidate’s more sanguine supporters—that the DNC had finally vanquished her campaign. When was that, exactly? When was this pyrrhic victory, in which the Democrats congratulated themselves for sabotaging themselves, officially announced? It couldn’t have been on December the 8th, when Gabbard attended a holiday parade in Merrimack: I walked in that parade, and her supporters were still so happy, even though the temperatures sunk below thirty degrees.

We began at the strip mall, sandwiched between Bernie Sanders’s posse and Pete Buttigieg’s. “Be nice to the Pete people!” Tulsi advised as we slinked along the highway before turning toward the local elementary school and wrapping it up on Baboosic Lake Road. If this route sounds familiar, it’s because it is: the Gabbard campaign walked the same exact route in the Fourth of July parade. I walked in that parade, and met her on that day, a chaotic day characterized by massive crowds of people tripping over each other in the New England heat in a frenzied effort to meet the candidates. Kristen Gillibrand marched in New Hampshire on that day, and so did Amy Klobuchar, and even John Delaney. In the five months since, Gillibrand has withdrawn, Klobuchar has scowled her way to the finals, and Delaney has yet to accept the sobering reality of his own impotence. He’s still in the hopeful stage, still living in summer while the rest of us are in the thick of winter.

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Sofia Zaldivar never made it to the end of the campaign trail.

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Glenn Greenwald and the Pace of Fascism

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In a case of exceptional but unsettling timing, I published my rumination on the demise of the First Amendment a few hours before I heard the news of Glenn Greenwald’s indictment. While I’m not nearly as conversant with his legal crisis as I am with Assange’s, I have wondered for a while now how Greenwald, living and working under the Bolsonaro Administration, has evaded prosecution for his investigative journalism. The arrest of Assange was horrifying in large part because it took place in a western nation, in clear contradiction of western liberal standards, whereas Greenwald’s freedom in a Latin American dictatorship has been more surreal than his imprisonment would be. Our first reaction, then, should be to disregard these illusory distinctions between western liberty and southern authoritarianism, as they are so called, and to understand the global nature of the threat—and the subsequently global nature of the fight.

The implications of the war on journalism are massive, yet the rebellion feels awfully slight. I have a small group of friends who know of this war and who fight against the tyrants, but none of them live within two hundred miles of me. I’m surrounded by the victims of mass media propaganda, the apathetically pacified as well as the hatefully programmed, none of whom take any interest in these portentous developments. If they pay any attention at all, is to the anticlimactic impeachment trial, the circumstances of which no one understands. Of course, this ignorance doesn’t lend itself to reticence; on the contrary, the benighted can’t help themselves from loudly endorsing a side in this fictitious “campaign for democracy”.

Apart from their own embarrassing gullibility, the two camps in the impeachment circus share an appalling willingness to revoke civil rights in the interest of halting their political opponents. Much has been made of the Trumpeters’ calls to imprison the staff of MSNBC, but what of the liberals’ desire to see Assange convicted for indirectly “helping” Trump win the election? The difference is that the corporate media is safe from federal interference (because the corporate media is a form of federal interference), but more important is the commonality: these spectators are so frightened of “the other side” taking their liberties away, they voluntarily surrender their liberties to the party that claims to fight for them. Americans are notoriously incapable of seeing beyond their first step, but even in this instance, their myopia is striking.

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Midnight on the 1st Amendment: What’s Really at Stake in the Case Against Assange

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There are two major arguments or ideologies in the movements to defend Julian Assange. One is humanitarian, proposed to defend Assange from torture, unjust imprisonment, and other violations of his basic rights. It is a strong and noble stance, one that I encourage people to take and for which I applaud them when they do. The second is rooted more deeply in politics or law, predicated on objective support for the First Amendment specifically and freedom of expression generally. “We must stand up for Julian Assange, or free speech will be a thing of the past, another right sacrificed on the road to tyranny.” So we are told, and so did I believe—until very recently. Certainly, I don’t want to discourage my brothers and sisters fighting for Assange—my brothers and sisters whom I love, truly—but I can’t continue to ignore the sinister evidence piling up before me, and therefore, I say only with the greatest reluctance that the fight for the First Amendment is lost.

Let us revisit, revise, and complete the argument of law introduced above: “If Julian Assange is charged, extradited, and convicted by the United States for the act of publishing information, then the First Amendment will be effectively repealed, because the American government will have set a precedent whereby it can convict anyone for publishing any information.” A fine summary, but I would strike the words extradited and convicted at the start, and substitute charge for convict at the end. Hitherto, we have mistaken charges for conviction, and we have conflated harassment for punishment. While the outcome of the case against Assange remains unknown—for now—it is an accepted, undisputed, and disquietingly quotidian fact that the American government has charged him for the act, though not yet for the crime, of distributing information. And that, irrespective of the eventual verdict, marks the demise of the First Amendment.

On May 23rd, 2019, the United States government charged Assange with violating the Espionage Act, an antiquated law that, even by the most generous measure, would apply to American citizens only. On the same day, the United States government set an unmistakable precedent whereby any person, regardless of nationality or intent, can be charged with a crime if that person has published information that is disagreeable, problematic, or offensive to the government of the United States. This is not to say that the charges will eventually result in a conviction—we can’t predict that, as there are too many variables to quantify and consider herein. Nevertheless, every serious journalist can expect to be charged or accused of wrongdoing, pursuant to the precedent already established by the as-yet-inchoate case of Assange vs. The United States of America.

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The Worst Political Analysis I Have Ever Heard

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Within a few hours of this writing, the eighteenth season of Real Time with Bill Maher will begin, and while I have broken this promise in the past, this time I swear to become a regular viewer once again. Real Time is not the most prominent publisher of neoliberal agitprop, nor is Bill Maher the establishment’s most conspicuous mouthpiece, but I believe he and his program pose a remarkable threat to revolution. Unlike CNN and MSNBC, which are decomposing beneath their own caustic reputations, enough people are still gullible enough to see Bill Maher as an outsider to the corporate media, and so, they cleanly swallow his pap. By posing as a vanguard of “the counterculture”, he has won the confidence of the jaded pseudo-nihilists and pseudo-hedonists, even as he shepherds them into the clutches of fascists.

Bill Maher is not the most destructive bishop on the board, not when the right-wing radio airwaves are polluted with some truly bloodthirsty men. However, I have a personal hatred for Maher, and hatred it is: for several years, Maher profited by his interviews with Julian Assange, but when his supposed friend and brother was kidnapped by British police, Maher mocked his lethal plight and tragic suffering in a shameless, chummy chat with another propagandist named Seth Abramson. It took me six months before I could look at Maher’s face without fuming, although my blood likely simmers, even to this day, when I hear him speak about the freedom of the press. Still, I don’t have any choice: I have to suppress my bile and watch the new season of his show. He will have a large cast of war criminals, intelligence agents, bankers, and clowns to peddle, translate, and distribute corporate talking points, and we owe it to ourselves to know what, exactly, the neoliberal oligarchs want us to think.

In preparation for this miserable exercise, which we will perform on a weekly basis, I thought we might want to watch a surreally bad interview that Maher did with Joe Scarborough in September. We haven’t had cause to expect anything substantive from Morning Joe since the summer of 2016, when we learned that the then-chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee had excoriated the president of MSNBC for Morning Joe’s insufficiently bloodthirsty coverage of Bernie Sanders.

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Elizabeth Warren and the End of Identity Politics

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A ruthless case of strep throat has put me in involuntary hibernation for most of the week, and my symptoms were so brutal on Tuesday night that I had no interest at all in fighting them off to watch the latest installment of the Democratic Party’s masochistic debates. Public interest in this slothful, repetitive spectacle has diminished, even cratered, since it began seven months ago, and with only six ghostly personalities haunting the stage this time around, it’s hard to fathom why anyone would even bother tuning in. How generous, then, of Elizabeth Warren to place some red meat before the nation’s gossip columnists by accusing Bernie Sanders of telling her a year ago that the Democrats will lose if they nominate a woman to face Trump in 2020.

Elizabeth Warren is a liar. I knew this long before she slandered Sanders, a man whom I have no interest in defending. She lied to me almost a year ago exactly, telling me she supported WikiLeaks and its cause before making an opportunistic call for the prosecution of Julian Assange. We won’t forget this betrayal, and it weighs especially heavily on our minds today, when Warren is spinning a preposterous yarn about Sanders. I am uninterested in examining Sanders’s record, including his public statements, on women’s rights: leave that work to his fans and supporters, among whom I do not and will not ever count myself. Instead, I would ask the skeptics, the leftists gullible enough to let Warren’s story stand, if they believe a female presidential candidate is incapable of winning in the general election.

The short and obvious answer is, of course a woman can be elected president. Any suggestion to the contrary is made, not even out of bigotry, but out of ignorance: as Sanders himself observed, Hillary Clinton won the popular vote after she won her party’s nomination. Yes, her victory in the Democrat primaries is undermined and asterisked by the cheating scheme that she masterminded, but her relative success in the general election proved that America is “ready” and psychologically prepared for a female president, whatever the significance of that would be. It defies fundamental logic for Sanders to think a woman cannot win in the general election, and it defies basic political tact for him to say so aloud, even in private, but especially in direct conversation with a woman.

Nevertheless, Warren’s allegation has been viewed with credibility in the corporate press. Several of the commentators on CNN and CBS have introduced the story as if it were already proven that Sanders made the comment, and the consumers of these mass media outlets have responded with uncertainty, indicating that they think it is possible, at least, that Sanders said it. This is interesting, albeit predictable, for Warren’s supporters are also the Democrat primary voters most absorbed by identity politics, in particular the brand of fourth-wave feminism upon which Warren capitalizes. They see “the patriarchy” as the single greatest threat to freedom in America today, but so do they believe that a female presidential nominee will stand the greatest chance of electoral victory.

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Swing and a Miss: Losing the Point of the Nicholas Sandmann Story

As optimism yields to disheartening reality in the Democratic Party primaries, we probably haven’t paid enough attention to the problem of dignified contempt, also known as highbrow indignation. We encountered this concept originally in our coverage of Joe Biden’s rallies, which were defined by a bourgeois bloodlust and loathing for Donald Trump and his voters, although such simmering hostility could have been, and was, observed at Kamala Harris’s events. Dignified contempt, as I have come to understand it, is the deeply personal and passionate hatred cultivated, condoned, and possibly even encouraged by neoliberals. It is a hatred of the enemies of neoliberalism, whosoever those enemies happen to be at a particular point in time, regardless of their ideology or intent.

The significance of this hatred lies within its incongruence with the supposed moral grounding of the Democratic Party. For the last five years, from the moment Trump commenced his candidacy, the Democrats have bemoaned the pervasive hatred in our country, identifying hatred as the cause of our moral failing, which is also the cause of our cultural failing, which is, ultimately, the cause of our political failing. “Hate Has No Home Here”, so reads the sign on our neighbor’s lawn, as if there could be no element more loathsome than that. In representing hatred, Trump encompasses the worst of our inhumanity, and as his political adversaries, the neoliberals stand for the opposite of hate—although this antithesis has yet to be defined.

Likely for the best, as hatred is not completely taboo, entirely or inherently, in neoliberal circles. The neoliberals are permitted to hate Trump, and to extend their hatred to the sixty million people who refuse to apologize for voting for him in 2016. In fact, the Democratic Party has expended an incredible amount of effort in the last five years to harness this particular form of hate: it has proven to be an exceptional marketing gimmick, one which has convinced well-meaning liberals to stand behind contemptible people like Hillary Clinton and Kamala Harris. This remunerative hatred for Trump will remain a prominent selling point in 2020, as our freewheeling disgust, poured into the neoliberals’ polished channels, may well serve as our outstanding political motivation.

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Mr. Irrelevant: Deval Patrick Shrugs on Julian Assange

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As twilight descends on the campaign trail, as we cross the boundary of the sordid saga of the New Hampshire primary, there are far fewer questions than there are answers. The romantic and naïve await this newfound lucidity, expecting to grow strong in their understanding, only to discover that ignorance is the mellifluous drink ending in enlightenment’s brutal hangover. In the vacuous state of unknowing, no absurdity is too tasteless to be dismissed as an impossibility; but in the cold and paralyzing limits of knowledge, each idea must be measured against itself before it can be so much as considered. Soon we will find ourselves so restricted, denied the opportunity to create a brighter future and compelled to reconstruct the unappealing past.

The only mystery is why anyone persists in struggling against the ineluctable. Why do people fight against that which they know they can’t halt? I’m not speaking of the fight for values, a fight which will be taken up, time and time again, even when those values appear to face an omnipotent threat. I’m speaking of the fight for transfiguration, the fight to force something to become what it is not. Tulsi Gabbard and her millions of supporters may be undertaking such a hopeless cause in fighting to reform the Democratic Party, to reverse its destructive and exploitative tendencies and transform it unto an agency of good. This desperate crusade against reality is especially common in politics, a field which surely wouldn’t exist if circumstances weren’t so brutally bleak.

Brighter and bolder critics than I have asked if politics is not the ritualistic manifestation of cynical madness. Are we encouraged, even coerced, to participate in the political game, lest we spend our collective energies on something more productive? Never has the implacable self-importance of American politicians been more aggressive: the political media relentlessly insists on the historical gravity of every word produced and every gesture performed, in Washington or in its digital mirror. Politics has always been synonymous with exploitation, but only in a culture as rigidly insulated as ours are people capable of believing in the process, even of praising it and its every feature, no matter how preposterous. Only in such a ridiculous culture can one find inspiration in something as outlandish as Deval Patrick’s presidential campaign.

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