Token Dissonance

Black & gay, young & conservative. A Southern gentleman writes about life and politics after Yale


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A Ballad of Fallen Choices

“O thou man of God, there is death in the pot.” –2 Kings 4:40

“But as for you, ye thought evil against me; but God meant it unto good, to bring to pass, as it is this day, to save much people alive.” –Genesis 50:20

"Whether they're a disposable clump of cells or viable human life with intrinsic human rights, what difference, at this point, does it make?"

“Whether they’re a disposable clump of cells or viable human life with intrinsic human rights, what difference, at this point, does it make?”

Long ago, in another era of acrimonious government, there was something of a moral (or at least political) consensus in America that held the willful destruction of a human life, whether developing in the womb or already bequeathed into the world, to be a terrible act. Among conservatives and a great many liberals and independents, this conviction manifested in the pro-life movement. For Bill Clinton’s Democratic Party, the homage that abortion advocacy paid to life, even as the once and would-be future First Family barred a prominent Pennsylvania Democrat from that party’s convention for his pro-life views, was the now tatterdemalion campaign facade of, “Safe, Legal, and Rare.” Even Barack Obama echoed that throwback mantra as recently as 2010.

Whether 2016 presidential candidate Hillary Clinton will maintain the old formulation or condemn it with the extreme prejudice she has shown so many of her husband’s political stances remains unclear. After all, it has been absent from the Democratic Party platform since the Obama era, to the bemusement even of Democrats who consider themselves “pro-choice but not pro-abortion.” Yet it seems that pro-choice and pro-abortion activists are marching “forward” and taking public offense at the once quotidian supposition that abortions should be rare.

Whether the formerly bipartisan moral consensus among the officeholders, activists, and Very Serious People of those antediluvian, “fewer abortions, please” days was genuine or an instrumental facsimile maintained and then terminated for political expediency is anybody’s guess. But in any case, though public opinion on abortion has not changed much in decades, the ancient consensus has gone the way of the nephilim.

Nowadays, the strident champions of unfettered abortion access cannot even, as my home-state lawmakers discovered recently in Tallahassee, acknowledge that a child who survives a botched abortion should receive medical care rather than be killed should either mother or doctor wish it. The Chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee even went so far as to fein insult at the contention that a fully-formed, almost-born baby should not be dismembered. Somehow, it seems that defending the notion that unborn children who could survive outside the womb should not be summarily killed is enough to trigger liberals to cry havoc and beckon the dogs of the so-called “war on women.”

This all brings us to my friend Josh Hammer, who is a law student and Federalist Society member at the University of Chicago. We do not agree on everything (well, actually, we agree on most things, but all that philosophical concordance is less interesting to talk about), but I have always found his impressively bookish legerity to be rivaled only by his assertive passion for conservative values. As any self-respecting citizen (and academic) ought to be, Josh is intellectually curious and eager to engage with people who disagree with him. So he went to a campus event featuring a late-term abortion provider to discuss that provider’s contention that his Christianity inspired his peculiar line of work.

To summarize what transpired: Josh refused to shake the man’s hand before engaging in respectful if heated conversation, was chastised by pro-choice activists, and then found that a heated argument he had with another attendee over his presence had been publicly broadcast in a naked attempt to shame him and potentially assault his employability. Because, apparently, it is a newsworthy horror that a Jewish law student would argue the case of the majority of Americans who oppose late-term abortion (likely out of a general opposition to killing innocent children) to a late-term abortionist speaking on campus.

It is understandable that some would tut-tut Josh’s refusal to shake the hand of the late-term abortionist—after all, Winston Churchill (one of Josh and my heroes) famously said of his decision to employ full diplomatic courtesies in conveying a declaration of war to the Japanese ambassador in December 1941, “When you have to kill a man, it costs nothing to be polite.” Of course, Josh is not the killer in this situation, and it is far more impolite to attempt to ruin a disagreeing interlocutor professionally than it is to spite a hand that exalts in the abolition of the unborn with claims of divine inspiration.

It is likewise rather indecent to prestidigitate away the gruesomely rational line from late-term abortion to “after-birth abortion” (otherwise known as infanticide) when pro-choice extremists and their Democrat enablers (like Barack Obama) are, as mentioned earlier, assailing laws that would protect infant survivors of abortion. One almost wonders how long it will be until these enlightened advocates of “reproductive freedom” push to reclassify Sudden Infant Death Syndrome as “after-birth miscarriage.”

But since we are being polite, it costs little to charitably posit that Josh may have done something or other worse in more than a quarter century of life than refuse to shake the hand of man he believes, not unreasonably, to be a murderous religious fanatic—and many of those worse things would probably still not merit public spectacle or professional ruin. To be certain, any opponent of religious extremists killing with impunity because “God said so” should give pause before condoning, let alone celebrating, the work of a man convinced that his God of Life has called him to the grotesqueries of destroying any unwanted human children right up until—or even after—emergence from a uterus.

What skeptics and opponents of unfettered abortion should take from Josh’s ordeal is that where extreme pro-choice activists cannot avail their fanaticism against public opinion, the federal Capitol, or in most state houses, they will endeavor to overwhelm their opposition through the sociocultural cache of the Democratic Party and the elite forces—from major media outlets to law offices—that can be cowed into obeisance.

They cannot be allowed to succeed. The lives, rights, and integrity of future generations may well depend on it.


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Spare the Rod, Spoil the Racism

“It is tough to watch another person being beaten. And I’m not a proponent of what some might view as child abuse. But when the person being beaten is harming his community and his future and the person doing the beating is his angry mother, she gets no argument from me — because she was right.” –Jonathan Capehart

Thank God for a good mom!

I do not see Toya Graham as a hero. Rather, I find her ordinary, sympathetic, and reasonably enraged by the enormity of injustice proliferating around her, from reports of horrific police brutality to the arsonist riots. In short, I see her as a loving mother doing what she can in an awful situation most of will hopefully be blessed never to experience.

I can understand why many people in and watching the media have hailed her for snatching up her riotous son from his criminal path. She did a good thing, and hopefully her son will profit from her care. I cannot understand why anybody should think the celebration of Graham is the latest footnote in a long essay on “white supremacy” that apparently underlies the multicolored criticism of the Baltimore riots.

Among the many contemptible expressions that littered the reactions to the responses to the riots was this particular gem of mind-numbing inanity from Salon’s Joan Walsh:

“The hypocrisy of the white mainstream applauding Graham is sickening. Let’s be honest: many white folks are reflexive critics of the greater frequency of corporal punishment in the black community.  Witness the media horror at Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson beating his young son. If Graham beat her child like that in the aisles of CVS, you can be sure somebody would call CPS.”

It is difficult to know where to begin with the things that are wrong with this paragraph (among the many other things wrong with the broader article). So for starters, let’s posit that a mother slapping at a teenage boy for participating in a riot is on a different plane of action from a professional football player whipping a small boy so viciously that the boy suffered bleeding wounds on his back, legs, and genitals. Let’s also posit that had Graham “beat” her teenage son in the aisles of CVS for attempting to burn down that CVS, nobody would call CPS, though many Americans would still call that mother a hero.

I will even go so far as to add the radical claim that many a parent would have handled themselves with considerably less self-control were their child to join a riot and then treat his outraged mother with such repeated disrespect as that teenage boy did his mother. It is unclear to me what race has to do with any of that.

In the interest of being philosophically and discursively charitable, I clicked on the link Walsh included in that excerpted paragraph and discovered another Salon article from Brittney Cooper, a biracial Princeton alumna from D.C. who now teaches middle school in New York City. The article peddles a familiar (and erroneous) trope that white people do not discipline their kids, while black people do. Moreover, it ties in the discredited myth that Michael Brown was murdered, rather than killed for attacking an officer, to suggest the purportedly broad racial disparity in corporal punishment is indicative of black parents focusing too much “producing well-behaved children in a world that clearly hates them.”

Cooper’s article and argument are infinitely more sympathetic than Walsh’s subsequent screed, and I can certainly share her frustration at unregulated children frolicking as public testaments to infuriating parental disengagement (or worse, appeasement). But ultimately the analysis is flawed in part by presuming a dark conclusion—that the world hates black people—and extrapolating false claims—that Michael Brown was murdered, or whites are profoundly less likely to discipline their children—from that conclusion.

Spanking—or, more clinically, corporal punishment—is not a black phenomenon. It is and has been an incredibly common mode of discipline across racial, ethnic, and socioeconomic lines. While there may be some degree to which that method is declining, especially among the kind of well-to-do urbanites who comprise the media elite, corporal punishment remains far more prevalent than most media would have you believe.

Insofar as there are demographic differences, spanking is exceedingly common in the South, regardless of race or class. A Time article on a Dallas study from 2011 documented several dozen families in which spanking small children, even for petty misbehavior, was so common and “normal” that the presence of recording devices in their homes did not keep parents from doing so.

“The parents who recorded themselves represented a socioeconomic mix: a third each were low-income, middle-income and upper-middle-class or higher. Most were white; about a third were African-American.”

Relatedly, Harry Enten at FiveThirtyEight took an extensive look at the General Social Survey’s findings about opinions of the acceptability of spanking. As of 2012, the GSS noted the highest levels of acceptance of corporal punishment among blacks, Republicans, born-again Christians, and Southerners—each at about 80 percent. The nation as a whole was at 70 percent (about where whites are generally).

As interesting as the racial disparity may seem (10 points), it’s smaller than other disparities—regional (more than 15 points between South and Northeast), political (about 15 points between Republicans and Democrats), and religious (10-15 points between born-again Christians and everybody else). Moreover, blacks are famously more likely to be born-again Christians than other American racial groups. Likewise, most black Americans live in the South, and many of the minority who don’t have deep roots in the region. Similarly, Republicans—notably underrepresented among African Americans—are also more likely to be born-again Christians and live in the South, and as mentioned above, all four groups accept spanking at roughly equal rates.

As far as actually spanking children, beyond just accepting the practice, an ABC poll on the topic also found a pronounced regional disparity:

“Among Southerners, 62 percent of parents spank their kids; that drops to 41 percent in the rest of the country… The U.S. Department of Education has reported that school-sanctioned spanking is most prevalent in Southern states – Mississippi, Arkansas, Alabama, Tennessee, Oklahoma and Louisiana.”

Taken altogether, the relatively higher rates of approval for corporal punishment among black families is not quite as dramatic or distinctive as some media would have you believe. In all likelihood, the cultural differences between white Southerners—who are mostly Republican and largely evangelical—and black Americans—who are mostly Southern and largely evangelical—are simply not remotely as large or profound as some might think.

I’ve bonded with many fellow Southerners, black and white, over being sent out back as children to “get a switch” and the various ways we would try (in vain) to pick one that would not hurt much. I’ve also heard permutations of that singularly haunting phrase, “I thanked my parents for every spanking/whooping/beating I ever got,” with eerily kindred pride from countless people (most recently a young, Yale-educated, middle-class white woman from Mississippi) across the spectrum of color.

The experiences of fellow Southerner Elizabeth Spiers is an insightful example of the broader cultural point:

“My parents are Southern white fundamentalist Christians, and we grew up in a working class community where nearly everyone else was a fundamentalist Christian and about 65% of the population was white. I don’t think I can recall a single person I knew who didn’t get spanked as a kid. I also went to school for twelve years at a tiny segregation academy* that was not parochial, but still had teachers who felt comfortable reading Bible stories in class and taught Creationism as a competing theory to evolution. There were 32 kids in my graduating class and no black students. Corporal punishment was doled out as a response to any sort of misbehavior and the principal would even spank 16 and 17 year old guys who were on the football team.

So spanking was part of life–at school, at home and throughout the community. I got spanked and slapped across the face as a kid, and so did my brothers. And the fact that my parents did this made them no different from anybody else’s parents.”

The demographic peculiarities of her community and school aside, there is not much in that description of the pervasiveness of corporal punishment in Southern Christian life that would not strike many a black person in America as intimately familiar.

There are many problems that disproportionately plague black America, and there are various remnants of racism that make the struggles of life harder than they should be. But noting that black people are known to spank their kids or pretending that white people either revel in that violence or disdain it in racial snobbery is perhaps even less productive or valuable than arguing over the imaginary racism of describing looters and arsonists as “thugs.”

In closing, I should note that nothing written here should be construed as my endorsing corporal punishment. Having grown up in a world inundated by the crack of the disciplinary belt (and a legion of other objects)—like Spiers, Cooper, and so many other Americans—I wholeheartedly agree with Spiers’s take on the subject:

“That said, I can tell you right now that if or when I have them, I will never hit my kids. I don’t believe in it morally, philosophically–and I don’t believe it works.”

Amen to that.


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Sunshine & Rainbows: Marco Rubio & LGBT Issues

“I believe that marriage is not just a bond but a sacred bond between a man and a woman. I have had occasion in my life to defend marriage, to stand up for marriage, to believe in the hard work and challenge of marriage. So I [am] committed to the sanctity of marriage, [to] the fundamental bedrock principle that exists between a man and a woman, going back into the mists of history as one of the founding, foundational institutions of history and humanity and civilization, and that its primary, principal role during those millennia has been the raising and socializing of children for the society into which they are to become adults.” –Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-NY)

“I do not support anti-discrimination laws for Bushes and Clintons.”

We all stand, whether conscientiously or insouciantly, at the delirious crossroads of competing obligations, values, and desires. For politicians, in particular, the road threading the needles of the constituent elements of a broader electoral coalition can be a herculean task at the best of times. When volatile issues like marriage policy, protected status for elucidated groups, and religious freedom concerns are the issues of the day, finding a simulacrum of compromise that can please—or displease—enough people in the right ways to win at the ballot box and in the legislative chambers becomes a Sisyphean ordeal that would perhaps evoke more sympathy were the people involved not, as politicians are, powerful and duplicitous.

Somewhere along the Sisyphean route, my home-state Senator and declared presidential candidate Marco Rubio has gained a cascade of (mostly favorable) attention for his encouraging approach to issues that affect the lives and livelihoods of gay Americans. Since announcing his campaign for the Republican nomination, the Floridian made headlines for affirming his willingness to attend a same-sex wedding and his understanding that being gay is not a choice. While these are certainly small steps, they are nonetheless welcome.

Let’s get the obvious out of the way first: Marco Rubio remains as personally opposed to same-sex marriage as Hillary Clinton passionately was until she changed her mind in 2013—a process most Americans have experienced and millions are still undergoing. On a policy level, Rubio retains the states-rights view of marriage that Hillary Clinton championed right up until a week ago. If that is a single-issue deal-breaker—or if you’re an unrepentant liberal—there is little more to say, though I appreciate your reading these words anyway.

However, for genuinely independent, persuadable voters and right-leaning folks who support gay rights, Sen. Rubio is demonstrably among the most appealing candidates in the field of 2016. This development is probably not too surprising for those who have been paying attention to the Miami-native’s approach to LGBT issues, as Rubio has been working to understand and include gay Americans and their political allies for some time now.

According to Gregory Angelo, Executive Director of the Log Cabin Republicans, Rubio’s Senate staff has held regular quarterly meetings with the pro-gay conservative group. (Though I am a member of Log Cabin, I haven’t met with Rubio staffers in that capacity.) Back in January, the junior Senator from Florida stated that he would not contest a Supreme Court ruling in favor of same-sex marriage rights. He’s made true on those remarks by declining to endorse Ted Cruz’s proposal to restrict marriage rights currently available through court order to same-sex couples, as well as refusing to sign—to the enduring umbrage of Maggie Gallagher—a recent amicus brief urging the Supreme Court to enact a ruling to that effect. (Full disclosure: my boyfriend, several friends, colleagues, and I are signatories to the opposing brief in the same case.)

While Rubio’s position is by no means an endorsement of the Supreme Court recognizing a constitutional right to same-sex marriage—which new position Hillary discovered, through a spokesman and with appreciably less brio than her original opposition, three days after her second presidential announcement—there is no daylight between how the executive branch would engage such a ruling under a President Rubio vs. a President Clinton.

Of course, gay rights concerns extend beyond marriage policy, and so does Rubio’s record of public remarks. In summer 2014, the devout Catholic gave a speech on marriage policy and judicial rulings at Catholic University where he acknowledged that multiple levels and institutions of government have discriminated horrifically against gay Americans.

I’ll let Sen. Rubio speak for himself:

“We should acknowledge that our history is marred by discrimination against gays and lesbians. There was once a time when the federal government not only banned the hiring of gay employees, it required private contractors to identify and fire them. Some laws prohibited gays from being served in bars and restaurants. And many cities carried out law enforcement efforts targeting gay Americans.

Fortunately, we have come a long way since then. But many committed gay and lesbian couples feel humiliated by the law’s failure to recognize their relationship as a marriage. And supporters of same sex marriage argue that laws banning same sex marriage are discrimination.

I respect their arguments. And I would concede that they pose a legitimate question for lawmakers and for society.”

It would have been easy enough for a Republican presidential hopeful to elide or gloss over our country’s sordid history of anti-gay persecution. After all, most Americans are unaware of terrors like the McCarthy-era Lavender Scare—in which the federal government systemically hunted and purged gay civil servants and proscribed their employment until the 1990s—or not-that-long-ago prohibitions on serving gay customers in public bars, as was the law in places like New York City. Likewise, many people believe, erroneously, that national anti-discrimination laws already protect people from being fired for being gay. (In fact, 29 states lack such protections.) Yet, without prodding, Sen. Rubio spoke a difficult truth that showed, among other things, that he listens to and cares about the diverse array of voters he represents and aspires to serve.

When he revisited the issue in the wake of the RFRA battle in Indiana, Rubio reaffirmed his commitment to religious liberty (though he did not, as some parties lazily suggested, endorse either version of the Indiana law) and declared unequivocally that the laws of this country should not sanction anti-gay discrimination—putting him squarely in sync with most Americans. To quote him again:

“No one here is saying it should be legal to deny someone services at a hotel or at a restaurant because of their sexual orientation. I think that is a consensus view in America.”

People can disagree about whether conservative Muslims and Christians should be forced to violate their religious beliefs by participating in same-sex weddings. But I would ask those who would dismiss Rubio’s sympathies for business owners’ rights of conscience regarding same-sex weddings to elucidate the coherent principle by which they would allow gays, Jews, African Americans, or anybody decent from compulsory service to events of the Westboro Baptist Church or KKK (both of which, it’s worth noting, purport to be religious organizations). To paraphrase a friend: our rights and freedoms are defined by the edge cases that make us uncomfortable, not the easy-seeming ones that require sacrifice only from our sociopolitical opponents.

While he’s not a perfect candidate, the growing sentiment of tolerance and inclusiveness underlying Rubio’s campaign suggest a realistic foundation for how the Republican Party can move beyond the divisive decades of the matrimonial culture wars. Perhaps his broader aura of constructive, forward-looking optimism will help Rubio sublimate his post-announcement bounce in the polls into an indomitable campaign for the nomination and the White House. Who knows? We’re still several seasons away from the primaries, and politics is a fickle game.

But if you’re one of those many almost-Republicans who have long been alienated by the GOP’s mean-spirited past on gay issues, candidates like Marco Rubio might have a whole new world of political opportunity to offer. Either way, at least we can all agree that same-sex marriages probably aren’t killing babies, whether or not Rick Perry ever figures out if he would attend a wedding.


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When God Passed Over

“For the creature was made subject to vanity, not willingly, but by reason of him who hath subjected the same in hope, because the creature itself also shall be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation groaneth and travaileth in pain together until now. And not only they, but ourselves also, which have the firstfruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting for the adoption, to wit, the redemption of our body. For we are saved by hope…” –Romans 8:20-24

“And he bowed his head, and gave up the ghost.” –John 19:30

One reason I choose to commemorate Passover is the enlightenment that comes with grasping at a key tradition in which Christ was raised. The ritual itself bequeaths a certain continuity of revelation and understanding that stretches back to the wisdom of Eden. Namely, there is no such thing as a free lunch—neither for God, whom men murdered, nor the murderous creatures he created. Everything we have gained—from the structures of civil society to the recognition of civil rights to the comfortable peace of Americana—was bought at a price. And that price for evolution is owed, whether or not we understand the reason for the cost or nature of the value.

By celestial design, Good Friday and the start of Passover concur on this first weekend of April. Among other things, this presents a perhaps edifying opportunity for modern Christians to reconnect with the Jewish roots of Christianity (and for Jews to explore familiar Passover themes in Easter) by participating in the ritual that was the last supper in which Christ gave us Communion. In attending such a ceremony with a mix of Jewish and Christian friends last year, I found a new appreciation for the transcendental history that ties people of faith to the Eternal through the progression of miracles that saved the faithful who came before us.

Christ’s last supper with his disciples occurred, of course, on Holy Thursday. On Friday night, he succumbed, with eleemosynary grace, to the torture of the unyielding government of men and died in the contemptuous bovarism of those trapped in vainglorious laws.

In taking that innocent life as a sacrifice bartered for those who would otherwise die in darkness, God the Father passed over the debt of the sinners of his fallen Creation while cursing the wickedness that tugs at every soul. On Golgotha, as in Egypt, the firstborn son of the powerful died that the wretched people around him might find new life with a new Law.

That was the gift and cost of love—and of pain.

Once upon a time in Egypt, innumerable sons died as casualties of a dispute of which many were not even conscious. Whether or not you believe the historicity of that account and whatever you think of the innocence of the slain Egyptians, you can appreciate the lesson of God extracting deliverance and eventual renaissance from a confounding level of suffering. Adam and Eve suffered to know morality. Cain suffered to found the first city mentioned in Scripture. The Egyptians suffered to be rid of an institution of slavery. The Israelites suffered to found a kingdom. Christ suffered to establish the foundation of an eternal kingdom in the souls and works of mortal men.

Nearly every great miracle mentioned in Scripture, from the burning bush to the parted sea to the birth of Isaac to the strength of Samson to the Scriptural wisdom of David and Solomon to the virgin birth to the conversion of Saul to the Resurrection of Christ and the redeemed fallen, brought with it a tale of suffering—that virtue might effloresce from the toils of winnowing away or overcoming the flaws in our hearts and understanding.

I know many of you readers are not (yet?) believers, but there are Truths in the Word that are accessible to anyone. When you break bread tonight—whether in Seder, Holy Communion, or simply in nourishing your body to keep it running—reflect on what has been sacrificed and that which was lost that you might enjoy what joys you have, even as you doubtlessly yearn for more. And you should yearn for more, as there is always more we could do to embody the transcendent love of God in this world for the brothers and sisters we keep.

For those who do believe:

“Then said Jesus unto his disciples, If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me. For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it. For what is a man profited, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul? For the Son of man shall come in the glory of his Father with his angels; and then he shall reward every man according to his works.” –Matthew 16:24-27

May you all have a blessed Good Friday. Happy Easter and Pesach Sameach.


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A Faith in Rainbows

“There can be no covenants between men and lions, wolves and lambs can never be of one mind, but hate each other out and out an through. Therefore there can be no understanding between you and me, nor may there be any covenants between us, till one or other shall fall.” –Homer

Said Hector to Achilles—& a lot of Greeks and Trojans to a lot of other Greeks and Trojans (c.f. The Oresteia).

In a way, the culture war (or what’s left of it) over recent state permutations of the federal Religious Freedom and Restoration Act (RFRA) is the latest instantiation of America’s ever rising sociopolitical polarization. A cursory look at the divergent media coverage shows the predictable degree to which some partisans of either side dismiss the rhetoric of their opponents as symptoms of debilitating paramnesia. Liberals think the most recent incarnation of RFRA in several red states is carefully tailored to allow discrimination. RFRA’s defenders counter that the altered provisions in Indiana would not trump anti-discrimination laws, as such a thing has never happened.

As in many things, it seems people of different views are increasingly living in different worlds.

Yet it seems we are crashing upon the last shores of the tide of gay rights in America. After all, Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson cited his son’s opposition in deciding to renounce support for an Indiana-style RFRA bill in Mike Huckabee’s old stomping grounds—and the red-state Republican even went so far as to openly ponder signing an anti-discrimination order for state workers.

Among Republican presidential hopefuls’ varying levels of support for the new RFRA’s stated intentions, I was most encouraged to see my home-state Senator Marco Rubio explicitly affirming the mainstream view in favor of anti-discrimination laws for gay people while supporting religious liberty. Refreshingly, Rubio’s statement follows naturally from his prior acknowledgement, in a speech at Catholic University, that federal and local governments once required anti-gay discrimination under color of law of. In this way, his statements are probably the closest to the truth of things of any candidate on either side of the aisle.

As the Indianapolis Star (which endorsed Indiana Gov. Mike Pence’s 2012 election) prominently argued, our laws can protect both LGBT and religious people (an overlapping set) with versions of RFRA that explicitly complement anti-discrimination laws. Such harmony exists already in several states, including the bastion of cultural conservatism that is Utah—a state so dominated by Mormonism that it mandates beer be watered down and cocktails be prepared behind “curtains” of modesty lest righteous teetotalers be tempted through sinful spirits.

Like many gay rights proponents from left to far right, my friend Gregory Angelo, executive director of the Log Cabin Republicans (and a Christian), expressed skepticism that Pence and the Indiana legislature will avoid substantive gay rights measures and aggravate all sides with half-measures. Other friends, like guest poster Lyman Stone, share an opposite concern with several other religious conservatives and sympathetic voices: that the Left’s abnegation of the original federal RFRA indicates gay rights activists will never allow, as Ross Douthat puts it, religious opponents of same-sex marriage to negotiate amicable terms of surrender in the late unpleasantness.

Said Achilles before vengeance: There can be no covenants between men and lions.

So let’s be blunt: the culture war is, on some level, about sociopolitical annihilation—that is, there are views that some folks earnestly believe ought to be expelled from the aegis of civil society.

For those familiar with the history of anti-gay discrimination, including the government-mandated homophobia of the 1950s Lavender Scare and the later ballot-box malignance of Anita Bryant and the Family Research Council, modern protests aimed at the cultural extirpation of the old adversary—homophobia—that was intolerable when it was powerful and is now deemed pitiful—but not pitiable—when it is weak, may seem just, perhaps divinely so.

But today’s religious dissidents to same-sex marriage are not the crusading bigots of yesteryear—as exemplified by the contemplative nuance of Rubio—and it seems unlikely that such entrenched bigotry will ever reign again.

Whatever one thinks of neo-RFRA proponents’ true intentions, Gov. Pence is manifestly on point in arguing that religious freedom laws have provided substantial legal protections to people, often of religious minorities, facing impositions on their faith that have nothing to do with gay rights. Repealing federal and state versions of RFRA outright, as many liberals have advocated since Hobby Lobby, would undercut those laws’ substantive protections for imprisoned Muslims, Amerindian kindergarteners in Texas, Indiana’s newly state-approved Church of Cannabis (because politics makes strange bong-fellows), and so many others.

RFRA opponents content to dismiss, while high on schadenfreude, religious freedom concerns in order to ruin perceived bigots should reckon with the collateral damage of that Shermanesque march to the fiery shores of “progress.” This may not be the intention—funny how word keeps coming up—of most anti-RFRA activists, but it is the reality all the same. As even Matt Yglesias of Vox, of all people in all media, pointedly acknowledged (backhandedly, of course), there is more validity than many liberals would rather admit to social conservative fears of a slippery slope beyond their disintegrating trenches in the culture wars. This is especially true when one considers the breathless hypocrisy of “pro-gay” liberals who, say, boycott Indiana and then jet off to Cuba.

None of this is to say that conservatives shouldn’t perhaps be more empathetic to RFRA skeptics who are unwilling to trust the rhetoric and legislative priorities of people they believe to harbor what could be most charitably described as sanguine indifference (and less charitably as outright hostility) to LGBT rights, especially given the aforementioned history of anti-gay vitriol from the government to the pulpit. After all, this sort of skepticism—which extrapolates likely consequences of ambiguous laws from perceived motivations of the most zealous supporters—inclines RFRA skeptics to infer anti-gay maneuvering from people opposed to gay rights for the same genre of reasons that gun rights advocates recognize (correctly) a Trojan horse in many a liberal proposal for “common sense” gun control.

In such cases, opponents of controversial reform (gun control, RFRA, etc.) do not trust that the reformers are dealing honestly when claiming a new law would not do (erode gun rights, allow/foment discrimination against gay couples, etc.) what opponents strongly suspect the reformers wish to do (ban guns, undercut gay rights, etc.).

To some extent in some quarters, this divide will not be bridged. For other situations, pairing robust RFRA protections with LGBT anti-discrimination provisions will be a vital way to convey good will where none is currently inferred. Such a harmony will not satisfy everybody. If that means gay rights opponents will have to withstand liberal opprobrium or religious freedom advocates will have to overcome some religious hostility to gays, so be it. An enduring union of those who seek tolerance and comity it should rally the better angels of the majority of Americans who want to do right by their neighbors.

Or so we can hope.


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Guest Post: How Will Life Go On After RFRA?

The following is guest post from my friend Lyman Stone. The views expressed are solely Lyman’s own, and do not reflect his employer, USDA’s Foreign Agricultural Service. If you, dear reader, are interested in adding your own voice and perspective to Token Dissonance, get in touch with my by email, and we can chat.

“What makes this response particularly instructive is that such bills have been seen, in the past, as a way for religious conservatives to negotiate surrender — to accept same-sex marriage’s inevitability while carving out protections for dissent. But now, apparently, the official line is that you bigots don’t get to negotiate anymore.” –Ross Douthat

By Lyman Stone

But can the "straight" fountain donate blood to the Red Cross if it's been used in the last year?

The “gay” fountain loves show tunes and can’t donate water to the Red Cross.

As I know Rek’s usual readership keeps up with the news, I’ll skip the summary of events surrounding Indiana’s RFRA (and now potentially Arkansas’ as well) as well as any argument as to what the RFRA actually implies for life in Indiana. These may be interesting questions, but the reader is doubtless as well equipped to answer those questions as I. Rather, Rek asked me to write a guest post in response to a line of speculation I advanced: What happens next? So we’ve got some RFRAs with allegedly new, unique, and uncertain provisions that LGBT activists believe are intended to enable discriminatory treatment. There’s a boycott movement against Indiana with, apparently, some real teeth to it. Governor Pence of Indiana has promised to offer “clarification,” while Governor Hutchinson of Arkansas has suggested he wants the bill before him revised to look more like the Federal RFRA. On face value, it looks like LGBT activists may be able to chalk up a win. But there are some unresolved questions here.

Let’s say that the Indiana RFRA is clarified in such a way as to offer protections of LGBT individuals. Indiana does not currently afford such protections, thus such a change would be momentous. Would LGBT activists then go on to other “red” states, crusading for the passage of gay-friendly RFRAs?

The key argument against Indiana’s RFRA is not that it will actually create discrimination, or even legalize discrimination: it’s already legal in Indiana to discriminate against gay people. The argument is that Indiana’s RFRA shows bad intentions; that Hoosier legislators are haters, and haters should be punished by society on the whole. The argument isn’t about policy details, which is why all the explanations about past RFRA usage and compelling interests, etc, aren’t going to change any minds. If you press those most vocally for or against Indiana’s RFRA, it becomes clear that neither side even knows what effect the RFRA will have. Those shouting loudest on this issue tend to support or oppose RFRA primarily as a way of showing solidarity as allies and striking a blow for, respectively, religious liberty or gay rights.

I say striking a blow for a reason: the fight isn’t about what either side is for, but about what, and especially who, they are against. Or, at least, from the perspective of a liberty-minded social conservative like myself, that’s what it looks like.

It does not have to be this way. Either side could outflank the other handily enough. If RFRA advocates paired Indiana-style RFRA bills with non-discrimination provisions and beefed-up free speech and expression rules, they might not win the LGBT activist base, but they could neuter the most effective criticisms, address the areas that create the biggest concern for conservatives, and provide enough “wins” for supporters of civil liberties to credibly show that “No Gays Allowed” signs are neither the goal or consequence of religious freedom advocacy. On the other hand, if LGBT advocates get non-discrimination laws making LGBT-identifying individuals a protected class attached to a similarly robust RFRA (perhaps in a blue or purple state), they could capture much of the base of support for RFRAs among moderate social conservatives who, rightly or wrongly, worry about religious liberty issues.

If neither side tries such tactics (yes, LGBT advocates have tried to attach non-discrimination laws to RFRAs in red states, but mainly by using language that amounted to poison pills, because the goal was to kill RFRA—discrimination protections or not), then, paradoxically, both sides will probably prove their worst impressions of each other. If conservatives won’t introduce any kind of “clarification” or “fix” aimed at preventing a future of segregation by sexuality, the LGBT community will have ample cause to view conservative-backed RFRAs as Trojan horses, within which lies the promise of entrenched discrimination. On the other hand, if LGBT advocates persistently degrade and demean efforts to protect religious liberty—and respond to such proposals with concerted efforts to drive up unemployment with boycotts that broadly hurt even those with no connection to the laws in question—then conservatives will be entirely justified in calling for more, and more robust, RFRAs. Spitefulness begets spitefulness.

The RFRA in Arkansas did not move through the legislature despite the Indiana boycott, but because of it. LGBT advocates should not be shocked if other states respond to “boycott Indiana” by adopting new RFRAs as well. Watching Indiana be pilloried, punished, and shamed for providing what, to many conservatives, seem like pretty anodyne protections for religious liberty might dissuade other conservatives from taking up the cause, as LGBT advocates hope. Or, and I find this rather more likely, it may lead to religious folk having a deepened sense of isolation and a heightened concern for their own apparently-besieged liberty, and thus pressing harder for RFRAs.

I see this even in my own experience: when the Arizona RFRA was debated, I was extremely skeptical of the idea, and argued against many of my fellow conservatives who believed it was a necessary and good law. But watching the treatment of religiously motivated conservatives in Indiana has altered my frame of reference. The LGBT community seems far more vindictive and far less open to compromise on this issue than I would have expected. Innocent Hoosiers, whose state has languished through Rust Belt decline for decades, are going to suffer so that activists nationwide can make a statement about a law that nobody actually understands and will probably have very little effect anyway.

My goal here is not to try to convince others to adopt a given policy position. Rather, I hope to offer an insight, however speculative, into the worsening future that social conservative activists and gay activists are creating together with alarming speed.

So for me, a pretty deep-red and quite religious social conservative with far too many gay friends and loved ones to write off their experiences, the question is: will either side actually show an interest in governing a diverse society?

I hope so.


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Rage Against the Correctness

“You can’t get anyone to agree with you if they don’t even listen to you first.” –Sally Kohn

If progressives want to burn bridges, who am I to judge?

If progressives want to burn bridges, who am I to judge?

In the aftermath of the battle royale of articles, tweets, blog posts, and other responses to Jonathan Chait’s infamous (and more than a little hypocritical) rally against the sinistral arts of political correctness, I considered adding my own vernacular garrisons to the fray. However, a friend went ahead and offered a guest post employing most of the essential points I would have marshalled and spared me some trouble. But in maneuvering through the battlefield of what has largely been internecine wrangling on the Left, it may be worthwhile to offer some comment as one disadvantaged by the intersectionality, as progressives might say, of several measures of privilege.

There is the curious phenomenon of encountering white (usually heterosexual and often male) liberals from affluent backgrounds and elite educations who are all too willing to lecture me on the profundities of the multimodal oppression that black, gay, and working-class Americans face in this country. I will spare you, my audience, a Terri Lynn Land moment and just note that this recurring phenomenon tended to derail my attempts at having reasonable conversations with some people about how the Ferguson riots attacked black lives far more than the violence and vandalism “disrupted” any “paradigms” or “systems” of oppression. (Curiously enough, most of the black people in my social orbit somehow intuited this reality.)

To be sure, one does not need to be a member of a given underprivileged class to offer pragmatic insights into pertinent social issues. Indeed, non-members of minority-x might occasionally, possibly, maybe offer more insightful—dare I say, better—solutions than some (though certainly not all) members of minority-x in some circumstances, because societal groups and situations, liberal caricatures aside, are not monoliths. As such, though I have many disagreements with the first half or so of J. Bryan Lowder’s progressive attempt at an evenhanded critique of Chait, his broader analysis rang true on the following point:

“The problem with identity politics—in this particular manifestation, anyway—is that it assumes that just because a person claims a certain identity label, that person is necessarily empowered to be judge and jury on all issues pertaining to that category. The truth is, identity grants experience (and experience should be valued to a point); but it does not automatically grant wisdom, critical distance, or indeed, unassailable righteousness. To forget this is to turn individual people who possess a range of intelligences, backgrounds, self-interests, and flaws into two-dimensional avatars for the condition of humanity in which they happen to share. And, by corollary, to assert that it is impossible on some fundamental level for those who don’t share that condition to ever relate or speak to that person as merely another human being with ideas and opinions.

That logic is real, it is ridiculous, and it is truly tiresome. It deserves all the criticism it gets.”

But there is something insidiously unhinged about the self-aggrandizing fury in which many expressly “outraged” voices of “social justice” seem (perhaps ironically, if not surprisingly) more eager to comminate skepticism of progressively dystopian worldviews rather than seriously engage a broader range of perspectives and concerns (e.g. that #blacklivesmatter should extend to the black livelihoods immolated in the riots). In short, as even many progressives have noted, there seems to be a driving force underlying the worst abuses of P.C. culture that seeks to antagonize, conquer, and eradicate what are viewed as insufficiently progressive “problematic” strains of thought, by whatever means necessary and possible, casualties be damned.

To put it more bluntly, there’s a whiff of vengeance and exploitative power-dynamics about the whole exercise that approximates a mockery of the fight against ubiquitous hatred, fear, and power-inequality that avatars of social justice purport to represent. In this regard, Michael Brendan Doughtery seems to have grasped a key reality (his emphasis):

“Political correctness conflates normal slights, sincere disagreements, thoughtless cracks, and the verbal miscues of the uninitiated with actual oppression. In extremely crude terms, political correctness engenders (or really, embodies) extreme sensitivity to status. The victims of historic oppression were accorded a low status by their oppressors. Imposing a low status on a group is a way of granting yourself permission to abuse its members. And so some of the normal rough and tumble of human interaction can be mistaken (or willfully misconstrued) as an attempt to replicate the very hierarchies that cause oppression and genocide. A real ‘P.C.’ blowup leaves one person crying and feeling misunderstood and ‘othered,’ while it leaves another person feeling both defensive and offended that the crying person appears to be trivializing real oppression.

Political correctness looks like grasping aspirational privilege. Related to the above. The right not to be offended, or the ability to punish those who offend your finely tuned sensibilities, is a form of privilege. Without having conducted a detailed sociological study, my anecdotal impression is that ‘politically correct’ styles of engagement are most popular among a class of people that is in a similar position to the old petite bourgeoisie:college students and strivers whose primary class consciousness is not their relative privilege over, say, Appalachian whites or people in the developing world, but their lack of power and status compared with the haute bourgeoisie, which is composed of everyone from crass GOP-affiliated lax-bros that want to go into finance to the polished and tamed ‘liberal’ graduates of Sidwell to the real inheritors of privilege like the Bush twins.”

It is a straightforward exercise in experience, empathy, or simple imagination to concede that an amorphous morass of systematic biases and (dis)advantages have accrued over time into what has come to be known as “privilege.” It likewise follows that the parameters of this privilege shift across various ethnic, cultural, geographical, socioeconomic, and other lines that impact different people in unimaginably complex ways. It is from this very complexity—and our avowedly universal belief in the value and dignity of individuals as such—that we ought to understand and accept that different experiences afford a broad array of perspectives that might not have occurred to us but perhaps should have. Some of these perspectives are more worthy of engaging than others, but where folks are wrong, it is generally worth considering that errors come from ignorance or misunderstandings than from malice. This is what is generally meant by the principle of charity, as my guest author noted.

A key ideological problem with the radical leftists whom Chait criticizes, some of Chait’s critics in turn, and even Chait himself is precisely this lack of charity—either in argument or in “live and let live” activism. You do not shout down or vituperatively impugn people whose views, motives, or reasoning skills you fundamentally respect. But once political opponents, or even skeptics, are deemed evil and perpetrators or abettors of evil—be it racism, sexism, classism, or whatever other forms of conscientious bigotry or stupidity are often ascribed to conservatives or the insufficiently progressive—then the desperate, venomous tactics of total-war activism become as natural and justifiable as the merciless socioeconomic quarantine we righteously impose on the most blatant antagonists of societal pluralism, from David Duke to Donald Sterling. Except, of course, people like Duke and Sterling are not remotely the norm.

In other words, the very folks who would have you believe that all their political or social theory critics—let alone actual opponents—are agents of animus, intolerance, and self-serving power dynamics (whether by pushing grannies off cliffs or promoting Taliban-style theocracy) are probably the same folks you should most suspect are projecting their own ignoble biases or motivations for their own agendas. Be wary of the activists and writers who demand that you heed their perspectives but have no use for anybody else’s. That is not to say that outrage is never good, reasonable, or worthwhile. Rather, those who demonstrate a sustained incapacity to refine rage at an ever expanding pandemonium of ills into a productive, conciliatory force that compels skeptics into constructive understanding instead of defensive recoil, are probably not going to be winning many wars you want to be part of.

Years ago, I wrote on the need to commit to the long-suffering project of tolerating those whose views we find abhorrent on even the most pressing issues of life and politics. In a similar vein, my friend Leah Libresco, a liberal Catholic blogger at Equally Yoked and The American Conservative, criticized the firing of Brendan Eich as a entropic salvo in a disturbingly segregationist trend of totalizing ideological warfare that threatens to transmogrify every aspect of our lives. That we are both openly LGBT people defending compassion for and patience with gay rights opponents whose views we would never want to see prevail is perhaps why those articles resonated across social and political divisions. The vast majority of Americans want to hear from and engage with those who manage not to believe the worst of them. The project of empathizing with sociopolitical detractors can at times leave even the best of us ineffably verklempt (to employ one of my boyfriend’s favorite words). Yet those situations in which empathy is the most elusive are precisely the ones in which it is most essential for all involved.

No, it should not fall on those afflicted by societal injustice to suffer the grating learning curves of those more privileged. Yes, engaging people where they are, defending the same colloquial liberties and philosophical charity for them that we would want for ourselves, and figuring out how to get them where we want them to be is the very mettle of social progress.

All that said, if you’ve read this post and happen to be an incorrigible progressive Democrat, feel free to ignore everything I’ve written here. Winning hearts and minds is probably racist anyway.

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