This is going to be quick, because I’m just taking a short grant writing procrastination break, but a friend asked me to comment on this atrocious New York Times Op-Ed supporting Pete Buttigieg, so I decided to do an old-school discourse/critical analysis of this train wreck of an op-ed in order to illustrate: 1) how this circus of an election has devolved into all-out class warfare, with Sanders on the side of the poor, marginalized, and working class and all the other candidates squarely in the camp of oligarchy, and 2) how Buttigieg is actually a straight Republican, an absolutely terrible choice for a Democratic party nominee, and will never have mass appeal outside of disproportionately wealthy and white communities.
First off, this article presents the thesis that Buttigieg is the “unity” candidate the Democratic party needs. Repeatedly using the word “fragmented” to refer to both Democratic party voters and US society as a whole, Frank Bruni, the author of this absurd neoliberal fantasy writes: “Buttigieg understands the greatest problem that America faces, which isn’t income inequality, racial injustice, climate change or an obsolete infrastructure. It’s fragmentation.” This actually made me laugh out loud it’s so offensive, dismissive, and condescending, but it’s important to break down how and why: here Bruni lists some of the most pressing problems facing the supermajority of the US population, but implies 1) that they are discreet, not related issues (that are actually inherent to the destructive capitalist and colonial organization of US society) and 2) that they are just minor issues that can be easily fixed if we can just all learn to get along and really listen to each other.
This has been a typical – and in reality, overtly racist and conservative perspective – that Buttigieg has been roundly eviscerated for throughout his utterly tone deaf and elitist campaign. Here’s one recent, exemplary tweet that’s been making the rounds:
Here Buttigieg lays bare what he means when he promotes himself as a unity candidate and how his neoliberal supporters view “fragmentation” as the REAL problem facing the US: he’s attempting to present himself as a figure who can unite both a conservative and and liberal electorate through some sort of “third way” compromise. He implies that the civil rights rebellions of the 1960s that paved the way some (but hardly enough) human rights advances for Black and Queer people, for example, are extremist left-wing politics on par with nostalgia for the extremism of 50s white nationalism exemplified by Jim Crow. This kind of equation of Bernie Sanders-type moderate politics (most often represented as Sanders’ commitment to the horrific notion that everyone should have health care) with fascist extremism has been a feature of all of the other Democratic contenders campaigns. But this is actually how the real extremist candidates like Buttigieg slide down the slippery slope of loosely chained signifiers to spread the message that not only is Medicare for All – a program that would be similar to the much more successful and less expensive health programs of every other wealthy nation – simply impossible to implement but that even the mere suggestion of it is tantamount “terrorism” and holding the nation hostage. By presenting white nationalism on the opposite side of the spectrum from basic human rights and dignity, Buttigieg and the rest of the candidates opposing Sanders by presenting themselves in the same “unity” terms flat out state that an investment in basic human rights is an extreme, and thus unnecessary, praxis, and that people whose lives are daily destroyed by racism, poverty, and environmental racism need to learn to dialogue and compromise with the very same people and institutions that organize to impoverish and oppress them.
I wish I could stop there with the discourse analysis, but it gets much worse. In making the case for the widespread appeal for Buttigieg (where no factual evidence for this actually exists), Bruni argues: “Before hitting a snag in Nevada, he had more delegates from Iowa and New Hampshire than any of his rivals for the Democratic presidential nomination, including Bernie Sanders and Joe Biden, who began building their political bases and growing their political careers before Buttigieg was born.” Here Bruni, in the final clause of the sentence, slides in the image that really Buttigieg is the young, hip, and in touch candidate because he’s not old like Sanders and Biden, but primarily he asks us to conveniently ignore the results of Nevada, which Sanders won by a landslide and in which Buttigieg came in a distant third, overall not even meeting the 15% threshold usually required to be eligible for delegates. I say convenient because Nevada, as every mainstream political analyst notes, is a significant race precisely because its demographics much more closely reflect the demographics of the US as a whole, as opposed to Iowa and New Hampshire in particular, where a large percentage of those voting in the primary were disproportionately wealthy and white. Outside of such sheltered enclaves however, most analysts have noted the stunningly low levels of support for Buttigieg from any non-white demographics of voters. But here, Bruni asks us to ignore these facts in favor of a fantasy that it’s just a bizarre aberration that Buttigieg did so poorly in a much more diverse and working class state. But Bruni dismisses race as relevant to the campaign, mentioning race only once in the article: “I’m also concerned about his apparent blind spots on race, but I appreciate his refreshing acknowledgment of missteps.”
Bruni continues his quest to make Buttigieg the mannequin relatable: “His surname is a nearly impenetrable thicket of consonants (BOOT-edge-edge), and yet tens of millions of Americans can now pronounce it just fine.” This bizarre invocation of the pronunciation of Buttigieg’s name – and the assertion that American’s can get it “just fine” after Bruni simultaneously feels compelled to educate us in the correct pronunciation (I was unaware, for one), seems designed to appeal to immigrant and non-white communities who are accustomed to white people’s ignorance and unwillingness to learn the pronunciation of non-white/European names and cast him as also a marginalized person in the US, all while his campaign carefully constructs the imagery associated with Bootigieg and his family in overtly nationalist, almost Nazi-like, white supremacist compositions.
Buttigieg and his supporters also weaponize his same-sex marriage to boost his “marginalized” credentials, which has provoked consistent outrage throughout queer and trans communities due to his representation of his sexuality in the most conservative of homonormative and homonationalist frames, as well as his explicit self-hating/homophobic statement that he would absolutely turn straight if he could. Bruni takes up Buttigieg’s reactionary and ultraconservative presentation of sexuality, saying that he once retorted to Mike Pence: ““Your problem is not with me. Your quarrel, sir, is with my creator.”” And then: “More recently, he questioned many conservatives’ invocation of “family values” by comparing his commitment to his husband with President Trump’s payment of hush money to a porn star.” This language presents Buttigieg as a wholesome Christian, no different than other straight cisgender white Christians, while simultaneously staking the terrain that his whitebread, cookie-cutter marriage is the new, true, contemporary face of “family values,” a field that he lays claim to by distancing his conventional, mongomous, married gay sexuality from the implied “deviance” of sex work usually associated with queerness and associating said deviance instead with Donald Trump.
I’m going to make a new paragraph to emphasize this point, which I begin with in the title of this post: by Buttigieg’s own logic and imagery, Trump becomes the queer deviant and Buttigieg the heternormative, wholesome Republican with family values. It is precisely this twisted discourse, consistently promoted by the Buttigieg campaign, that has provoked queer and trans people everywhere, including myself, to soundly reject Buttigieg as part of our community and as a viable presidential candidate.
There’s more, but I’m out of time. So I’ll leave you with some of Bruni’s final thoughts: “He means to be better. And the thing about students determined to get straight A’s is that they do the homework necessary to make the honor roll.” Almost acknowledging the incessant racist gaffs coming out of Buttigieg’s campaigns, we are left with the message that despite his cluelessness, he is, in the end, a well-meaning normative white man, who is trying so so so hard y’all! For added measure, he is then associated again with youthfullness and is characterized as a student, I suppose to suggest that he is committed to learning and growing on “the issues” that are dismissed as not really that important anyway. In addition, phrases like “get straight As” and doing his “homework” and making the “honor roll” are all elitist images meant to associate him with whiteness, Ivy League schools, and upward mobility. In other words, he’s the kind of “marginalized radical” that white elites can get behind: a gay man associated with wealth, normativity, and sparkling white whiteness who distances himself in every way possible deviant stink and precarity of the widespread majority of queer and trans people.
Gay men like Buttigieg are always the dream boys of the establishment: they allow them to mouth and make gestures toward diversity without ever having to invite someone who isn’t a Ken-doll like normative cis-white man into the room. And this is why it is rich straight white people, not queers and people of color, who are backing him.