At an undisclosed location in the deserts of Nevada. The Democratic candidates sit criss-cross-applesauce in a circle with retreat facilitator Anderson Cooper.
Anderson Cooper: Hello, and welcome to Common Ground. I’m Anderson. My preferred pronouns are he/him/his and my preferred epithets are silver-haired fox and sapphire-eyed god. I identify as white, male, extraordinarily rich, and gay, but don’t worry, I’ve checked my privilege, just like you all will during this retreat. And do you see these onyx glasses? I am not messing around. Not today. You will feel emotionally and socially transformed. Now, let’s start the conversation and open our hearts.
Jim Webb: Hi, I’m Jim We– I’m sorry. Could I get some more time to introduce myself, please? I have five family members to name, and I typically have trouble remembering at least one, so I’m going to need more time.
Lincoln Chafee: I’m Lincoln Chafee, I look like Emperor Palpatine if he were trying to sell Girl Scout cookies, and I have no scandals to my name. Zero scandals in Chafeeville. Also, I’ve been involved in the “You Don’t Say” photo campaign, the “Speak Up” photo campaign, the “XY photo campaign,” the “Day of Silence” photo campaign, the “Breaking Out” photo campaign, and all three years of the Standard’s photo shoots. I am here for a new profile picture. Thank you.
Martin O’Malley: My name is Martin O’Malley and I’m grateful to be here. I was in the great city of Baltimore from 1999 to 2007. Please ignore the fact that my time there overlaps almost exactly with The Wire’s run. Different Baltimore.
Bernie Sanders: Hello. We have to stand up to the BILLIONAIRE class in the Board of Trustees that is fueling inequality at this school. Duke’s campus today faces a series of unprecedented crises. UNPRECEDENTED. Our ENDOWMENT is NOT yet transparent. Our CAMPUS is run by a Rubenstein SuperPAC. Kunshan EXISTS–
Anderson Cooper: Please introduce yourself, Bernie.
Bernie Sanders: WWW.BERNIESANDERS.COM.
Anderson Cooper: Hillary?
Bernie looks down and nervously adjusts his Danish flag pin on his lapel.
Hillary Clinton: Hi, my name is Hillary. I’m a junior majoring in Public Policy, Political Science and International Comparative Studies, minoring in African Dance. You might know me from my three years on DSG, or from my leadership in Alpha Phi, Round Table, Baldwin, and InCube, or from my time as acting President of Duke University after Brodhead abruptly departed to sail on the Pequod. I’m here at Common Ground to rebuild Duke, and I’ve been wanting to be here a long time. I’ve applied every single semester. I’ve been waiting to do this since I was a little girl and my grandfather was working in a factory. And now I’m here.
Anderson Cooper: Before we begin, I want to remind everyone that this is a safe space. We will talk about race, gender, sexuality, and class. What you hear in this room can and should be shared with mutual friends, frats, sororities, SLGs, list serves, and The Chronicle, especially if it’s salacious, damning, or life-ruining. Again, safe space. Now, do #BlackLivesMatter or do #AllLivesMatter?
Jim Webb: #AllLivesMatter. Except for the life of that fella who chucked a grenade at me. Because he didn’t give me enough time to speak. Can I get some more time? More time.
Bernie Sanders: Danish lives matter.
Lincoln Chafee: #BlackLivesMatter has a better photo campaign, right? That one, please.
Hillary Clinton: I have a black friend. His name is Barack, and he’s very cool.
Anderson Cooper: Okay, we’re done with race…time to move on to gender. Who here is a woman?
Hillary Clinton: Me!
Anderson Cooper: What do you say to accusations that you use a filter on your Instagram selfies?
Bernie Sanders: Let me say something that may not be “politically correct.” The Duke people are sick and tired of hearing about her damn Instagram!
Hillary Clinton: Thank you! Me too, me too.
Bernie Sanders: I can’t even access the app! When I type “INSTAGRAM PLEASE” into a text message, nothing happens!
Anderson Cooper: I guess we’re good on gender then. Now my favorite section: sexuality. Al Gore, Joe Biden, and Jimmy Carter: fuck, marry, kill?
Martin O’Malley: Fuck Al, Marry Joe, and Kill JC. Easy.
Lincoln Chafee: I prefer the term “make love,” and I would “make love” to Jimmy Carter.
Jim Webb: The only person getting fucked is me by you for not giving me enough time. No homo.
Bernie Sanders: What we should be talking about is how the inadequate financial aid and crippling student debt is fucking students over.
Hillary Clinton: Bernie, you can’t bring that up yet, we haven’t gotten to the conversation on class. (whispers) Stick to the script I gave you!
Anderson Cooper: Actually, at the request of our sponsor and host for the weekend, Accenture™, we’ve been instructed to not talk about class issues. I’d also like to take this opportunity to thank the Love Ranch for lending us their space here in Nevada so that we can host the retreat. Now it’s time for the most cherished tradition of Common Ground. Think of it as an ice breaker, if you will…we’re going to go around the circle and each participant will share their most harrowing, traumatizing experience. Martin, why don’t you start us off?
Martin O’Malley: I rushed ADPhi and got rejected.
Jim Webb: I rushed ADPphi and got hazed.
Lincoln Chafee: I left Republic N. High School because kids would bully me and make “chafing” jokes.
Bernie Sanders: I lost all of my hair at age nineteen.
Hillary Clinton: Did I mention that I’m a woman?
Anderson Cooper: Yes. Okay, we’re reaching the end of our discussion. Now: is there anyone who can tell me what Common Ground is all about?
Martin O’Malley: (softly) Sure, Anderson. I can tell you what Common Ground is all about.
Martin stands up and moves to the center of the circle. A spotlight shines on Martin.
Martin O’Malley: Somewhere back in the dawn of time, this university had itself a civic dilemma of epic proportion: DSG had just passed a law forbidding alcohol consumption on East Campus. But East Campus is and was and always will be the freshman’s lounge: it’s where a freshman wants to be before a hot, sweaty night at Shooters. But the law is the law. The RA’s, what were they gonna do? If they wrote up every freshman out there for tipping back a high life, there would be no other time for any other kind of RA work, like baking cookies and decorating bulletin boards.
Martin clears his throat.
Martin O’Malley: This was before my time, but there was a small moment of goddamn genius by some nameless smokehound one day. On his way to East Campus, he slips a Natty Lite into a paper bag — a great moment of civic compromise! That small, wrinkled-ass paper bag allowed the freshmen to have their drink and it gave RAs permission to look the other way.
Tears well in his eyes.
Martin O’Malley: There’s never been a paper bag for politically incorrect, problematic bull shit. Until Common Ground. Students come here to get all their racist, sexist, classist and all other -ist thoughts out of their system so that they can avoid the fate of being problematic back at Duke.
Hillary Clinton: I thought you said to ignore The Wire?
Martin walks towards Anderson and grabs his hand.
Martin O’Malley: That’s what Common Ground is all about, Anderson. That tells me we are moving to a more connected, generous, and interdisciplinary place, and we need to speak to the goodness within our university. We are all Blue Devils. Except the Robertsons; I don’t trust them. But I truly believe that we are standing on the threshold of a new era of Duke progress.
Anderson stares longingly at Martin, then shakes his head and regains his composure.
Anderson Cooper: So, uh, who’s down to blaze?
Hillary Clinton: No.