Boutique Issues (sic)

A boutique is where you buy “artisan pantyhose,” we are – thankfully – reminded. “On TV, a commentator speculated that Mrs. Clinton had lost because of her party’s focus on things like trans rights —‘boutique issues,’ they were called. A boutique — a place where you’d shop for, say, artisan pantyhose — is not the first place I’d associate with an individual’s quest for equal protection under the law, but then what did I know? I was now one of the people from whom the country had been ‘taken back.’ The phrase echoed unpleasantly in my mind. A boutique issue? Is this what my fellow Americans had thought of my fight for dignity all along?” This is Jennifer Finney Boylan writing on the op-ed page of the New York Times. I was particularly glad to see her there, given the extraordinarily offensive trans-blaming piece by Boylan’s fellow Columbia University professor, Mark Lilla (about which I wrote in the previous issue, which appeared in the Times first. (Technically, Boylan teaches at Barnard College, but Barnard is affiliated with Columbia; Barnard students receive diplomas from Columbia.) To my disappointment, Boylan didn’t blast her benighted, bigoted colleague but instead left his name and foolish, selfish argument tastefully out of her own commentary. As Jim Naureckas of Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR) points out, Boylan also left out any reference to the Times’ regular columnist Frank Bruni, who’d been interviewed by MSNBC’s Stephanie Ruhle the morning after the election. Ruhle: “When many of the initiatives that represent Obama, when you think about LGTB initiatives, and it matters to so many people, many people could say, transgender bathrooms in high schools, how many people is that going to impact in this country? Not so many.” Bruni: “I think in a lot of ways the Democratic Party has become this collection of boutique issues. That they think if you add them all together, you get to 51 percent or 52. But when you do those sorts of boutique issues, and you put all your firepower and all your rhetoric there, there’s a lot of the country that feels ignored. I really think the Democratic Party has to do some big soul-searching here.” I was shocked by Bruni’s remarks, because he is, after all, a gay man who has written eloquently on subjects like LGBT rights, marriage equality in particular. Bruni apparently doesn’t consider marriage equality – or any issues of vital importance to gay white men – to be a “boutique issue,” whereas the much more personally intrusive issue of bathroom legislation, which criminalizes the use of a bathroom labeled for a gender other than the one listed on one’s birth certificate, is somehow so parochial that it gets stamped as “boutique.” But consider the implications of such laws. Even people who have surgically altered their bodies and conform in every way to sex and gender expectations would be forced to use the wrong bathroom, and if they didn’t, they would face arrest and all the attendant humiliation. A boutique issue? Really, Frank? “It seems likely that the omission of Bruni’s name — a familiar one, of course, to regular readers of the Times op-ed page — was a deliberate choice,” Naureckas writes. Of course it was. The best way to make sure that your letter to the editor gets tossed in the trash by the Times is to criticize the Times or any of its writers. For example: Wrong: “To the editor: David Brooks is a pig-headed idiot when he writes, ‘blah blah blah….’” Right: “To the editor: David Brooks makes many good points when he writes ‘blah blah blah,’ but his take on one teensy-weensy issue is misguided.” I’m all but certain that the Times actively discourages their opinion writers from criticizing other Times opinion writers. But to the real point: the idea that transgender rights turned off a lot of uneducated straight white people is unfortunately probably accurate. It comes as no surprise to find that bigotry runs very deep in America. So are we now supposed to forget our morals and drop our politics and go cravenly chasing after uneducated straight white people for their votes? What’s the point of getting somebody to vote for your candidate if it means throwing your own values out the window? Talk about a pyrrhic victory. In any case, the overthrow of North Carolina’s bigot governor, Pat McCrory, indicates either that trans-friendliness is not in fact the “boutique issue” that brought down Hillary Clinton or that the trans community’s corporate and sports-organization friends, who brought palpable economic pressure to bear on North Carolina (PayPal, the NBA, the NCAA, Google, and others), successfully changed voters’ minds about the wisdom of legislating bathroom use. Or both. “An attitude toward biology.” In an inadvertently hilarious Times piece called “What the Alt-Right Really Means,” Christopher Caldwell explains that “the word ‘racist’ has been stretched to cover an attitude toward biology, a disposition to hate, and a varying set of policy preferences, from stop-and-frisk policing to repatriating illegal immigrants. While everyone in this set of groups is racist in at least one of these senses, many are not racist in others [my emphasis]. Not many of the attendees at the Washington gathering favored the term ‘white supremacist.’ The word implies a claim to superiority — something few insisted on. ‘White nationalist’ is closer to the mark; most people in this part of the alt-right think whites either ought to have a nation or constitute one already. But they feel that almost all words tend to misdescribe or stigmatize them.” Oh, boo-hoo! The poor neo-Nazis are feeling stigmatized! They’re not really white supremacists! They’re really white nationalists. I’m so glad we’ve cleared that up. The sentence and phrase I emphasized are total balderdash. Why do people support stop-and-frisk policing despite its statistically confirmed concentration on black people? Why are some folks so intent on repatriating illegal immigrants? And “an attitude toward biology”? What attitude could that be, Chris? Enlighten us, please. “Most people in this part of the alt-right think whites either ought to have a nation or constitute one already.” Um, isn’t that because they think whites are superior to everyone else? It’s really very simple: if you support a racist policy like stop-and-frisk, you are a racist. If your attitude toward biology has anything to do with seeing blacks as inferior to whites, you are a racist. It is not unfair to call racist white people racists. It reminds me of an old family story. Some time in the 1930s, my grandfather was listening to an acquaintance voicing pure, vicious anti-Semitism in no uncertain terms. Finally my grandfather said, “You know that I’m Jewish, right?” Without missing a beat, the acquaintance replied, “Yeah, but you’re a white Jew.” I don’t think he was distinguishing my grandfather from our Ethiopian coreligionists. No, he was employing white as a synonym for all that’s good in the world. Just like the racist, white supremacist, neo-Nazi alt-right does every minute of every day. Follow @EdSikov on Twitter and Facebook.