Token Dissonance

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

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The Soft Bigotry of Progressive Intentions

“It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men.” ―Frederick Douglass

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“I wish being a good person was as easy as wanting to help the children.”

 

In the heated summer of the 2000 presidential campaign, Texas Gov. George W. Bush went to the NAACP Convention in Baltimore and championed education reform, economic opportunity, and racial equality. In reflecting on demographic achievement gaps, the future president famously declared, to applause, “I will confront another form of bias: the soft bigotry of low expectations.”

This was a callback to a September 1999 speech Bush gave to the Latin Business Association in which he addressed academic underachievement among black and Latino students: “Now some say it is unfair to hold disadvantaged children to rigorous standards. I say it is discrimination to require anything less—the soft bigotry of low expectations.”

It is a tragic irony of Shakespearean cruelty that, in 2016, the NAACP opposes education reforms that are already helping black children and families. In its hostility to charter school and school choice, the NAACP (along with Black Lives Matter) is fighting against black communities and undermining black progress. Given the chthonic horrors of public education (if the intergenerational afflictions of that socioeconomic Tartarus can be so called) in too many lower-income neighborhoods, it surprises nobody paying attention that black voters in several states overwhelmingly support school choice, including charter schools.

Unfortunately, the NAACP has opted to subordinate the needs of the black community to the political interests of another core donor constituency of progressive politics—teachers unions—even though the facts indicate that those progressive donors would rather leave black kids incarcerated in poverty and ignorance than let them be free of union control. In this way, the NAACP has—much like Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren, who forsook her once strident support for school choice to kneel before the teachers unions—melded smoothly into a social justice establishment that exalts the interests of its donor class over those of the people it purports to serve and represent.

Jason Riley sums up the breadth of the maddening reality quite well over in the Wall Street Journal:

Numerous studies employing gold-standard random-assignment methodologies have shown that underprivileged black children with access to charter schools are much better off than their peers in traditional public schools. They not only learn more but are also more likely to finish high school, attend college and avoid drug abuse and teen pregnancy. Inner-city black students with access to the best charter schools regularly outperformed their white peers from the richest suburbs on standardized tests.

Charter-school students with disabilities outperform traditional public-school students without disabilities. The Black Lives Matter activists who fret about racial disparities in incarceration rates and support the NAACP’s anti-school-choice posturing might consider the fact that our jails and prisons are not full of high-school and college graduates.

Blacks are 16% of the public-school population in the U.S. but 27% of charter students. The NAACP is faulting charter-school proponents for targeting the very communities where the demand for school choice is most acute. According to the civil-rights activists, whether black students are learning anything matters less than whether they are sitting next to white students. Never mind the empirical data showing that black children need good teachers and safe learning environments far more than they need white classmates.

This theme of exalting demographics over results hearkens back to an education reform struggle, half a decade ago, in Wake County, North Carolina. In that case, a well-intentioned integration policy aimed at closing racial gaps in academic achievement had the actual effect of masking the ongoing problem while geographically separating underperforming kids from the support structures of their families and communities. When Republicans gained control of school policy in 2010, they understandably moved to allow parents to keep their kids in their own communities while improving those local schools.

This effort had the side-effect of ostensibly “resegregating” some schools—because different areas had higher concentrations of white and nonwhite families—and the allusions to Jim Crow and Brown v. Board came like clockwork. This slander could only work insofar as the self-proclaimed champions of “equality” and “racial justice” ignored or prestidigitated away the most essential fact: the progressive policy ended because it failed to do anything but hide its own failures. In truth, the Wake County reformers gave the lie to progressive assumptions about the realities of the substantive progress due to underprivileged Americans. So of course the warriors of social justice—and those who profit from its failings—cried, “Bigots!” and let slip the whistles of slander.

As I wrote at the time:

Accepting that diversity is valuable and progress is not painless, the benefits of the program were dubious at best—schools were increasingly overcrowded, most black and Latino students were not proficient in reading or math, and only 54% of poor kids were graduating. As a biracial mother of two Wake County students put it, “right now, it’s as if the best we can do is dilute these kids out so they don’t cause problems. It sickens me.”

Even the Republicans-abolish-integration article inadvertently makes a case for what Paul Fitts, a Republican candidate for Wake County Commissioner, would describe as achievement-oriented schools grounded in communal involvement. Namely, qualified poor and/or minority students were underenrolled in advanced math classes under the previous “integration” policy. The kicker: school officials say they’ve known about this problem for years, but many parents were left in the dark. In other words, sending kids to faraway schools stifles parental involvement and allows ongoing systemic problems to fester under the negligent eyes of self-interested bureaucrats.

This is the mettle of structural oppression: A constellation of social justice do-gooders fretting over race relations and “the children” while consigning underprivileged (mostly black and Latino) children and their families to mediocrity and malign neglect. This is how intergenerational poverty and underachievement are reinforced through the doublespeak of talking a good game about equality.

The war on black children extends all the way to the White House. The Obama administration fought tooth and nail to undercut school choice, from Louisiana to Washington, D.C. The government ignored the objections of black parents, who overwhelmingly benefit from and attest to the profound benefits of having options already available to the wealthy.

In the exceptionally odious Louisiana episode, Eric Holder’s Justice Department argued explicitly in a court of law that empowering black students to escape dangerous, failing schools—and the dependent cycle of poverty and ruin—would “impede the desegregation progress” from the Civil Rights Movement. This is how the administration chose to misrepresent the fact that the state’s vouchers, available only to low-income kids assigned to low-performing schools, overwhelmingly go to poor blacks who manage to beat the growing wait-list for limited spots.

It takes a special kind of legalistic depravity to invoke the hard-fought, blood-soaked triumphs of civil lights leaders to secure the best educations for black children as a vehicle to drive today’s black children back into a stultifying ocean of despair. (It’s worth noting that Bobby Jindal, the then-Governor of Louisiana who vigorously championed the academic emancipation of black youth against a hostile federal government, was the first nonwhite person ever elected to that office. Likewise, the Mayor of Washington is black, as is a large chunk of the city council.) This depravity is no less damning for carrying the imprimatur of America’s first black attorney general in service of the first black President of the United States.

By contrast, Gov. Jindal won reelection amid his campaign for education reform with a historic two-thirds of the vote, sweeping every parish in the Pelican State. It’s not clear if any data exist on the demographic breakdown of the 2011 electorate, but Jindal won a majority of the vote in several majority-black parishes, including MadisonSt. JamesSt. John the Baptist, and Tensas, even as 80 percent of black voters are registered Democrats.

Down the Gulf, Florida Gov. Rick Scott championed school choice, merit pay, and other academic reforms, and he campaigned heavily on them in his reelection bid to win over black voters. Subsequently, he managed to grow his support from among the black vote to 12 percent. That may seem paltry, but it amounts to double his showing among black voters compared to 2010, while black turnout increased by three points. That’s a difference of 61,000 black votes in an election Scott only won by 66,000 votes.

But that actually undersells it. Had Scott’s 2014 black vote total languished at the six-percent share he won in 2010, with the Democrat’s share holding anywhere near 2010’s 92 percent, the final tally would have been 95,000 votes more Democratic. That means Rick Scott’s margin of victory was entirely contained within his improved share of the black vote. I repeat: the Republican Governor of Florida is only in office today because a growing black electorate decided to grant him reelection after he gave them good reason to do so.

Since then, Scott’s continued fight for education opportunity for the underprivileged has kept him at odds with the state teachers union and NAACP chapter. But the governor retains a solid core of support within the black community. In January, Martin Luther King III came to Tallahassee after the holiday for his father to stand with black families and Gov. Scott against the regressive machinations of the progressive establishment.

This dynamic of Republicans pushing for education reform and winning support from black voters but hostility from progressive activists is by no means restricted to the South. In the Northeast, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie expanded school choice his very first year in office. Democrats who buck the progressive establishment on education even credited him with “launching the school-reform movement throughout the Northeast,” as he fought for vouchers in an election year. Thereafter, Christie won reelection with double his previous share of the black vote (from 10 to 2o percent) and nearly half of Latino voters.

These stories abound, and they provide a robust array of evidence that black voters value expansive education reform more than progressive donors can pay to stifle it. But that is a precarious equilibrium that can fail at any time. Fortunately, in Florida as in Louisiana and Washington, school choice for underprivileged children is winning, for now, and progressive opposition to progress seems to be collapsing.

That’s not to say all charter or private school options are fantastic or even better than all traditional public schools. Some programs are struggling and bad schools have been or will be shuttered, as the system rightly demands. Other reforms are propelling kids to the once-inconceivable heights of college and upward mobility. Ultimately, a system that gives families workable options encourages the kind of policies that can provide life-changing benefits to disadvantaged kids. But in any case, school choice options ought to be measured by the results, not by how staunchly the progressive donor class finds them contrary to its political and financial interests.

I mightily doubt President Obama, his black attorneys general, or well-meaning BLM activists mean any harm to lower-income families who just want a fair chance at success. (If you insist on the utmost charity, we can add teachers unions to that list.) But at some point, the progressive establishment must be made to understand that good intentions do not substitute for good result and cannot balance out actual harm. The pernicious effects of structural bigotry are not any less asphyxiating because those who sustain them practice the correct platitudes about social justice.

As things stand, today’s leaders must choose between the actual welfare of the downtrodden and the union-funded oppression of the  Elizabeth WarrenBernie Sanders wing of the Democratic Party.

May they choose right and true.

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Like Honey for Flies: A Lesson from Derek Black

“Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not charity, I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal… When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things. For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known. And now abideth faith, hope, charity, these three; but the greatest of these is charity.” ―1 Corinthians 13: 1, 11-13

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There was something intimately familiar to me in the story, as conveyed by reporter Eli Saslow in The Washington Post, of reconstructed white nationalist Derek Black. To start with the low-hanging fruit: we share a name, were both born in the same year to Southern parents, have familial ties to the same region of the same state, and we’ve both spent a significant chunk of our childhoods there. As luck would have it, I even briefly considered applying to the New College of Florida, and had I done so, I might have actually met him or his friends. We have also, though at very different times in our lives and for very different reasons, admired and opposed Barack Obama.

You might be wondering why I’m going through the exercise of comparing bits of my backstory to that of a young former star of white nationalism—the cancerous parasitism in the Republican polity that fed the rise of Donald Trump. Unsurprisingly, I can’t relate to the vicious racism of Black’s past and find the white nationalist community he renounced to be nigh unspeakably repugnant. But in that other Floridian expat’s story of redemption, I do find something that hits close to him—and it might well be the root of the answers to the late affliction that is this election cycle.

When the students of New College discovered Black’s identity as a David Duke acolyte, many understandably wanted nothing to do with him. But where others saw the toxic instantiation of a wicked concept to shun, some inspired souls saw an opportunity to win a convert from racism to reconciliation.

“Ostracizing Derek won’t accomplish anything,” one student wrote.

“We have a chance to be real activists and actually affect one of the leaders of white supremacy in America. This is not an exaggeration. It would be a victory for civil rights.”

“Who’s clever enough to think of something we can do to change this guy’s mind?”[…]

Matthew Stevenson had started hosting weekly Shabbat dinners at his campus apartment shortly after enrolling in New College in 2010. He was the only Orthodox Jew at a school with little Jewish infrastructure, so he began cooking for a small group of students at his apartment each Friday night. Matthew always drank from a kiddush cup and said the traditional prayers, but most of his guests were Christian, atheist, black or Hispanic — anyone open-minded enough to listen to a few blessings in Hebrew. Now, in the fall of 2011, Matthew invited Derek to join them.[…]

Matthew decided his best chance to affect Derek’s thinking was not to ignore him or confront him, but simply to include him. “Maybe he’d never spent time with a Jewish person before,” Matthew remembered thinking.

Thus began an unlikely friendship between a young white nationalist and a young Orthodox Jew and his multi-ethnic, interfaith Gentile friends over a weekly Jewish dinner. In the course of ongoing conversations that spanned months of dinners, emails, and meetups at local bars, Black’s white nationalism gradually softened and then succumbed completely to the patience, empathy, and charity of this diverse set of friends. Less than two years after Stevenson launched his defeat-racism-over-Shabbat campaign, Black wrote to the Southern Poverty Law Center, a group he once considered an “enemy,” to renounce and apologize for the entire worldview he was born and bred into and had championed publicly for half his life.

Score one for the angels.

As a black man (and black conservative), I’ve encountered my share of racists and racism. As a gay man (and gay conservative), my share of homophobia and anti-LGBT bigotry. As a middle-class kid in the Ivy League, my share of classism. As a Southerner in the Northeast, my share of toxic parochialism. Sometimes, I handled these situations rather poorly (as in the umpteenth time a white progressive resorted to violent hysterics over a substantive disagreement about racism), not that most would begrudge me that intemperance. Often, though, I try for something like the Matthew Stevenson approach.

One December, some years back, I was home from Yale for winter break and went to a backyard house party on a mild Virginia night. A good chunk of the crowd were rednecks or had a similar middle-American vibe, as was normal in my youth but had become remarkable, in an anthropological way, after years of Ivy League immersion. The handful of attendees who were friends from my high school knew (and didn’t care) that I was gay, but my code-switching “mannerisms” are such that for the majority of partygoers the thought that I was queerer than a $3 bill seemed never to occur to them.

As often happens (to me) in such situations, more than a few spoke easily and naturally to and around me in a way most probably would not in “mixed company.” In the beginning, this meant an endless flow of casual homophobia.

“They were hanging with some queer.”

“He drinks like a fag.”

“That’s so gay, nigga.”

“If some faggot were to touch me, I’d…”

It took me aback. Not because it was unfamiliar—I had grown up with such people and such language—but because I had somehow, without realizing, forgotten how pervasive this kind of thinking was and how much I must have once been naturally part of it.

As I don’t have the luxury of coming from a world where there’s much to be gained by overt indignation over bigotry, I rarely start direct confrontations over these incidents. Such an approach, in my experience, has the tendency to produce more heat than light, to the detriment of progress or a good time. And life is too short to be an empty, eristic symbol of perpetual grievance.

So instead of conveying offense at the partygoers’ offensiveness, I bracketed it and guided the conversations elsewhere. I got to know these ostensible bigots and let them get to know me. It is one of the great blessings of a military upbringing that one learns well how to make friends often and quickly. It wasn’t long before the fact of my sexuality meandered through these easygoing chats, but by then my new friends took it in stride. Most were surprised, some guys were curious, several girls were excited, but nobody was any longer hostile. What had been threateningly queer and ignominious had become thoroughly friendly and unremarkable.

I have lived through more of this genre of scenes than I could ever hope to recall. Some involved homophobia, others racism or parochialism. Some take weeks, if not years, to reach harvestable fruition. In the most uplifting of them, things even come full circle and some erstwhile purveyor of casual ugliness will call out a friend for the kind of misbehavior that would make somebody like me feel uncomfortable or even unsafe. Not every story has such a happy ending through all the pain, but a lot of them do, and the world is thus made a little better. And some of these people are still dear friends of mine.

I don’t think I’ve ever had substantive dealings with anybody quite as dramatically and publicly odious as Derek Black, but I would like to think that if I were friends with Matthew Stevenson in Sarasota between 2011 and 2013, I would have gone to those Shabbat dinners and contributed to the transformative power of empathy and charity. Whether a Christian, a Jew, or a secular humanist, this would seem a humanitarian duty to a brother in desperate need of healing. I’m glad Black was so helped, and I hope his friends were likewise ennobled by the painstaking project of redeeming him.

It’s something of a truism to say that much of bigotry is ignorance, but it tends to be true. The people backing anti-LGBT legislation, rambling about “white genocide,” fretting about black criminality, reading hatred into anything conservative, or trafficking in all manner of caricatures and stereotypes often would think differently, if only a little at first, if they had sufficient opportunity to do so. Many wouldn’t necessarily seek out such opportunities (or see the need to) but would—as my, Stevenson’s, and Black’s experiences show—be receptive to new ideas if they came with empathy and the charity it yields.

If we would want somebody to rescue us when we needed saving, it is a cruel hypocrisy to dismiss or condemn the curiosity and frustration of a lost soul who is willing to hear us out. This reality will apply even to Trump supporters, from the sociopolitical abyss of the white working class to the well-meaning despair of Republicans who yearned for better, when this election is over. If the American project is to survive this election, the antagonists of Clinton, Trump, and the protest-voters will have to find at least half the charity for their political opponents that Stevenson’s Shabbat group managed for an avowed white nationalist.

It all gets easier, of course, when we remember that the people around us, no matter how broken or misaligned, are still people we can recognize and relate to. I’ve written about my own sympathy for the rightly routed skeptics of LGBT equality, and, ironically, Derek Black’s early post-apostasy encounter with his father highlighted something that every LGBT person or straight ally ought to recognize on some visceral level:

Derek still had his dry sense of humor. He still made smart observations about politics and history. “Same old Derek,” Don concluded, after a few hours, and that fact surprised him. His grief had been so profound that he’d expected some physical manifestation of the loss. Instead, he found himself forgetting for several minutes at a time that Derek was now “living on the other side.”

The people we think we don’t understand—or couldn’t understand us—because of differences in sexuality, politics, race, class, heritage, “lifestyle choices,” or other distinctions, are almost always people we could know quite well if we remembered that we’ve known and loved them or people like them all along. That kind of authentic realization and sincere engagement with the humanity of difficult, troubled people is in many ways antithetical to the toxic cultural trends behind “safe spaces” or navel-gazing protests that trigger hostility and reinforce outrage rather than build foundations for constructive reckoning with the variety of flaws in how we all approach the world.

Matthew Stevenson showed his peers that Derek Black isn’t a strange, foreign animal; he’s the quiet kid in class, or the guy who smiles when you pass him in the hallway. He’s the boy next door, and just like our other neighbors, he can be influenced, for good and ill, by how people choose to engage or repel him. If the dutiful love of his friends can so thoroughly disabuse him of the foundational views he was reared to champion, imagine what all could be possible if more of us were willing to meet people where and as they are, as though we actually gave a damn.

About a decade or so ago, when I was a junior in high school, my IB English teacher assigned the class the English translation of Mexican writer Laura Esquivel’s novel, Like Water for Chococlate. That magical realist tale of star-crossed lovers and tragic misunderstandings held a few gems, among them a metaphor the protagonist heard from her grandmother:

“Each of us is born with a box of matches inside us, but we can’t strike them all by ourselves; we need oxygen and a candle to help. In this case, the oxygen, for example, would come from the breath of the person you love; the candle would be any kind of food, music, caress, word, or sound that engenders the explosion that lights one of the matches. For a moment we are dazzled by an intense emotion. A pleasant warmth grows within us, fading slowly as time goes by, until a new explosion comes along to revive it. Each person has to discover what will set off those explosions in order to live, since the combustion that occurs when one of them is ignited is what nourishes the soul. That fire, in short, is its food. If one doesn’t find out in time what will set off these explosions, the box of matches dampens, and not a single match will ever be lighted.”

There are, perhaps, amazing truths we could get others to see—or clarifying enlightenment we could learn from those around us—if we believed, in some genuine sense, that we are our brothers’ keepers, and our neighbors are more like us—and more valuable to us—than we sometimes care to admit.

 


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Pride and Terrorism: Reflections on Orlando

“People like me are constantly subjected to immense violence. I expect violence walking alone late at night… I expect random acts of hate violence on the street. [But] I do not expect violence when I am dancing at an LGBTQ club…” –Jacob Tobia

Sunday morning, after news of the Orlando terrorist attack broke, I received a text message from an old friend I hadn’t connected with in a while. A Jewish UChicago Law graduate (and passionate Duke alumnus) from suburban New York, he is a stalwart #NeverTrump conservative who interned for Utah Senator Mike Lee and campaigned mightily for the presidential campaign of Texas Senator Ted Cruz from start to finish. Like both senators, this friend is socially conservative to a fault, and we have sparred often and bitterly through the years over gay rights, from the Obergefell decision to the various iterations of the Federal Marriage Amendment to the circumstances in which my future husband and I should be able to adopt kids.

Some might wonder how I would have the patience for such a friendship, and I don’t have an easy answer to that question for the truly incredulous. But some people are worth the long project of winning their hearts bit by bit, even through the inexorable pain of the many potholes and snares along the way.

His text read: “Just want you to know that as I wake up to this terrible news in the midst of Pride week, that I am thinking of you. That is all. Hope you are well, otherwise.”

It was a welcome surprise, considering.

As the unexpected thoughtfulness of that gesture has lingered, it’s been surreal to see the furious amalgam of LGBT allies—from the ACLU to a vast network on social media—blaming Christian opponents of gay rights, among others, for the murderous evil of a radicalized adherent to the superlative homophobia of Islamism. Most social conservatives, like just about everyone else, recoiled in horror and sadness from the undisputed evil of anti-gay terrorism. Accordingly, many of them, like my Jewish UChicago Law friend, were dumbfounded and insulted to be public targets of blame for villains they revile engaging in conduct they abhor.

I can understand—or at least maybe grasp—the underlying sentiments that animate some of this antagonism that seems as unintelligible to its recipients as it is painfully obvious to its progenitors. The simplest but perhaps most important thing to say to baffled social conservatives to explain the invective against them in the wake of Orlando is that religious terrorism against LGBT Americans did not begin in Orlando.

The more consistent LGBT critics of social conservatives perceive a culture that produced the attack on Pulse in the homophobic fanaticism of both conservative Christianity and Islam. A friend of a friend on Facebook, for example, sees the roots of the potentially closeted terrorist’s violently internalized homophobia as much grounded in the toxic Islamism of Afghanistan as in the decades of anti-gay cultural hostility inflicted by American Christians.

This awareness of Christian mistreatment of gays is hardly relegated to the fringes of society—where you’ll find its unrepentant celebrants in the likes of Pastor Roger “they deserve what they got” Jimenez of California’s Verity Baptist Church (who no more represents the Christian mainstream than the shooter represented American Muslims)—but extends all the way to the leaders of the American Body of Christ. In the recent words of Catholic Bishop Robert Lynch of St. Petersburg, Florida:

Sadly it is religion, including our own, that targets, mostly verbally, and often breeds contempt for gays, lesbians and transgender people. Attacks today on LGBT men and women often plant the seed of contempt, then hatred, which can ultimately lead to violence.

Before we go any further, I want to state clearly, lest there be any confusion, that I do not blame Christians for the horror in Orlando. Rather, I admire the staff of Chick-fil-a who went out of their way, as though in a modern-day parable, to support the victims of the tragedy at Pulse and their families. What I hope to accomplish in writing all this is something of a bridge between wholly different perspectives, so that social conservatives and LGBT allies can better understand one another—pain, grievances, and all.

Having said that, now I’ll be blunt: queers have a long, nasty history with political and cultural Christianity that far too many Christian conservatives seem unwilling or unable to appreciate. There are the kids kicked out of their own homes, expelled from institutions, inveighed against from the pulpit (don’t even get me started), bullied relentlessly into depression or even suicide; there are the adults who were tormented at workfired from jobs, kicked out of hospitals, kicked out of mallsslandered across continents, denied basic services, and scapegoated for every manner of misfortune—and were fought tooth and nail by Christian conservatives at nearly every turn for every iota of dignity and respect they managed to accrue from society or the law.

There are the people who know too well what Storm meant when she answered Senator Kelly’s question in the first X-Men movie about “normal people”: she hates them, sometimes, “because I’m afraid of them.” And they have good reason to be afraid—to hold hands in public, come out at work, or put an arm on a significant other’s shoulder during a transit ride. It’s no surprise to the LGBT community that the second-most common type of hate crime in America by far, according to the most recent FBI data, is anti-LGBT violence. (For comparison, anti-Muslim violence was less than 3 percent, and anti-Christian attacks were among the lowest of any demographic.)

And the truth is, we never really know when we go out somewhere in the world which of you will suddenly attack us for being who we are, or who you assume we are. But the thought occurs to us more often than you might think. Among other things, this is why my boyfriend and I, who were nearly victims of hate crimes in supposedly tolerant places, have concealed carry licenses and the means to defend ourselves, if it ever came to that. It’s almost why I used to feel a mercurial combination of gratitude and shame at having grown up in (and exaggerating this aspect of) a culture that discourages PDA, which in turn excused my once indomitable aversion to holding my boyfriend’s hand in public.

This is why Orlando hurts so much for gays hundreds of miles away who knew nobody inside, living or casualty.

Granted, many Christian conservatives today would not favor any of that pain, but the (ongoing) history is there. It does not help that breathtakingly few prominent Republicans even bothered to mention the LGBT nature of the Pulse massacre, even though that aspect was integral to why the tragedy occurred in the first place. Moreover, some, like The Resurgent’s Erick Erickson, went so far as to dismiss vital questions about gay rights issues in wake of a transparently anti-gay attack as “an unnecessary dividing line.”

At best, this excessive discomfort with even talking about gays is appallingly ignorant and insensitive. At worst, it is emblematic of the kind of malign indifference or deep-seated hostility to the peculiar struggles of LGBT Americans that underlies (and some would say justifies) LGBT supporters’ open revulsion at and rejection of what they interpret as the crocodile tears of their enemies. As conservative journalist and LGBT ally Betsy Woodruff put it rather poignantly:

After years of supporting some of the most discriminatory and hateful legislation aimed at the LGBT community, some top Republicans finally found a way to exploit the community as it grieved the Orlando shootings.

In this vein, well-intentioned overtures to gays from some on the Right—from The Resurgent’s Dave Scharoun to evangelical darling Ted Cruz—rooted primarily in conservative opposition to violence against gay people come off as patronizing and disingenuous. It is a supremely low bar to say, in effect, “We may have viciously opposed just about every social, cultural, and political initiative that would have empowered you to pursue happiness as productive citizens—and in so doing actively worked to make your lives more miserable than they needed to be—but at least we don’t want to kill you like those people we hate over there. Why won’t you support us?”

That is not a compelling message. Especially not when aggressively LGBT-friendly candidate Hillary Clinton is laying out plans (whatever you think of their substance) to destroy the Islamic State while calling out America’s Muslim “allies” for being insufficiently committed to extirpating Islamic radicalism.

It is certainly a noteworthy point that even some of the worst anti-gay organizations, like the Family Research Council, which most gay rights advocates consider an anti-gay hate group, offered explicit support to the LGBT victims of Orlando (and in so doing managed somehow to convey a greater degree of sympathy than the bulk of elected Republican officials), while the worst anti-gay jurisdictions in the Middle East would make the Pulse terrorist seem tame and merciful by comparison. But we’re not in the Middle East.

Whether or not social conservatives find that interpretation of their sympathy and culture war history fair (and those honest or sufficiently self-aware will concede at least much of it is), this is how the situation looks to a great host of LGBT people and their allies for many good reasons.

In response to much of this, some social conservatives and their political allies will incline understandably toward incredulity or exasperation. They maintain sincere, principled objections to same-sex marriage and various gender identity mandates. To be sure, there are some on the Left for whom such opposition is a non-negotiable personal failure over which no social or political bridge is possible. For most others, though, there is a navigable world of fertile seeds for common ground and mutual understanding. The paths that lead to and through it are all accessible by a deceptively simple code of conduct derivative from the Golden Rule:

Act like you give a damn.

What does that mean, you ask?

Well, for starters, if you notice a radical Islamic terrorist attacked an LGBT space to kill LGBT people, acknowledge the primacy of LGBT suffering in that tragedy. If you’re feeling particularly adventurous, talk about the manifold ways in which America has been—and in some ways continues to be—a hostile place for gay people. See: the aforementioned point about hate crimes. If the Family Research Council and Ted Cruz can pull off a passable effort, so can you.

A real-life instance of this was a speech Marco Rubio—one of the few GOP officeholders to acknowledge the anti-gay nature of the Orlando attack—gave at Catholic University in summer 2014. Even as he reaffirmed his unyielding opposition to same-sex marriage, he acknowledged the monstrous but little-known history of government-sanctioned discrimination against gays, and the legitimate grievances gay people have today because of such ills. There’s certainly more the Florida senator could do to better represent his LGBT constituents, but his comments represent a helpful show of what I hope is genuine good will.

If you want to get more advanced, you could spend a fraction of the resources you use to oppose same-sex marriage or other gay rights issues to, say, engage gay parents, taxpayers, and community members about particular challenges facing their families, which will exist whatever your opinions of them. You could explore—and dare I say champion—policies that might help alleviate such challenges without compromising your values.

Real-life examples of this would be then-Sen.-elect Pat Toomey’s (R-Penn.) announcement of support for the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, even though he would never get a chance to vote on it, or Sen. Richard Burr’s (R-NC) surprising decision to vote for that repeal bill, with no evident political gain, because it was “the right thing to do.” There’s also the case of Rep. Justin Amash (R-Mich.), who posted a lengthy and detailed explanation of his vote for an amendment from Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney (D-NY) that reaffirmed an executive order against anti-LGBT discrimination among federal contractors. The explanation even went so far as to call out Amash’s conservative allies for woefully misrepresenting the amendment’s text and effects. Etc.

But even for those social conservatives who remain skeptical of such policy reforms, the mere exercise of continually engaging LGBT people to hash out such things would almost certainly lead to a learning by osmosis of some concerns, struggles, frustrations, and hopes that go beyond politics and underlie true compassion. It’s the kind of empathetic approach that, if scaled well, would go a long way to resolving the GOP and conservative movement’s enduring difficulty with young and minority voters.

You can find a gold standard of empathy and a way forward in the cogent remarks of Utah’s Republican Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox at a vigil for the Orlando victims:

I grew up in a small town and went to a small rural high school. There were some kids in my class that were different. Sometimes I wasn’t kind to them. I didn’t know it at the time, but I know now that they were gay. I will forever regret not treating them with the kindness, dignity and respect — the love — that they deserved. For that, I sincerely and humbly apologize.

Over the intervening years, my heart has changed. It has changed because of you. It has changed because I have gotten to know many of you. You have been patient with me. You helped me learn the right letters of the alphabet in the right order even though you keep adding new ones. You have been kind to me. Jim Dabakis even told me I dressed nice once, even though I know he was lying. You have treated me with the kindness, dignity, and respect — the love — that I very often did NOT deserve. And it has made me love you.

I cannot recommend his entire speech enough. Seriously, go read it right now. I can wait.

But if nothing else, the next time you have an occasion to ponder the fury or frustrations of LGBT people in your midst, however baffling or seemingly inscrutable, reflect on this timeless insight from Carlos Maza in the Washington Post:

Many LGBT people have spent years keeping problems — especially problems related to being LGBT — to ourselves. We have become masters of seeming fine, of convincing ourselves that we are fine, when we are not fine. Because we badly want to be fine.

There is a good chance your charming, confident, smiling gay friend feels deeply scared and unwelcome in the world.

Ask them how they’re doing. Tell them you love them. Tell them your love doesn’t come with caveats. Tell them it’s okay to cry. Tell them they don’t deserve to be scared. Tell them that it’s okay to be scared anyway. Tell them it’s okay to be afraid of dying. Tell them that they matter to you — and that you want them here, alive, now.

As it stands, too many LGBT people believe that conservative Republicans don’t care or actively despise them, and so much about the response to the Orlando attacks will reinforce that perception, to everybody’s detriment. That, in the end, is the tragedy that keeps on stealing from all of us.

We can and must do better.


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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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A (Borrowed) Time to Build

“Because every time you see them happy you remember how sad they’re going to be. And it breaks your heart. Because what’s the point in them being happy now if they’re going to be sad later. The answer is, of course, because they are going to be sad later.” –The Eleventh Doctor

"Don't you know? The sun's setting fast!"

“Don’t you know? The sun’s setting fast!”

I was happy on Election Day. I’ve been positively elated all week, in fact, as it’s been a good time to be a Florida Republican. After all, the Gators devoured the playoff hopes of Georgia in a cathartically stunning upset on Saturday, and then our governor rallied to defeat Alcibiades Charlie Crist in a race that many suggested was lost. As a Republican in general, our candidates won the “War on Women” from Texas to Colorado, and we’ve grown and diversified our bench so enormously in the blue and purple states as to allow, as several have put it, for the GOP to essentially be America’s governing party (in the literal sense that Republicans will be doing most of the governing).

But amid all the anguish and mythomane ire arising from the emaciated dreaming of the other side, a progressive friend demanded perspective via a Yahoo article posted on Facebook. To be sure, the author’s liberal 2016 analysis is rather bullish on Democratic chances; it’s not particularly likely, for example, that a depleted Florida Democratic bench will knock off a popular GOP incumbent in a state Obama barely won. And his point about minorities skipping the midterm is belied by the evidence that 2014 featured the second-most diverse electorate in American history (ahead of 2008), and Republicans from Virginia to Nevada simply did better among various segments of minority voters.

Still, the author’s basic point, that Republicans will face daunting odds in 2016, is well taken. Indeed, I have been talking about that very concern with my tea-partying boyfriend and our conservative cohorts since Heidi Heitkamp kept the Big Sky blue in 2012. It was a reason why it was so essential for Republicans to run up the Senate score this cycle, so as to allow for as much cushion as possible ahead of the next one. (For this reason, the collapse of Terri Lynn Land in Michigan and ultimate failure of Scott Brown and Ed Gillespie to add a 55th seat makes already for bitter reflection.) Yet, oddly enough, acknowledging and contemplating the presidential-year challenges in the offing can and should afford us a curious sense of peace.

We are living on borrowed time. Every Christian—and probably many a Jew or Muslim—hears permutations of this truth from the pulpit with urgent frequency. Such grounding Solomonic perspective—that none of this will last—is an essential understanding for seeking proper order in life, and it is likewise vital a perspective for seeking proper order in politics. As former Indiana congressman and current Club for Growth president Chris Chocola noted, Democrats have poignantly demonstrated a capacity for this perspective. They made the conscientious decision that healthcare reform, among other things, was worth sacrificing their majority to the cleansing tsunami of public indignation, and we are all suffering the consequences of that fanatical conviction today.

If there is anything Republicans should learn from progressives like Nancy Pelosi (and there isn’t much), it’s that at some point you have to stop running for the next election and resolve to actually enact an agenda. Obviously, the Democratic Party will retain the White House through the duration of this Congress, and the number of moderate Democrats who can be relied upon to seek compromise has taken a hit. But for the governing party, those ought to be challenges to be met, not excuses to be doled out ahead of a perpetual chase for the next election.

That 2016 is a probable no-win game for Republican candidates is all the more reason to change the game. Conservatives have two years to develop and refine a robust governing agenda that we can take to voters for consideration. We have promising goals we can seek with President Obama on broad-based, revenue-neutral tax reform, trade negotiations, and mitigating the worst excesses of Obamacare. We also have places where Democrats will refuse to support better policy proposals that might enrage the far Left; some will be useful to enact in the many states we control, ahead of a national referendum on our functional ideas.

Over at National Review, Yuval Levin puts it this way:

“To do that well, Republicans will need to understand and to describe their efforts in these terms—to be clear that they are working to set the right agenda rather than that they are trying either to ‘prove they can govern’ from Congress alone or to ‘sketch clear contrasts’ with a president who will never be on the ballot again. Understanding their role as putting forward an agenda and pursuing it would help Republicans do both of those things while helping them avoid unrealistic expectations about either.

The key difference between the divided congress we have had and the divided government we will now have is that Republicans can now set the agenda, require Democrats to vote on the best of their ideas, and see which of them Democrats might agree with enough (or find painful enough to oppose) to actually bring them to fruition. That doesn’t mean that lots of Republican ideas get enacted, or even reach the president. The filibuster will prevent that. It means, rather, that those ideas get killed in Senate votes instead of getting killed by the Senate’s unwillingness to vote. And that’s a significant difference, because it puts both Republicans and (for the first time) Democrats on the record in a meaningful way.”

Ed Gillespie took this mindset to heart when he combined aggressive organizing and campaign discipline with the critical decision to present voters an intelligible vision of better leadership. Facing a daunting challenge that many in his own party (me included, though I did make sure to vote for him) considered essentially stillborn, the Virginia Republican was one of the few candidates on either side to present a detailed healthcare proposal that would offer better outcomes than Obamacare, along with a five-point economic plan for growth. For all this, the grossly underfunded challenger came within a point of slaying a Goliath in a race he was supposed to lose by a double-digit margin.

Whether or not we’re able to hold the Senate in 2016, our focus should be highlighting, selling, and, achieving the conservative victories that we can while we can. The conservative movement has no use for majorities that exist in perpetual obeisance to the continual, pusillanimous pursuit of electoral power for its own sake. Even if we do everything right, we might well encounter a measure of defeat in two years, because the map is simply not in our favor. But rather than fretting over what we cannot change, we should thoroughly embrace the challenge before us for the opportunity that it is. It is with such a spirit that conservative leaders like Scott Walker, Rick Scott, and Rick Snyder fought the odds for worthwhile reforms that would endure even if their tenures in office were cut short. That such leaders survived to fight another day should not undercut the key lesson of their examples—fight for conservative governance, and leave something valuable that will politically outlive you.

For the next two years, we can either play to win big or fade into the reclining opposition-party battles of the Obama years. I, for one, am happy now because we may again know frustration, disappointment and presidential petulance later. But if this cycle has shown us anything, it’s that nothing is inevitable or settled until all the votes are cast.


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Rising Tide of the Big Tent

“The work goes on, the cause endures, the hope still lives, and the dream shall never die.” –Edward Kennedy, failed presidential candidate

Nothing lasts forever.

Nothing lasts forever.

In the rosy-fingered wake of the Republican wave of 2014, the Party of Lincoln will be in complete legislative and gubernatorial control of 24 states, which together amount to nearly half the population of the United States. As Reid Wilson reports in the Washington Post, Republicans now hold majorities in a modern record 68 of the 98 partisan legislative chambers (16 of which are supermajorities) among 49 states. (The Nebraska legislature is unicameral and nonpartisan, though effectively Republican.) Compare this to only six states completely controlled by Democrats, accounting for only 15 percent of the country.

As it stands, Joe Manchin may wind up among the last of the Senate’s red-state Democrats—assuming, of course, he continues to resist the Elysian lure of the elephantine caucus. Among purple-state Democrats, a modest number remain, but the unexpectedly close scares in New Hampshire and Virginia (still a shock to most, and where I’m proud to say my boyfriend, many our friends, and I voted for Ed Gillespie)—combined with the surprising Democratic loss in North Carolina—has essentially put this crowd on notice. Whereas, six years ago Southern Democrats like Mark Pryor and Mark Warner could rack up impregnable victories with high-soaring rhetoric and ostensibly centrist appeal, now almost anybody can lose nigh on anywhere. It’s as though George R. R. Martin somehow got ahold of the scripts of our elections.

Even as red-state Democrats have faded, Republicans have proliferated at every level of blue and purple states. There will be Republican governors from progressive Maryland to liberal Massachusetts. There will be Republican Senators from left-leaning Maine to purple Colorado. In supposedly blue Iowa, which birthed Barack Obama’s presidential ascent and has only voted for a Republican Commander-in-Chief once in seven elections since Ronald Reagan, conservatives will control both U.S. Senate seats, three of four House seats, the governor’s mansion, and the state House. And, of course, in President Obama’s own political backyard, the GOP of deep-blue Illinois will have the governor, a Senator, and nearly half the U.S. House delegation.

By contrast, a broad array of Democrats once hailed as rising stars have gone with the wind, like the debris of a star-crossed missile under a mid-Atlantic sky. Alexander Burns sings the dirge of the midterm Democrat over at Politico:

“At the start of the 2014 campaign, Democrats envisioned an election that would produce new national stars for the party in at least a few tough states – Georgia Sen. Michelle Nunn or Kentucky Sen. Alison Lundergan Grimes, for instance, or maybe even Texas Gov. Wendy Davis. Even if the party fell short in those “reach” states, Democrats hoped to produce new heavyweight blue-state Democrats – Maryland Gov. Anthony Brown, the country’s only black state executive; or Maine Gov. Mike Michaud, who would have been the first openly gay candidate elected governor.

Any of them could have landed on a vice presidential short list in 2016.

Instead, all of them lost.

Joining them were numerous down-ballot Democrats widely viewed as future contenders for high office: attorney general candidates in Nevada and Arizona who looked like future governors; aspiring state treasurers in Ohio and Colorado who could have gone on to bigger things; prized secretary of state candidates in Iowa and Kansas as well as countless congressional hopefuls around the country.”

Predictably, some progressives, including President Barack “my policies are on the ballot, unless they lose” Obama, are chalking up the bulk of their popular rejection to midterm demographics. Americans don’t “really” agree with Republicans, the thinking goes; it’s just that the Democratic “coalition of the ascendant” didn’t turn out—but they would have saved the Democrats, had they showed up! As it happens, we have exit polls, and they paint a more interesting—and more conservative—picture. As ABC reports (my emphasis):

Young adults, a Democratic mainstay…supported Democrats only by 54-43 percent, down from a 60-38 percent margin in their House vote two years ago. Nonwhites – a growing share of the electorate – slipped to 25 percent of voters, more than in any previous midterm but also 3 points off their share in 2012.

Single women, another core Democratic group, gave the party their smallest margin, 60-38 percent, in exit polls back to 1992. Women overall voted +5 points Democratic for House, 52-47 percent – down from +11 in 2012. Men, for their part, voted +14 Republican, 56-42 percent.

Key Republican groups came out swinging. Eighty-five percent of conservatives voted Republican, the most on record (albeit by a single point from 2010). White men voted Republican by 64-34 percent, the widest GOP advantage in this group in data since 1984. Seniors – 22 percent of voters – backed Republicans for the House by 57-42 percent.

And independents, back to their swing-voter status in this election, voted Republican by a 12-point margin, trailing only the 2010 and 1994 GOP advantages in this group.”

In other words, no midterm in history—including the Democratic wave of 2006—has featured higher minority turnout than this 2014 GOP wave. In fact, according to the Pew Research Center, the 25 percent of the electorate that was nonwhite in 2014 actually exceeds the mere 23.7 percent minority showing in the “most diverse in U.S. history” Obama wave of 2008.

Let me say that again: the 2014 midterm electorate that restored complete GOP control of Congress was less white than the presidential-year electorate that first propelled Barack Obama to the White House. The difference, of course, is this that blacks, Hispanics, and Asians voted more Republican this time around.

Likewise, according to multiple exit polls, including those conducted by The Washington Post, NBC, and Wall Street Journal, the 2014 electorate was markedly less conservative and less supportive of the Tea Party than in 2010—though a modestly higher percentage of liberals, moderates, and middle-class Americans voted Republican this year. Republicans won among college graduates, independents, suburbanites, the employed, the unemployed, and voters who paid attention to the campaigns, and GOP completely erased an Obama-era deficit among Asian-Americans.

The picture for long-term progressive planners gets even grimmer when looking at some key states Democrats plotted to recapture. In the abortive left-wing hope of majority-minority Texas, Gov.-elect Greg Abbott not only performed strongly among Hispanics, but he also won a solid majority of women voters against a female challenger who arguably embodied the progressive charge of a so-called “War on Women.” Her fellow vanquished champion of “women’s issues,” Colorado Sen. Mark “obnoxious…insult to those he seeks to convince” Udall, saw his advantage among nonwhite voters collapse from a margin of 36 points in 2008 to merely 10 points in 2014. In Georgia, nonwhite turnout reached a record high even as Michelle Nunn surprised most observers by failing even to force a runoff. In Nevada, soon-to-be Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid will be the last statewide Democrat left in a place where the Hispanic Republican governor (who might make a promising U.S. Senate candidate in 2016) was reelected with more than 70 percent of the vote.

With the latest defeat of Alcibiades Charlie Crist, after the collapse of Alex Sink, the Democratic bench stool in Florida has essentially been reduced to the aging Southern charm of Bill Nelson and, perhaps, the inherited (political) fortune of panhandle Rep.-elect Gwen Graham, who will become the sole white Democrat in Congress elected from the Deep South. Supposedly purple Florida has no statewide elected Democrats (except U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson), a nearly 2/3 GOP congressional delegation, and yet another GOP supermajority in the state House. Florida has not seen Democratic majorities in either chamber of the legislature since at least 1996 (1992 for the state Senate), and my home state has not elected a Democratic governor since Lawton Chiles in 1994 (the year I started kindergarten), one of the longest such streaks in the South—after only Texas.

In other words, Democrats across the country can now finally empathize with the insatiable aching for a political savior—any savior—in the weary, embittered hearts of their comrades in the Sunshine State. Most of the swing districts—and there are dozens left—are now held by Republicans. There are districts as blue as D+7 that soon may be held by Republicans, pending final counts. The GOP bench is young, deep, and diverse—like the country—whereas the Democrats are enervated and grasping at atrophic platitudes.

To put it bluntly, while the Democrats wrote off the GOP as a regional party in 2012, the reality is now looking decidedly the reverse. Republicans won seats in every region and socioeconomic makeup of the country, including in cities (like New York and St. Petersburg), suburbs, and small towns. Democrats, by contrast, are largely reduced to urban enclaves, majority-black districts, and the coasts of the blue states. This has long been the case in Florida; now that the trend has obtained nationally, it will be fascinating to watch the results.

It’s also interesting to note that LGBT issues, to the extent they came up at all, were largely championed by Republican candidates from Maine to California to Florida. While not all of those contestants prevailed, many won easily. In my home state, Carlos Curbelo unseated an incumbent Democrat in the southernmost district on the continent, and Rep. David Jolly, who purportedly won the ire of many a social conservative for his endorsement of same-sex marriage, won his race by a greater than 3:1 margin. Both seats lean Republican. Given that Republicans will be defending seats mostly in the blue and purple states—like Pat Toomey’s—next cycle, this encouraging trend is likely to continue.

Republicans are by no means out of the woods demographically—the singularly unpopular Rick Scott, for one, hemorrhaged quite a bit of nonwhite support in his nail-biting reelection, and the midterm electorate was predictably older and smaller than in presidential years—but there is much cause for optimism. If the GOP moves swiftly to consolidate and expand recent demographic gains ahead of 2016, the future of American politics could very well turn out much differently than progressives like to imagine. If the Party fails as miserably as the Democratic supermajority of not-that-long ago, then everything could yet be undone.

For now, though, it’s time to prepare to govern. We have miles to go before we sleep.


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Reflections on a Tempest in Arlington

“A man will be as a hiding place from the wind, and a cover from the tempest,
 as rivers of water in a dry place,
 as the shadow of a great rock in a weary land. The eyes of those who see will not be dim, and the ears of those who hear will listen. Also the heart of the rash will understand knowledge… The work of righteousness will be peace, and the effect of righteousness, quietness and assurance forever. My people will dwell in a peaceful habitation, in secure dwellings, and in quiet resting places,though hail comes down on the forest…” –Psalm 32: 2-4, 17-19

“Serenity is not freedom from the storm, but peace amid the storm.”

“Serenity is not freedom from the storm, but peace amid the storm.”

I remember, distantly, that time the Army picked my family up and moved us across the Atlantic to a land the natives still call, “Father.” The oceanic climate deep in the continent was much too cool for my liking, and the winter days far too short. The coldest nights were little eternities unto themselves, yielding all too often only to the gray coolness of monotone skies along the Neckar—skies that seemed forever pregnant, never delivering. Until they had slipped from my grasp, I hadn’t realized how much I missed the endlessly soothing cycles of thunderstorms and sunshine that marked summertime in the American Southeast. Whether among the forests of Virginia, the swamps of Georgia, or along the waters of Florida, I could sit in that solace for hours.

At another time, in another climate I hate, I heard a gentleman speak about Edmund Burke at the meeting of a debating society near the southern coast of New England. He rhapsodized about the beautiful and sublime, of flowers and storms, of men and God. I remembered then the days and nights of violent atmospheric chaos I loved so peacefully, like a lamb cuddling into the fur of a lion and feeling ineffably safe. I remember those forays, early and late, into the philosophies of transcendence and stewardship of tradition. It was a reminder that man is as much a tiller of the world as a ward of powers beyond reckoning.

It was like faith made incarnate. In the quiet of the conditioned air and with the thunder rolling outside, I could see somehow a living truth in the requiem of light and darkness at the core of the paradox by which I was soothed by the presence of nature’s destructive power. What is it to feel safe—comforted, even—by confrontation with something that you know could very well hurt you but will not?

As I sit, years later, in an eleventh-floor apartment across the river from the capital, the storm raging beyond my balcony ignores me. It quakes in a vicious symphony of light and awe and mist, and I think of that captivating thought I heard in a movie: “God is in the rain.”

I suppose God may be in all things, but if there were a particular meteorological phenomenon that touched on the awe we feel for the divine, it would be the storm. When it comes to the winds of summer: the lower the pressure, the closer to God. Somewhere at the nexus of fear, awe, and solace that comes at a window looking out into the fury of heaven is the love a child feels for his parents—and in time, perhaps, the world he inherits, with rights and duties tracing back to the Father. It is the love of that which could wring destruction but will not—the love that begets trust, and the trust that begets love—that foments a sense of place, however tempestuous, and purpose, however elusive.

It is the beginning of everything sublime in our judgment.