Dated February 26, 2014, this large and complicated graphic has been a puzzlement to people for over eight years. Instead of comparing two creatures of similar race/species, two radically different individuals are portrayed. Mandingo Africans vs Greeks?
Art director: Bonnie Berkowitz. Illustrator: Alberto Cuadra. I contacted Bonnie about five years ago with questions about its composition. She had pretty much forgotten about it.
Never mind what Donetsk is. Read this story:
Local media outlets, citing eyewitnesses, report that an artillery shell hit a bus stop in Donetsk
At least 13 civilians have lost their lives in a Ukrainian artillery strike on the city of Donetsk, local authorities have said.
Donetsk city administration chief Alexey Kulemzin took to Telegram on Monday, writing: “according to preliminary information, 13 civilians are dead as a result of a punitive strike on Baku Commissars square.”
The official added that the exact number of those injured in the attack is not yet known.
Local media, citing eyewitnesses, has said an artillery shell hit a bus stop.
Read the whole thing.
Today we bring you more breaking news on the 1955 murder of Emmett Till. And as always, the story is: there is no new news about Emmett Till.
It’s now been 67 years since the the beefy 14-year-old Chicago negro boy (as we used to say) was beaten and slain in Mississippi, a few days after grabbing and crudely propositioning a young white woman in a country store. Year after year we are promised new revelations and fresh insights about the case, but they never materialize. But this doesn’t stop the never-ending Emmett Till news cycle. Just recently (August 9, 2022) the New York Times spent a thousand words advising us there would be no new indictment or reinvestigation of the 1955 killing. (Mississippi Grand Jury Declines to Indict Woman in Emmett Till Murder Case.) Thank you for that update, New York Times!
A few weeks earlier, the Times’s ever-aggrieved African-American Charles Blow wasted a column telling us that 88-year old Carolyn Bryant Donham, the lady Till molested in 1955, is still a bad sort, an unpunished criminal, a key player in the Till murder (Shed No Tears for Carolyn Bryant Donham). Blow’s argument goes something like: if Carolyn hadn’t been standing there at the counter of her little grocery store in Money, Mississippi on August 24, 1955, then Emmett “Bobo” Till wouldn’t have been able to assault and insult her, so then Carolyn’s husband and brother-in-law wouldn’t have beaten and killed him and thrown him in the Tallahatchie River with a cotton-gin fan tied to his neck. In fact, Emmett might even be alive today!
The silliest news angle of recent months must be the one about the 1955 arrest warrant. It seems somebody found the original hand-written warrant to bring Carolyn in for questioning. Black news sites treated this as a major find, a piece of definitive proof that Carolyn was complicit in the murder; a watertight case for arresting and prosecuting the old lady today. Trouble is, Carolyn was already brought into court and questioned, way back in September 1955. Even if the warrant were still valid, it was served and answered a long time ago.
Media and legal harassment of Carolyn Bryant Donham has been going on for many years. Back in 2007, there was another grand jury empaneled in Mississippi, considering an indictment of her for manslaughter in the Till case. She was now 73. Needless to add, there was no new evidence and no indictment.
But the Till file newsfeed keeps rolling on, fiercer than ever. Steve Sailer and others on Twitter have a kind of running comedy routine about it. Commenting on a Variety review of a new Emmett Till movie, Steve tweeted, “You know, I was just thinking to myself, ‘It’s been at least 24 and maybe even 36 hours since I saw anything in the media about Emmett Till.’” Whereupon someone responded, “They will still be reporting new details on Emmett Till long after the heat death of the universe.”
The latest gusher of Emmett Till news seems to have begun with a dubious claim by a writer named Timothy Tyson. Way back in 2017, he published a book called The Blood of Emmett Till (Simon & Schuster). Here Tyson says he interviewed Carolyn in 2008, and that she recanted her trial testimony from 1955. Or, as some news stories put, “She admitted she lied.” For a while it was the stuff of screaming headlines and a slick treatment in Vanity Fair.
Specifically Carolyn denied the part in her testimony where she said Emmett Till grabbed her by the waist and said “I f—— white women before.” “That part’s not true,” Carolyn told Tyson, as they sat in her kitchen and ate her homemade pound cake.
At least that’s the story Tyson tells. He even opens his book with that scene. They’re in the kitchen, there’s the coffee and pound cake, and Carolyn is talking about how Emmett Till leered at her and started to touch her, and then suddenly she comes out with, “That part’s not true.” From here, Tyson then proceeds to build a whole thesis around this idea that Carolyn falsified her testimony in 1955. And when we uncover this lie, he tells us, we lay bare the whole pathology of race relations in the 1950s South.
But Tyson himself has credibility problems. The “retraction” quote lacks proof, and the interviewee herself denies saying it. It seems Tyson brought a tape recorder along to his interviews, yet somehow failed to record the “not true” line. This is why a journalist friend of Tyson’s in Mississippi, someone who helped him with the book’s research, has openly accused Tyson of outright fabrication.
Furthermore, Carolyn Bryant Donham and her daughter put together a 100-page memoir about her childhood, the Emmett Till encounter, and all the fallout since. The key details in there are pretty much what Carolyn said in her court testimony in September 1955. As though out of spite, last month Tyson broke a confidentiality agreement with Carolyn and released her memoir to the Associated Press, apparently believing that its detailed recollections would help a grand jury indict her. But as noted in that New York Times article up top, the grand jury didn’t indict. (A PDF of the memoir is online here).
The biggest irony in all this is that Carolyn’s 1955 testimony was actually irrelevant to the outcome of the Emmett Till case. The jury never heard it. The judge sent them out of the courtroom when Carolyn came to the stand. When the jury voted to acquit Carolyn’s husband and brother-in-law, their verdict was based on evidence, not implied motive or whether or not Emmett Till used the F word. And what evidence there was, was thin and circumstantial.
Speculations and falsehoods about the Emmett Till case have plagued its press coverage since the beginning. Take for example the legend of the “wolf whistle.” In nearly every brief description of the case, one reads that Emmett Till was a little black 14-year-old boy from Chicago who was brutally murdered in Mississippi because he “wolf-whistled”—or “allegedly whistled”—at a white woman. Here is LIFE magazine’s first mention of the case in their October 3, 1955 issue:
In a sweltering small-town courtroom in the cotton-rich delta land, prosecutors for the state of Mississippi sought earnestly to convict two white men for the brutal killing of a Negro boy. (The boy, it was said, had whistled at the wife of one of the men.)
Unlike the jury, the press was present when Carolyn gave her testimony, so they knew perfectly well that the offense was not a whistle, but a physical approach with sexual overtones. Nevertheless it’s the “wolf whistle” that comes down to us in popular history. Sometimes the whistle is explained away as a bizarre speech impediment. After the trial, Till’s mother Mamie would sometimes tell people that little Bobo was maybe trying to say “bubble gum,” but was having trouble getting the words out. Meanwhile, the verbal and physical interaction in the grocery store, the overt suggestion of rape, and the fact that the husky Emmett looked like an adult and loomed over the bird-like Carolyn—these key points all get deleted from the popular telling.
The intended moral of the popular narrative is that the Deep South of the 1950s was a violent, backwards place, a region where a little black boy can be lynched for whistling at a white woman. It’s for that reason that when the recent Federal anti-lynching bill was finally passed in Congress (2021-2022), it came in under the title of the Emmett Till Antilynching Act. Federal anti-lynching bills had been introduced in Congress for a hundred years, but they never got anywhere because they were seen as superfluous—lynching after all was already illegal in every state—as well as an unnecessary intrusion into state sovereignty. Adding the Emmett Till name did the trick, though. It gave legislators an easy chance to virtue-signal, like voting to declare a National Gold Star Mother Day.
An inconvenient fact that nearly got papered over in 1955 was the fate of Louis Till, Emmett’s father. In a mawkish editorial called “In Memoriam, Emmett Till” (October 10, 1955), LIFE suggested that Louis was a war hero:
[Emmett Till] had only his life to lose, and many others have done that, including his soldier-father who was killed in France fighting for the American proposition that all men are equal.
In reality Louis Till was hanged in Italy for raping two women and murdering a third. Prior to the Army, he’d been a violent wife-beater. A judge gave him the choice of joining the Army or going to jail. After he was executed, the War Department informed Mamie Till, but Mamie chose to keep those details to herself during the media frenzy surrounding the 1955 murder trial. But they didn’t stay secret for long. By coincidence, Alabama journalist/novelist/television personality William Bradford Huie had written a book about the execution of Army deserter Private Eddie Slovik the previous year, and noticed a Louis Till grave, near Slovik’s in a special section of the Oise-Aisne American military cemetery in France. Recalling this, Huie wondered: Louis Till—could that be Emmet‘s father? Huie called up the Army’s Judge Advocate General. The JAG, after a bit of checking, told him yes indeed. Louis Till had been executed for rape and murder. (Huie discussed the matter at length in a 1979 interview.)
It wasn’t long before this spicy tidbit found its way to the editors of the Jackson (MS) Daily News, as well as Mississippi Senators James O. Eastland and John Stennis. So Eastland himself called up the JAG for confirmation, and passed the info to reporters. Soon the Jackson Daily News had a searing headline: “TILL’S DAD RAPED 2 WOMEN, MURDERED A THIRD IN ITALY.”
This revelation was more than just a curious bit of trivia. It was now mid-October 1955, and while Carolyn’s husband and brother-in-law, Roy Bryant and J. W. Milam, had been acquitted of murder, they were still in custody. They faced likely prosecution for kidnapping, which since the Lindbergh case had been a Federal crime. But the news about Louis Till put the whole story in a different light. A grand jury was empaneled to consider a kidnap charge, but they quickly came to a decision: no indictment. Case closed.
Ironically William Bradford Huie is himself responsible for some of the most colorful details—and popular misconceptions—of the Till case. He and LOOK magazine paid Bryant and Milam over $3000 for exclusive interviews, resulting in a famously lurid January 1956 article (“Shocking Story of Approved Killing in Mississippi“). Huie also interviewed some of Till’s cousins who were with him at the Bryant’s grocery store on that fateful day back in August 1955, and transcribed their first-hand observations:
Bobo bragged about his white girl. He showed the boys a picture of a white girl in his wallet; and to their jeers of disbelief, he boasted of success with her.
“You talkin’ mighty big, Bo,” one youth said. “There’s a pretty little white woman in the store. Since you know how to handle white girls, let’s see you go in and get a date with her?”
“You ain’t chicken, are yuh, Bo?” another youth taunted him.
Bobo had to fire or fall back. He entered the store, alone, stopped at the candy case. Carolyn was behind the counter; Bobo in front. He asked for two cents’ worth of bubble gum. She handed it to him. He squeezed her hand and said: “How about a date, baby?” … At the break between counters, Bobo jumped in front of her, perhaps caught her at the waist, and said: “You needn’t be afraid o’ me, Baby. I been with white girls before.”
At this point, a cousin ran in, grabbed Bobo and began pulling him out of the store.
Till’s mother later came up with an amusing explanation for that “white girl” photo. She claimed it came with the wallet when they bought it…and that girl “he boasted of success with” was actually Hollywood actress Hedy Lamarr.
Huie’s talent for hard-boiled dramatic writing comes to the fore again when J. W. Milam tells about pistol-whipping Till in a tool shed a few nights later. Bobo was standing his ground. He said, “I’m not afraid of you. I’m as good as you are. My grandmother was a white woman.”
Milam recalls his angry thoughts at that point:
“Well, what else could we do? He was hopeless. I’m no bully; I never hurt a nigger in my life. I like niggers—in their place—I know how to work ’em. But I just decided it was time a few people got put on notice. As long as I live and can do anything about it, niggers are gonna stay in their place. Niggers ain’t gonna vote where I live. If they did, they’d control the government.
“They ain’t gonna go to school with my kids. And when one gets close to mentioning flirting with a white woman, he’s tired o’ livin’. I’m likely to kill him. Me and my folks fought for this country, and we got some rights.
“I stood there in that shed and listened to that boy throw that poison at me, and I just made up my mind. ‘Chicago boy,’ I said, ‘I’m tired of ’em sending your kind down here to stir up trouble. I’m going to make an example of you—just so everybody can know how me and my folks stand.'”
This monologue is over-the-top stuff, William Bradford Huie making sure that LOOK magazine and its readers are getting their money’s worth. Huie had a good reason to overdramatize. He couldn’t tell the full story, had to be economical with the truth. He had to say Milam and Bryant killed Emmett “Bobo” Till all by themselves. Milam and Bryant were safe from further prosecution for the killing—the “double jeopardy” rule—but any accomplices they had were not. So Huie told a tale in which these two, and only these two, pistol-whipped Bobo in a shed, then drove to the riverbank, shot Bobo through the head, tied his body to a cotton-gin fan, and threw the whole works into the Tallahatchie River.
And they did have accomplices, probably at least four other individuals: two white men and two black men. In all likelihood these others did most of the beating, with one of the white men rumored to have fired the fatal .45 bullet through Till’s skull. The two blacks were Milam employees, identified as Henry Lee Loggins and Levi “Too Tight” Collins. Witnesses claim they saw these two holding Bobo down in the back of a pickup truck when he was being driven away. During the murder trial in September 1955, Collins and Loggins were sought as witnesses, but were nowhere to be found. According to the most thorough book on the case, Devery S. Anderson’s Emmet Till: The Murder that Shocked the World and Propelled the Civil Rights Movement (University Press of Mississippi, 2015), Sheriff Clarence Strider of Tallahatchie County took Loggins and Collins over to the next county and had them locked up under fake names. Reporters and prosecutors hunted for the two during the trial in September 1955, but couldn’t find them, and after the trial Loggins and Collins both denied any connection to the Till killing.
Like the possible white accomplices, Collins and Loggins are now long dead, Collins in 1962 and Loggins in 2009. Loggins did however appear in a film documentary and a 60 Minutes segment before he died (again denying any participation in the killing). Loggins was also a target of the same 2007 grand jury probe that was considering an indictment of Carolyn Bryant Donham for manslaughter. Loggins’ and Collins’ assistance in the Till murder remains an eternal blank space in the story. Their disappearance during the murder case no doubt simplified the trial immensely, as well as maybe saving their lives. But like Huie’s fictional touches, their silence leaves us with an oversimplified, often dubious narrative that’s inevitably at several removes from the truth.
Tiresome Introduction. Some years ago—I thought it was five, but it seems it was only three—Dale Peck wrote a hilarious takedown of the newest star in the political firmament, Pete Buttigieg. It ran briefly online in TNR, then was spiked, but not before it became an instant legend. And it soon disappeared from the ether altogether, except for a copy saved by a friend and posted on Facebook. Shortly after that, Friend 2, after much searching around, found the FB posting and copied it to his own blog, after which he discovered that it had disappeared from Friend 1’s Facebook page. It hadn’t been deleted by Facebook; Friend 1 decided to privatize it before it attracted any more attention. But a few months later, Friend 1’s Facebook account was removed, silenced, banned…leaving Friend 2’s blog post the only one remaining. “The Last of the Mohicans,” Friend 2 called it.
Here I will lead in with Friend 2’s foreword:
My Yale friend introduced it, thusly:
“In which famed hatchet-man Worth David—I mean, Dale Peck—weighs in to tell you why nouvelle fague Mary Pete Buttfuck isn’t all that he’s cocked up to be.
“This was originally posted in The New Republic, but the fat Bengali or someone got an advanced case of weenieitis.
“For sheer homocidal glee, this thing is right up there with Gore Vidal’s Palimpsest. Mister Peck, we salute you!”
My Mayor Pete Problem
Sunday, July 14, 2019
One of the worst things I ever did happened in 1992. I was leaving the bar called The Bar (RIP) on Second Avenue and 4th Street to go to a party called Tattooed Love Child at another bar, Fez, located in the basement of Time Cafe (RIP x 2). TLC was held on Wednesdays (Thursdays?), and I often went to The Bar after work for a few hours so I wouldn’t have to go all the way home first. So it was probably 10-ish, and I know it was late winter/early spring because I was carrying a copy of the completed manuscript of my first novel Martin and John, which I’d just turned in to my publisher that very day. Which makes me 24 and old enough to know better. Or who knows, maybe this was exactly the age to learn this kind of lesson.
What happened was: I was halfway down 4th Street when I heard someone yelling. I turned to see a large fellow running after me. At first I wondered if I was getting gay-bashed. But even though this guy didn’t set off my gaydar he still didn’t seem particularly menacing. When he got closer I clocked the pleated khakis (this was the era of the ACT UP clone—Doc Martens, Levi’s tight or baggy, and activist T-shirts—which look I had embraced fully) and rust-colored Brillo hair. I love me a good ginger, but you gotta know how to style it, especially if it runs frizzy. And so anyway, this guy, whose name was Garfield but said I could call him Gar, told me he’d been in The Bar but had been too shy to talk to me and decided to try his luck on the street. As politely as I could, I told him I wasn’t interested. He asked me how I could know I wasn’t interested when I didn’t know him, which was an invitation for me to tell him that not only did he look like a potato, he dressed, talked, and ran like a potato. Alas, I chose not to indulge his masochistic invitation.
He asked where I was going and I told him. He asked if he could go with me and I told him he could go to Fez if he wanted but he shouldn’t think he was going with me. He came. I quickly learned that he’d mastered the art of speaking in questions, which put me in the awkward position of answering him or ignoring him, which made me feel rude even though I’d told him I wasn’t interested. When he found out I was a writer he got excited and said I must love the New Yorker! I told him I hated the New Yorker. He asked how I could hate the New Yorker and I told him that besides the fact that the New Yorker published shitty fiction (plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose), and the only gay fiction it published was assimilationist and boring, there was also the fact that an editor there (Dan Menaker, if we’re naming names) had rejected a story of mine by suggesting in his correspondence with my agent (by which I mean that he wasn’t embarrassed to write this down, let alone worried about repercussions) that psychological problems were preventing me from creating effective fiction. (By the way, fuck you, Dan.) None of which made any sense to Gar. The New Yorker was important so I must love it. I just didn’t know I loved it yet. Or something like that. At some point in this exchange I remember saying something along the lines of Look, I’m just going to apologize now, because it’s pretty clear that sooner or later I’m going to say something really offensive to you and your feelings are going to be hurt. I don’t want to do that, but you’re clearly not getting the fact that you and I don’t look at the world the same way, and you keep thinking that if you hang around long enough we’re going to find common ground, when all you’re really doing is making our differences that much clearer. He laughed at this, one of those confused/nervous/defensive laughs, and if I’d been more mature I would have been more blunt and told him to get lost. But I too was a little deluded. I thought he had to get the hint eventually. But although I understood pretty much everything else about him, I failed to reckon fully with his lack of self-respect.
I told him I hated the New Yorker.
So: we got to Fez, where I ran into my friend Patrick (Cox, I think, but it’s been a minute), who looked at me like, What are you doing with this weirdo? I wouldn’t let Gar buy me a drink and I did my best to exclude him from my conversation with Patrick but he still wouldn’t take a hint. He must have hung around for a good hour. My answers to his questions grew more and more peremptory. Bear in mind I wasn’t disagreeing with him or dismissing his opinions just to get rid of him: we really had absolutely nothing in common. But we both read the New Yorker and we were both gay and we both wore clothes to cover our nakedness so clearly we were birds of a feather. Finally he said he had to leave. He asked for my number. I remember Patrick laughing in his face, but maybe that’s just because I wanted to laugh in his face. I was like, Are you serious? And he was like, We have so much in common, we should get to know each other better! When I was fifteen years old a pedophile used that line on me in the Chicago bus station, and if I’m being honest I had more in common with the pedo, who was about 50, black, and urban, while I was a white teenager from rural Kansas, than I did with dear old Gar. I told him I wasn’t going to give him my phone number or accept his. He seemed genuinely shocked and hurt, which of course made me feel like shit, which of course made me mad, because why should I feel like shit when I’d spent all night trying to rebuff him? He asked what he would have to do to get me to go out with him. Without thinking, I said, Take a good look at yourself and your world, reject everything in it, and then get back to me. It was the kind of soul-killing line people are always delivering in movies but never comes off in real life, mostly because even the most oblivious, self-hating person usually has enough wherewithal to cut someone off before they’re fully read for filth. I believe I have indicated that Gar did not possess this level of self-awareness. His face went shapeless and blank as though the bones of his skull had melted. For one second I thought I saw a hint of anger, which might’ve been the first thing he’d done all night that I could identify with. Then he scurried away.
Now, I’ve said shitty things to people before and since, but this one’s always stuck with me, partly because, though I’m a peevish fellow, it’s rare that I speak with genuine cruelty, and when I do it’s because I’ve chosen to. This just came out of me. But mostly I remember it because I knew I’d seriously wounded this guy, which, however annoying and clueless he was, was never my intention. I was and still am a very ’90s kind of gay, which is to say that I believe in the brotherhood of homos and the strength of our community, that however different we are we’re all bound together by the nature of our desire and the experience of living in a homophobic world. When one of your brothers fucks up, you school him. Sure, you might get a little Larry Kramer about it, but you don’t go all Arya-and-the-Night-King on his ass.
I’m telling you this because it’s what popped into my head when I tried to pin down my distaste for Pete Buttigieg. Mary Pete and I are just not the same kind of gay. (For those of you wondering about “Mary Pete” a couple of months ago I asked Facebook what the gay equivalent of Uncle Tom was, and this was the answer at which we collectively arrived.) But Mary Pete and I aren’t different in the same way that Gar and I were different. Gar and I had nothing in common. Mary Pete and I have a lot in common, but at a certain point we came to a fork in the road and I took the one less traveled and he took the one that was freshly paved and bordered by flowers and white picket fences and every house had a hybrid in the driveway and some solar panels on the ceiling, but discrete ones, nothing garish, nothing that would interfere with the traditional look of the neighborhood or the resale value of your home.
By which I mean: Mary Pete is a neoliberal and a Jeffersonian meritocrat, which is to say he’s just another unrepentant or at least unexamined beneficiary of white male privilege who believes (just as Jay Inslee believes he’s done more for women’s reproductive rights than Elizabeth Warren and Amy Klobuchar) that he can make life better for all those people who are not like him, not because he knows anything about their lives but because he’s smart and nice and well-meaning, and when smart nice well-meaning people run things everything works out for the best. That’s just, you know, logical. It’s like, science. Like Kirsten Gillibrand, he believes in “healthy capitalism,” which is a bit like saying you believe in “healthy cancer” Yeah, you can (usually) treat it, but wouldn’t you rather be cured?
Pete and I are just not the same kind of gay.
Most of what I dislike about Mary Pete was expressed in this Current Affairs article, which does a good job of using his own words (mostly from, ugh, Shortest Way Home, his memoir pretending to manifesto) to damn him. Shortest Way Home conjures a young Harvard student who thinks the word “edgy” is sufficient to describe both proto-Dumpster fascist Lyndon LaRouche and Noam Chomsky. His description of Harvard Square takes in those actors who belong to the school; the homeless people who live there are invisible to him, or, even worse, not worth mentioning. He seems perfectly content to dismiss left-wing student activists as “social justice warriors” despite the fact that this phrase is paradigmatic in right-wing discourse. He speaks fondly of his time at McKinsey, a company regularly described as one of the most evil corporations in the world. He joined the military long after 9/11 could sort-of-but-not-really be invoked to justify the U.S. propensity to go to other countries and kill lots of people. By 2007 it was no longer possible to pretend that the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq were anything other than failed, murderous exercises in empire-building and/or revenge, but despite the fact that these were the only places he was likely to serve he signed up anyway. And though he loves to talk about the notes he left his family in case he didn’t come back, by all accounts his chances of seeing combat were as low as they could be—but boy, he sure got a lot of cute pictures in uniform out of it!
Every move is simultaneously cynical and morally oblivious. They’re the steps one takes not to learn about the world but to become a marketable political candidate (hmmm, what’s a good counter to the whole sleeps-with-men thing? I know: military service!) (side benefit: you’re surrounded by hot guys!) and if as a Harvard-educated Rhodes Scholar you decide not to be a captain of industry, then clearly the White House is where you belong. I mean, sure, he wants to make the world a better place. But the operative word in that sentence, just as it was with Bill Clinton, is “he,” not “world,” and “better,” for Mary Pete, is just the neoliberal variation of “make America great again,” which is to say that in Buttigieg’s version of American history the progressive ideals in the First, Thirteenth, and Nineteenth Amendments, in the Civil Rights Act and Roe v. Wade and marriage equality, are the only authentically American ideas, whereas slavery and Jim Crow and border security and defense of marriage campaigns and heartbeat laws are nothing but aberrations, glitches in the code rather than yin to liberalism’s yang, warp to its weft, a set of ivory chess pieces lined up across from a set of ebony chess pieces and equally powerful.
Like Obama, Buttigieg seems always to be saying that the United States is the only place where someone like him could’ve succeeded, and that he wants everyone to enjoy the same peculiarly American successes that he’s had. But unlike Obama (whose naïvete was at least partly a pose), Buttigieg’s biography belies the idea that his success was either hard won or particularly unlikely. He’s lived the life of a comfortably middle-class white male, but he acts as if it’s his natural gifts (by which he means his intelligence and his ability to speak seven languages and play the piano, although they’re actually his whiteness and maleness and financial security) that have raised him above from the rabble. It’s right there in his “Medicare for all . . . who want it” song and dance. To Mary Pete this is simple egalitarianism and freedom of choice. If you want Medicare, you should be able to have it. And if you want private insurance you should be able to have that. It seems never to occur to him to ask why one would want to pay three or four or ten times more for health care than you have to. Could it possibly be because private insurance will get you better results than Medicare? And could private health care possibly provide better service than Medicare not because of marketplace competition but because as long as there’s a profit motive in health care medical corporations will always seek to maximize profits, and thus favor those “customers” who can pay the most? Embedded in this oblivion are both the liberal delusion that people are naturally good and the neoliberal sophistry that the market, like the tide, will raise everyone up with it.
Pete is just the neoliberal variation of “make America great again.”
Or take his response at the Democratic debate to the murder of Eric Logan by the South Bend police: “I’m not allowed to take sides until the investigation comes back.” Here is a mayor—a man—whose first allegiance isn’t to the victim or the victim’s family or the other people at risk because of a racist police force, but, at the very best, to the system, and maybe to nothing more than his own political future as a centrist Democrat. “I accept responsibility,” he told us, in the same way that the white teenaged boy who gets caught stealing a car or drunk-raping a girl says “I accept responsibility” and fully expects to let off without punishment, because boys will be boys, after all, and isn’t feeling bad punishment enough? Free education? Why, that’s unfair to the working class! They’ll end up paying for the education of all those millions and millions of billionaires’ children! What are we, czarist Russia?
You keep looking for a politics rooted in justice or history or, at the very least, empathy, but everywhere you find nothing besides a kind of idealistic pragmatism, if that’s a thing: a belief that if we only talk about nice things, only nice things will happen. If we only acknowledge our strengths, our faults will fade away. If we trust smart people to do smart things, nothing dumb will happen. Hey, JosÃ© loved it when Pete answered him in Spanish, right? Education has brought us closer together!
All this makes Mary Pete different from every other left-leaning neoliberal in exactly zero ways. Because let’s face it. The only thing that distinguishes the mayor of South Bend from all those other well-educated reasonably intelligent white dudes who wanna be president is what he does with his dick (and possibly his ass, although I get a definite top-by-default vibe from him, which is to say that I bet he thinks about getting fucked but he’s too uptight to do it). So let’s dish the dish, homos. You know and I know that Mary Pete is a gay teenager. He’s a fifteen-year-old boy in a Chicago bus station wondering if it’s a good idea to go home with a fifty-year-old man so that he’ll finally understand what he is. He’s been out for, what, all of four years, and if I understand the narrative, he married the first guy he dated. And we all know what happens when gay people don’t get a real adolescence because they spent theirs in the closet: they go through it after they come out. And because they’re adults with their own incomes and no parents to rein them in they do it on steroids (often literally). If Shortest Way Home (I mean really, can you think of a more treacly title?) makes one thing clear, Mary Pete was never a teenager. But you can’t run away from that forever. Either it comes out or it eats you up inside. It can be fun, it can be messy, it can be tragic, it can be progenitive, transformative, ecstatic, or banal, but the last thing I want in the White House is a gay man staring down 40 who suddenly realizes he didn’t get to have all the fun his straight peers did when they were teenagers. I’m not saying I don’t want him to shave his chest or do Molly or try being the lucky Pierre (the timing’s trickier than it looks, but it can be fun when you work it out). These are rites of passage for a lot of gay men, and it fuels many aspects of gay culture. But like I said, I don’t want it in the White House. I want a man whose mind is on his job, not what could have been—or what he thinks he can still get away with.
So yeah. Unlike my experience with Gar, I actually want to tell Mary Pete to take a good hard look at his world, at his experiences and his view of the public good as somehow synonymous with his own success, and I want him to reject it. I want to do this not because I have any particular desire to hurt his feelings, but because I made a similar journey, or at least started out from a similar place, and I was lucky enough to realize (thank you, feminism; thank you, ACT UP) that the only place that path leads is a gay parody of heteronormative bourgeois domesticity: the “historic” home, the “tasteful” decor (no more than one nude photograph of a muscular torso per room; statuary only if they’re fair copies of Greek or Roman originals), the two- or four- or six-pack depending on how often you can get to the gym and how much you hate yourself, the theatre (always spelled with an -re) subscription, the opera subscription, the ballet subscription, the book club, the AKC-certified toy dog with at least one charming neurosis and/or dietary tic, the winter vacation to someplace “tropical,” the summer vacation to someplace “cultural,” the specialty kitchen appliances—you just have to get a sous vide machine, it changed our life! Sorry, boys, that’s not a life, it’s something you buy from a catalog. It’s a stage set you build so you can convince everyone else (or maybe just yourself) that you’re as normal as they are. Call me a hick from the sticks, but I don’t want someone who fills out his life like he fills out an AP exam serving as the country’s moral compass. And no, I wouldn’t kick him out of bed.