Missing the Train?

man in brown hoodie standing in front of train railway
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If I were to run for office, I would speak openly and often about being gay.  This is not news.  I’m a fairly public ordained minister who talks, writes and preaches from the pulpit about being gay.  It is a habit for me to bring that part of myself with me wherever I go.  I do not do this because I want to invite people into my bedroom (its a pretty boring place.) Rather, I do it because I know that my speaking about sexuality as part of my lived experience opens up the conversation for others about how sexuality and gender play into our communities, our faith, our health, our politics, and our governed lives.  My sexuality history allows me to speak about access to health care, mental health services, housing, jobs and a host of areas in which I’ve experienced direct discrimination, marginalization and fear…as well as compassion, joy and hope and an intimate understanding of where a lack of clear policies and understanding created chaos.  My public and ongoing exploration of my own male gender expression has helped me to have a deeper understanding of women’s experience of their bodies and how they are politicized whether they are cisgender or transgender.  My public process has also helped me to find a great place of compassion for men who hold on to “traditional” concepts of masculinity and to recognize their needs as a legitimate part of a broader community, while helping them to steer away from patterns of harm based on their gender expression. My willingness to talk about my own sexuality and gender is an opening for others to consider theirs and an invitation for people to have greater understanding and less shame regardless of whether or not they are straight or gay.  My public sexuality is an incredible responsibility as well as a privilege of my gender, my education and my economic class.  I own all of it.

We are missing a moment right now in the discourse around Rush Limbaugh’s stupid attacks on Pete Buttigieg and the radio host’s supporters vile defense of him.  But Buttigieg is also missing a moment to put a strong stake in the ground as a public figure with a platform and a call to action.  In this world, no one “just happens to be black” just as no one “just happens to be gay.” As with Obama’s blackness, having a robust and nuanced response to attacks on being gay will not make Buttigieg a one issue candidate. It has the potential to humanize him and give him greater dimension, and help us all evolve.  The legion of activists, artists and politicians who came before him can attest to that.  I’ve personally spent a lifetime presenting my sexuality as only one facet of myself that is a point of pride.  And I’ve also lifted it up as a uniquely powerful point of insight and transformation.  Certainly, everyone is different, but it feels like a missed opportunity when someone like Limbaugh has a platform to spread hate while someone else who has a platform to counter that destructive narrative appears powerless to use it.

…and the wrong game…

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Donald Trump is not a successful business man.  Donald Trump is a successful brand.  I suspect this is why he refers to himself in the third person.  I also suspect this is why the Republican party has fallen in lockstep behind him.

The Democratic Party will not win in 2020 if it continues to navigate the Trump presidency as it is.  I’m sure Tom Perez is a smart guy, but I am positive that the party is basically fighting the wrong fight.  Issues will never win over ideology.  Every great conflict in the United States has seen ideology rule victorious…even if that victory has been qualified and compromised: The American Revolution (liberty); The Civil War (union/slavery); WWII (anti-fascism) Civil Rights (black equality).  This is also evident where the non-progressive forces have won and continue to resist: Jim Crow & lynching (white supremacy); women’s rights (male domination); Native and Indigenous displacement (manifest destiny and white entitlement), etc.

The Trump administration and by extension the Republican party and by further extension conservative politics has become entirely about ideology.  I am not a Republican (technically, I’m an Independent) so I will not presume to understand the inner workings of the conservative Republican agenda.  But I have observed the following:

  • The current conservative Republican platform is based on the following assumptions:
    • Capitalism is the best system for resource distribution
    • Religion is important
    • Cultural identity is secondary to being “American”

These assumptions become counter narratives that allow conservatives leverage basic principles of progressive politics as weapons against themselves:

  • The liberal agenda uses race and gender as both punishments and excuses
  • Progressive politics is based on victimhood
  • Diversity is always divided in its allegiances

As I watch progressives play into the hands of conservatives more and more every day, one thing is clear: Conservatives, via the Republican party are invested in fundamentally changing the meaning of American life by enshrining the assumptions I laid out above in law.  When Jenna Ellis, a Trump legal advisor defines ‘conservative’ as being to “conserve” the rule of law, it is abundantly clear that we are no longer in Kansas…if we were ever there at all.

Progressives need to stop worrying about beating Donald Trump.  That is the quick fix.  We must play the long game.  The real challenge will come down the line when someone like Richard B. Spencer (the neo-Nazi not the Secretary of the Navy) de-stinks himself enough to run for office and has enough of a following to win.  He’s only 41.  It is the next generation of hate mongers that are the real danger here because they are not just invested in creating the ideology, they already breathe it.

In order to succeed, progressives need to cultivate an ideological agenda that will counter the goals that underlie current conservative politics which I believe are:

  • Protecting white, male, able-bodied privilege
  • Erasing community accountability
  • Silencing the conversation on race
  • Promoting nationalism and local-ism at all costs

It is essential for progressives to recognize the ideological battle and be willing to name it.  Currently, the only Democratic candidate willing to do this has been Marianne Williamson.  She is right, we are fighting the wrong battle with “plans” and “data” and even with “math”; and Bloomberg and Patrick will just gum up the works.  Someone needs to step outside of the pack and present a dynamic ideological framework that people can get behind.  If they don’t, we and our democratic and moral systems will be left with something far worse than just four more years of Trump…we will be left with his signature legacy: bankruptcy.