Joe Biden and the Politics of Extortion

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In the Trumpish Age, agitprop is probably just as important as—and exponentially more dangerous than—traditional propaganda. Fox News, and the Republican Party’s pseudointellectual apologists on talk radio, remind conservative voters twenty-four hours daily that their values, as meaningful as they are undefined, are under constant threat by a nefarious assemblage of cosmopolitans. Meanwhile, the omnipresent neoliberal media depicts a nation in crisis, melting amidst the apocalyptic flames fanned by the orange-peeled trickster in the White House. We won’t find a substantive difference between them, even in their interpretations of the conclusion to the controversy du jour: whatever transpires, Trump is still the President of the United States. The conservatives respond by sighing in relief; the neoliberals by grinding their teeth in disappointment.

Why have the latter ever been disappointed, even surprised, by Trump’s resilience? The Trumpish Age has been a regrettably humorless montage of boring, manufactured scandals, any one of which could have been exposed at the onset by an objective, if cursory, assessment of the available facts. Nobody who was reasonably informed about the Ukrainian affair would have suspected, even for a moment, that the Senate would vote to remove Trump from office, yet the neoliberal breadth of the corporate media saw his conviction as an inevitability. If you consumed only this particularly hollow brand of news, and if you were exposed to no other serious perspective, then of course you were astonished when the Republicans exonerated Trump. You were let down and saddened—but why? Because the corporate media (mis)led you to believe that your dream—the renunciation and abolishment of Trump—was finally about to be realized. You were deceived, deliberately so, and it is only a matter of time before you are corralled onto the roller coaster again.

The momentary rise and breakneck demise of Bernie Sanders may have been another ride. Sanders was denied the Democratic Party’s presidential nomination in 2016, his campaign sabotaged by a gang of hustlers installed in the Democratic National Committee by Sanders’s primary competitor, Hillary Clinton. We will never know if Sanders would have won a fair contest, but we do know he was ready to emerge from the present primary process with the lion’s share of delegates, albeit not an insurmountable majority. Had this come to pass, still the DNC would have had an opportunity to overpower Sanders by consolidating all of the other candidates’ delegates within one campaign; in fact, Sanders’s competitors confessed to approve such a strategy at the end of the last televised debate.

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America Has Already Elected a Female President

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If third-wave American feminism perished with Hillary Clinton’s second presidential run, then the fourth wave shall be necessarily defined by its proponents’ efforts, successful or failed, to recapture Clinton’s cultural clout. It was painful, even humiliating, for me to compose the preceding, putrid sentence; imagine living out such a distasteful fate, one which was enthusiastically pursued by four of the six women who most recently competed for the Democratic Party’s presidential nomination. Only Tulsi Gabbard and Marianne Williamson rejected this fatuous standard out of hand, and they were handsomely rewarded for their intellectual curiosity: the corporate media exiled them and the neoliberal bourgeoisie condemned them as contumacious heretics. What, might I ask, is a heretical woman in this instance? A non-woman? A womanly other? A woman with conditions, exceptions, or qualifications?

Maybe the more appropriate question is: who defines womanhood in the twenty-first century or in any other? The answer has been cleverly concealed by the political establishment. Typically, it is the conservative who faces accusations that he is attempting to control women, physically as well as politically. Naturally, this accusation is delivered by the liberal, who might be a woman or might be a man, but who invariably depicts the archetypal right-wing conservative as a man. If we accept the liberal’s imagery, and if we continue in the spirit of this portrait, then there is but one plausible conclusion: while perhaps not all men are conservatives, all women are and must be liberals. This subconscious apprehension gives rise to the conscious characterization of the Trumpeter as a bitter white male—the final noun being the most important word.

We can discover another, more interesting example in the interminable debate on abortion. I have noticed the liberal’s flourishing preference to describe abortion as “women’s health care issues”, as if the procedure somehow requires euphemistic costume. Less ambiguous is the language with which they frame the debate: “Men are trying to control women’s bodies.” Even if we share their interpretation of the psychic motivation of the anti-abortion lobby, a leisurely glance at the masses protesting outside of Planned Parenthood reveals an unexpected abundance of women picketing. Their commonality is their religious fanaticism, a subject that corporate feminism will never touch. Meanwhile, a surprisingly large number of men support the widespread legalization of abortion, which is probably the more important rebuttal to the liberal’s claim that men stand united against abortion rights while women uniformly favor them. Modern American liberalism is conspicuously insecure about the diversity of opinion, especially on the issues that have become the cornerstone of its political call.

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Death with Dignity: The Legacy of the Notorious B.I.G.

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The downfall of the American Empire may have been its own unnatural survival into the twenty-first century. The unprecedented comfort, wealth, and affluence—commonly mistaken for “quality of life”—enjoyed at the end of the millennium was patently unsustainable; nevertheless, the sleepy bourgeoisie, who had long since disbelieved in the possibility of any other standard, couldn’t open their eyes, even after they were violently awoken. When the economy turned in the year 2000, the pampered middle class, honored to be the United States’ spiritual representatives, were presented with a choice: acknowledge the impending demise of their decades-long bacchanalia or scramble to protect the doomed party and salvage whatever vestige of pleasure they could. Naturally, they selected the latter: what else could they do, having spent their whole lives lovingly preserving their ignorance of their nation’s true nature? For twenty years running, these desperate insomniacs have been refused their one, persistent wish: to go back to sleep.

Maybe they should have listened to Nas, who, in 1994, on a rap album that underperformed when it sold only five hundred thousand copies, cautioned his listeners: “Sleep is the cousin of death.” When one is embroiled in cutthroat capitalism—be it in Wall Street’s anarchic casino or, in Nas’s case, the more tightly regulated cocaine market of Queens, New York—there is no foreseeing the end of moneymaking, no way of telling when the celebration will come to a catastrophic end. Our downfall was especially recondite, possibly even unfathomable, in the 1990s, when the FEN DE SEE EK UL marriage of commercialism and culture produced, among so much else, the golden age of hip-hop. Could anyone conceive of a more concordant coda, a more apropos epitaph, to the chronicle of the American Empire than this music that extols the rise of young men from communities of squalor to the executive suites of media conglomerates?

Gangster rap, marketed efficiently in the 1990s and still synonymous with hip-hop in the minds of suburban Americans, is a particularly poignant criticism of upward socioeconomic mobility. This musical subgenre deconstructs the American Dream of sanctioned prosperity, of success exclusive to authorized means, and fashions its own inglorious story of rags to riches—or do-rags to riches, in the words of Donald Trump. Both the gangster rapper and the bourgeois citizen are committed to work ethic, materialism, and individualism, and both operate below or within a system that will inevitably malfunction and eventually collapse. Accordingly, the one remarkable difference is the gangster rapper’s knowledge, however incomplete, of the system’s critical vulnerabilities. Unlike the good citizen, who cannot overcome his own rigid faith in the system’s infallibility, the gangster rapper knows full well that the day of reckoning approaches and a devastating fate awaits us, one and all.

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$uper Tue$day and the Political Casino

We won’t win any points for innovation or originality if we compare the culture of spectator sports to American politics in the Trumpish Age. Both are predicted on a proudly irrational partisanship, a gloriously uncivilized hostility towards the opposition, and an impenetrable ignorance of the fact that it is all a zero-sum game. We have known this commonality, and it is a subject we will touch upon again. Today, however, I would like to draw attention to another shared feature, one which has been neglected hitherto: the salacious relationship to legalized gambling. Only the especially foolish would claim, as Krusty the Clown once did, that there is nothing illicit or even untoward about the incredible sums of cash that are exchanged when the heavyweights go toe-to-toe in the public arena. In January of this year, a special sage wagered $420,000 on a football game, only to see his favored team fall in a decisive defeat. How does one become so comfortably wealthy that half a million dollars can be jeopardized, the potential losses being inconsequential? The same way whereby Michael Bloomberg chooses to gamble more than half a billion dollars of his own. We’re describing a culture, the reckless nature of which endures, regardless of how many bruises are inflicted and bones are broken in back alleys when the losers can’t pay.

Bloomberg, of course, will never be punished with injury for his insolvency. He will be ridiculed for wasting a massive stack of cash, the estimates for which range from $400 to $570 million, on his abbreviated, ill-fated presidential run, but when the final check has cleared, he will have spent only one percent of his seemingly incalculable fortune. Jokes will be made and puns will be shared about his unprecedented investment’s unremarkable return, but the supposed laughingstock cannot hear us behind an impenetrable wall of hundred-dollar bills. Even if we could somehow reach his ears, we couldn’t reach his mind: how can this man, who has the financial omnipotence to spend and not even miss $400 million, at least, ever be made to understand the petty animadversions and insecurities of peasants? We are closer psychologically to the earthworm who tunnels underground to save himself from the ravenous pigeon.

Oh, but let us be higher-minded than to pick on the chubbiest man at the feast. The skinniest of the lot, Tulsi Gabbard, has consumed more than $11 million to date, and for this, she is ridiculed and dismissed as the feeble, scrawny, miserable gamine. She is little Cossette, sweeping the corner of her dismal dungeon while the hearty hogs feast on the fat on the land. Only in the phantasmagoria of corporate campaigning can a guttersnipe have $11 million at her disposal. Somewhere between Gabbard’s golden crumbs and Bloomberg’s ivory tower, we find Joe Biden, who has spent more than $60 million as of this writing; Elizabeth Warren, who spent more than $90 million before she closed up shop; Bernie Sanders, who spent almost $120 million before his opponents pooled their resources; and Donald Trump, who apparently believed it was necessary to spend $75 million to halt Bill Weld in a doomed and one-sided Republican primary.

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Violence in Activism: To What End?

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A few months ago, during one of my embarrassing arguments on Twitter, somebody dismissed me as a “tenth-tier Internet commentator”. The insult was petty, but it wasn’t inaccurate: in the eight months since I started putting myself “out there”, I have not obtained a notoriety or prominence, even within the relatively limited parameters of the underground media. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, and, as Anderson Cooper and Sean Hannity confirm, one does not become respectable or trustworthy simply because one is a household name. However, anonymity and obscurity ought to come with immunity from the paranoid slanders traditionally reserved for omnipresent figures wielding cultural clout. They don’t, of course, which is why even a tenth-tier Internet commentator like myself can be accused of every manner of nefarious, conspiratorial intent.

Despite my supposed political irrelevance, my unsolicited critics, charming for their inexhaustible powers of imagination, have described me as: one, a government agent dispatched to disrupt the progressive movement; two, an aspiring assassin plotting to murder Senator Bernie Sanders; three, an employee of Tulsi Gabbard’s presidential campaign who is feigning support for Julian Assange; four, a fanatical supporter of Julian Assange who is feigning support for Tulsi Gabbard, which is probably not entirely wrong; and five, a domestic spy employed by multiple federal intelligence agencies to infiltrate, discredit, and eventually dismantle the movement to free Julian Assange. This lattermost suspicion—I avoid the term “conspiracy theory” wherever possible—originated in a noteworthy pro-Assange group, one with which I have been involved before, the same one with which I’ll never work again.

The suspicion developed after I made a speech outside the notorious Alexandria Detention Center in Virginia, where Chelsea Manning is being imprisoned for her refusal to testify against Assange. I praised the work of the Black Panthers, in particular Malcolm X and Eldridge Cleaver, both of whom either endorsed or personally committed violence as a form of political activism. Neither of these men condoned violence unilaterally or unconditionally, but both men believed that, in some situations, and under extraordinary circumstances, violence becomes a viable, albeit quite ironical, method of preservation. A couple of days later, I asked a fellow activist for his perspective on this, and he grew worried that I was gathering incriminating evidence, perhaps on behalf of the FBI. The subsequent paranoia, rumormongering, and slander became so intense that I removed myself from the group.

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An Open Letter to Pete Buttigieg

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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.

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Negotiating with Terrorists: The Art of the Deal

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The militarization of everyday life. Scenes from the Concord Police Department’s National Night Out on 08/06/2019.

The Trumpish Age has been a surrealist epoch of life imitating satirical art, an embarrassment of richest irony that may have prompted Nietzsche to declare, “Parody is dead and the electorate have killed it.” The absurdity of the daily news has become so overwhelming, so brutally cloying, that every attempt to take it seriously is an anachronistic act, politically as well as psychologically. All too fitting, then, that the twenty-ninth day of February, that preternatural and puzzling Leap Day, has produced the most cartoonish chapter of this yet-unfinished story. On this most particular date, the Trump Administration, which has been accused of everything but predictability, told the world that the United States military, known euphemistically as “the United States”, was finally prepared to withdraw its troops and weaponry from Afghanistan. This was not to say that the United States, including its military, was actively withdrawing from Afghan soil; such would be a rather reckless reading of the Administration’s words. The real announcement pertained to the preparatory period, which would last for fourteen months, at least, and which could take much longer than that. None of the variables have ever been explained.

In the twenty-first century, the only constant in any plan for American (military) withdrawal is its failure. For sixteen consecutive years, the American electorate have voted to conclude our military combat in the greater Middle East, first by the affirmative declaration of “Mission Accomplished”, then through the insouciant motto of “Hope and Change”, and lastly in contemptuous disdain for “endless, stupid wars”. Our leaders’ remarkably consistent inability to deliver on their promise to stop spilling blood helps explain the seemingly inexplicable faith that Ryan Fournier, the founder of the group Students for Trump, places in this latest fourteen-month plan. “This is historic,” or so he tweeted this morning, expressing his awe for an event that hasn’t even happened yet. One might ascribe his excitement to Trump’s newly strengthened chance of winning re-election, though only by forgetting that, should Trump be defeated in November, his successor will have the entire spring and half of the summer of 2021 to cancel the deal.

Fournier also failed to observe that the deal is as promising as it is empty. It was proposed to and accepted by the Taliban, an association of violent Islamists who apparently facilitate Afghanistan’s negotiations with the American government. The Taliban have amassed a tentative majority power in the course of our eighteen-year odyssey into the land of the Pashtuns, which may have been the point of our original embarkment. Regardless, the Taliban have yet to establish an insurmountable advantage over their competitors for control, and therefore, they must secure their cooperation, or their submission, before the so-called deal can be confirmed. Five thousand incarcerated members of the Taliban are scheduled for parole if this plan comes to fruition, and they will undoubtedly be active participants in the discussions and deliberations. Those should begin in less than two weeks, which gives the corporate media, sponsored by subcontractors with the Department of Defense, to celebrate the dawn of an infant peace. Will they mourn its premature mortality, too?

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