COVID-19 Education The Patriarchy

Can We Get a Wellness Check on Ben Sasse?

U.S. Senator Ben Sasse delivered the online commencement address to students graduating from his alma mater, Fremont High School, on Saturday, May 16. Students may have anticipated that the self-styled Never-Trump sage of the Senate would offer some inspirational remarks, or, failing that, some boring pablum.

Instead, we all got to watch what happens when Sasse finds himself in the impossible position of delivering a speech that has to appeal to graduating seniors, who belong to a generation he has built a career on belittling, and their septuagenarian racist grandparents, who comprise his voting bloc. In this deliciously horrific spectacle of cognitive dissonance, Sasse combines the stilted vocal fry of a 48-year-old man trying to sound like a Fellow Kid, a series of jokes that capture the youth zeitgeist as well as a mom dabbing to K-pop, insults that target everyone from China to psychologists to the very kids he is speaking to, and a healthy dose of condescending nationalism.

Here is the Seeing Red Nebraska annotated transcript of Sasse’s speech. Ask yourself if a woman in Sasse’s position could show up looking like she just came off a bender, slurring words, and calling high schoolers fat–would it just by chalked up to acting kavanaughty? Find a video link at the bottom of the page.

An Annotated Transcript of U.S. Senator Ben Sasse’s Commencement Remarks to Fremont High School’s Class of 2020

Congratulations, graduates. This is a big moment, not on graduating high school but on making the journey down the stairs from your bedroom to the living room and putting on something slightly more formal than sweatpants.

Okay, another “no pants” pandemic joke, but that’s okay, we are still with you, Ben!

Your grandparents are proud of you.

Interesting to lead with the grandparents, but it is an election year.

We’re all proud of you. It took a lot of effort. We want to recognize your sacrifice. Congratulations, parents, teachers, and coaches. Not that there’s really any meaningful distinction among those categories anymore, at this point. If you’re a parent, you’re a teacher. Thanks a lot, China.

This dude is talking to kids in a city where meatpacking is a huge industry. WholeStone (formerly Hormel) is there, and there’s a new Costco chicken plant. They could not be tempting fate more to be ground zero of a pathogen jumping into the human population, but “Never Trump” Sasse is going to put it on China.

We’re all teachers now. And let’s be honest: at the start of this, most parents thought we would be ~visionary math teachers~ changing the world

Literally zero parents of high school students thought that. We have to ask our kids how to do trigonometry.

but after about two weeks we all just decided to default into gym teachers.

False, the last goddamned thing I am doing with a teenager is leading them on a brisk run right now.

I’m kidding. My dad was a gym teacher. I’m serious.

Nobody thought you were joking.

He used to teach English and social studies but he always aspired to get to gym so he didn’t have to put on formal clothes every day and he could wear the same sort of sweats that most of you are wearing on the bottom half down anyway.

There is zero doubt in our minds now that Sasse is currently Porky Pigging it on Zoom.

But anyway. I know, Dad, gym is important, if you’re watching, Dad. As if he’s watching–my children aren’t at his house and like all grandparents there’s no chance he can get Zoom to work without my children there to do it for him.

Haha, good one, Ben. Old people are unemployable!

Graduates, adults don’t tell you this, but once or twice a week in real world life someone’s gonna ask you to climb a giant rope. No reason, just climb the rope. Sure, every now and then the rope is a metaphor but honestly most of the time it’s just a big rope and you have to climb it. If you don’t get that joke talk to your mom and dad.

We got the “joke” except for what is supposed to be funny.

Back in the day when we were a lot fitter than you people are

Right, call the graduating seniors lardasses.

we used to have to climb ropes all the way up to the ceiling of the gym all the time. So gym teachers, those of you who chose to do it as a calling and those of you who’ve been forced into it as a calling, I salute you.

So here we are we’re in your living room. I’m on a laptop, you’re on a couch, because 2020 is a heck of a year. I know I’m not supposed to say this, but you’re not missing out on that much because honestly nobody–and by nobody I mean nobody–remembers anything about their high school graduation.

Eh, I remember getting really sunburned and taking recreational Benadryl to get me through the commencement addresses.

In fact a lot of us spend a lot of our lives trying to forget as much about high school as we possibly can. You know what I mean [slurs this like “Irene”]. You remember sophomore year. You don’t want those memories to be defining for you. And in fact there are a whole bunch of people who make a whole bunch of money by just trying to help other people forget high school. They’re called psychologists [psychologisss].

Approximately no psychologisssss try to make people forget periods of their lives.

In fact 95% of all gainfully employed psychologists–and I’m serious–there are dozens of them that are gainfully employed. Their job is really just to help people forget high school and the other 5%, they just research hamsters who got lost in mazes, which come to think of it is a lot like high school and that’s why we want to forget it. Those hamsters also need their own psychologist now.

Good job belittling mental health treatment to an age group that even in the best of times is wracked with mental health problems.

Here’s what I’m trying to say. There will always be money to be made in psychology. Now that’s a joke. Do not–if you’re headed to college, do not major in psychology. That part’s not a joke.

We are about to enter an unprecedented global mental health crisis because of isolation, mass death, and economic loss, and this wise sage is telling kids to avoid studying how to help people through that crisis. Let’s also note that Ben NRA Sasse has long insisted “mental health,” not guns, is the reason we have a plague of gun death in the US. Now you can see how earnest the Fremont Philosopher was with that bullshit.

But like I was saying, nobody remembers their high school graduation. Except for you guys! You guys are gonna be the first generation in human history to actually have your high school graduation seared into your memories. You can meet at your class reunion in 25 or 30 years–I mean people 30 years out of high school are really old–by the way, I graduated high school thirty years ago this month so thanks for rubbing it in. You’re gonna say stuff at your high school uh reunion service ceremonies.

Reunion service ceremonies?

Remember that time that China started a big global pandemic that created the worst public health crisis in over a century and brought the economy to its knees and we had to stay at home and everybody was hoarding toilet paper and we all watched this documentary about some weirdo dude who raised tigers?

Oh for fuck’s sake. The only noteworthy thing about this painfully unoriginal and pandering sentence is that Sasse is perfectly happy stigmatizing China when he knows that he is talking to a high school renowned for its racism problems at a time when Asian Americans are reporting bullying and harassment because of jackasses like this guy.

Yeah, it’ll be pretty hard to forget that. So you guys have this silver lining. You’re gonna remember your high school graduation. Nobody else has ever remembered the high school graduation. You’re gonna remember it. You’re graduating in your living room and you’re having a senator come and talk to you about some dude named Joe Exotic

“Yeah, that was so wacky and cool. What a hip, with-it dude that senator was,” recollected nobody from the class of 2020.

that’s but that’s probably the least weird thing that happened this last month because we haven’t even started talking about murder [murner] hornets yet. That’s right, murder hornets.

Yes, what this thirteen-scoop sundae of trying-too-hard unoriginality needed was one more dollop of #trendingnow.

Now I know what you’re thinking: it’s not the murder hornet’s fault, if an insect grows up being called a murder hornet you can’t be surprised when they actually start ripping the heads off of honeybees. I get it. That’s a pretty good point. We all sort of do grow into our names, and by the way that’s why everybody named Jeremy is the worst. Sorry, Jeremy, not my fault, blame your mom and dad.

Finally we are getting somewhere. Someone named Jeremy hurt Ben Sasse. Perhaps a psychologist could help him remember.

Anyway the murder hornets, they’re in Washington state and they’re really bad but the murder hornets, they aren’t even half as bad as the black hole in case you haven’t noticed or if you haven’t been reading and you should because you got time on your hands. Scientists just discovered a black hole that’s four times the size of our sun and it’s apparently in a system that’s visible to the naked eye. Scientists are now gonna classify it as a major major bummer.

Oh, god, this sundae is getting more precarious by the minute.

Why am i giving you all this bad news? Well, between the pandemic and the murder hornets and the fact that the Tiger King lady definitely killed her husband and the black hole–that shouldn’t be between, it should be among–but among all those things you’re stuck at home for graduation and that’s really not even a top 100 problem.

Ben Sasse always has time to model good grammar. He may not have time to model not being a douchebag, but he will catch his own canned between/among mistakes and call that shit out because that is the kind of self reflective man he is.

But I get it. This isn’t the way you wanted today to go down and you know, all joking aside, you are graduating in the midst of two crises.

Well, three if you count this speech.

We’ve got a public health crisis, which is real and many of us know people who’ve been suffering because of it for the health reasons, and we’ve got an economic crisis on our hands, and all of us are gonna be navigating that. You’re entering the world. You’re moving from basically the end of childhood to the start of adulthood at a time when the economy has some pretty ugly prognostication coming.

The economy has prognostication coming? That is not how that word is used.

It’s hit our state hard. It’s probably hit your family. It’s hit our whole country and nobody knows exactly how we’re gonna beat this thing, but you know what? We’re Americans. We’re Nebraskans. We’ve got grit and we’re gonna beat this thing we will bring the economy back. We are gonna beat the virus.

This is some hard-hitting inspirational stuff. It’s like he got us all to let our guard down with disarming jokes about rope climbing and Tiger King and now he is moving in to our vulnerable Jeremy spot with appeals to that world-famous Nebraska grit.

We’ve got five different American pharmaceutical companies doing amazing research to develop a vaccine.

Just an FYI to the Fremont seniors, there are lots of smart people around the world working on this, and lots of them are not American and are not working for companies.

We’re gonna have to have a serious reckoning with the thugs in China who let this mess spiral out of control by lying about it.

One more parting Trumpian jab at China from a man in a state whose governor is asking health departments to conceal outbreaks at meatpacking plants. Physician, heal thyself.

Your generation is gonna have a big calling. You’re gonna have to deal with the consequences of all this and you’re entering adulthood during an incredibly disruptive time. But you know what that means? It means the fact that you’re gonna need grit and determination and resilience isn’t just euphemism,

Again, “euphemism” is not the right word here.

it isn’t just rhetoric, it’s reality. And here’s the good news. You all have the potential to have grit and resilience and determination and to get through this. That’s actually what your late night study sessions and your early morning practices gave you. That’s what they were about. That’s what your parents and teachers tried to instill in you, and that’s what makes our state great, and that’s what’s gonna pull us through this thing.

What makes our state great is that we have early morning band practice?

You’re gonna pull us through this thing. You’re commencing today. What does commencement mean? It’s the end of your high school but we call it commencement which means beginning. Why? Because it’s the beginning of the set of callings you have from here.

Ben, everyone watching a commencement address knows what “commencement” means. Try looking up “prognostication” and “euphemism” instead.

You’re gonna do it. You’re gonna get it done. We’re gonna be proud of you again and we’re proud of you today. Your families and your communities are proud of ya. I’m proud of you but you don’t really know me. The important thing is your families and your communities are proud of you. Get er done!

Aaaand Larry the Cable Guy for the coup de grace. Fin.

Sasse starts at 0:45 and goes to 7:53.