People have asked me to write a more general post about the Bernie Sanders interruption thing (beyond pointing out how amusing the explanation of it by its organizer was). I used to write posts about this campus style of language-obsessed, gesture-obsessed leftism, but I have greatly bored of it. So let’s just cut to the chase.
At times he plunged on, talking over the protesters as if they weren’t there. While he is largely a supporter of civil rights and is, in general, right on the issues of the Black Lives Matter movement, he came across as a self-important know-it-all who has better things to do than to listen to uppity black kids who are disrupting HIS speech. In the end, he took off his microphone and left the stage without as much as a wave to the audience.
The author notes that Bernie is right on the substance of all these issues but then quibbles on about personal performances and gestures, without ever explaining why anyone should remotely care how someone personally performs or gestures. Of course, nobody bothers to hash out whether this communicative performance leftism of the campus set is at all interesting or important. You are just assumed to already be with that program.
But, you see, there is a pretty obvious problem with this brand of gesture-focused leftism that clever people can easily exploit. The problem is that talk is cheap and anyone who cares enough can just mirror the gestures you want them to make (thus flattering these strange politics) while doing whatever the hell they want when it comes to actual substance. It’s trivially easy to say what people want to hear while doing the exact opposite.
In fact, this protest provided a truly marvelous example of this method of juking communicative performance leftism. Look at this tweet from Jose Antonio Vargas, the moderator of the interrupted speech:
— Jose Antonio Vargas (@joseiswriting) July 18, 2015
People ate that tweet up! And you can see why: he said exactly what we have decided people should say about erasure and all the other magic words. But the thing is, this tweet is 100% bullshit. Go watch the video of the interruption on YouTube. Multiple times Vargas made efforts to hush the protestors, holding his hand up to tell them to stop, and then verbally saying to hold off until the question and answer. He didn’t stop the interruption because everyone ignored him, not because he made no effort to do so.
The reality of what happened doesn’t matter here though. It’s the performative gestures that matter. You can literally on video tape try to shut down a protest and then turn around and, with the right words and signals, insist that you did the exact opposite of what everyone just saw you do, and people love it. This is the problem of a politics based on words.