A NEWSLETTER FROM DAVID CORN
The Right Revives Its War on Gay America
By David Corn June 6, 2023
Former Vice President Mike Pence speaking to reporters in Concord, New Hampshire on May 16, 2023. Holly Ramer/AP
On November 4, 2008, I was one of hundreds of journalists in the press pen set up at Chicago’s Grant Park, where Barack Obama was holding his election night rally. As the results came in—at a point when it looked as if Obama would win—the Rev. Jesse Jackson walked through the hall. He was crying, noting that he never thought he would see a Black man elected president. When the election was called for Obama, I and other reporters became weepy. I know conservatives will shout, “Aha! This shows the liberal bias of the media.” But our tears were not prompted by ideological joy. I didn’t spot reporters getting wet-eyed when Bill Clinton won his elections. This emotional display was prompted by the belief that the country had just taken a tremendous and historic step, overcoming its original sin and moving forward, perhaps into a brave, new post-racial world. Here was progress.
All these years later, we know it was not that simple. Obama’s election was indeed an indication of progress. But it was not a sign of permanent progress. His triumph provoked a racist backlash that fueled right-wing opposition to his administration, best encapsulated by the tea party movement, which held protests and promoted conspiracy theories animated by racism. And that led to Donald Trump’s racist presidential campaign. The first Black president being succeeded by the most overtly racist president of modern times—it’s pretty obvious, eh? This illustrated the conceit of progress—the notion that once progress has been achieved, it will be indelible. Nope. Millions of Americans demanded a retreat.
That idea of settled progress was again blown apart by the Supreme Court’s Dobbs decision last year that eviscerated the ruling in Roe v. Wade (which had been hailed as a profound advancement in women’s rights) and ended the right of American women to control their own bodies. That decision—the work of merely six people—demonstrated that we must keep fighting to preserve the freedom of women. And now something similar is happening regarding gay rights.
Let’s start with Mike Pence, the former Trump lackey who is poised to launch a pointless campaign for the GOP presidential nomination. In a speech last week, he bellowed, “The radical left has been assaulting our values and assaulting our families almost as never before. But the great thing I’ve seen traveling across this country is that the American people are on to them. Just ask Bud Light, Target, and by the way, a message to Major League Baseball, religious bigotry has no place in America's pastime.”
Pence was blasting Bud Light for having cut an endorsement deal with transgender influencer Dylan Mulvaney, which sparked a right-wing boycott of the mediocre beer. And he was lumping this squabble in with Target’s promotion of goods—such as t-shirts—that celebrate gay rights for Pride Month, which is underway now, and the MLB for its Pride activities.
Last month, Pence inserted himself into a controversy involving the LA Dodgers. After the team announced its Pride celebration would include a gay rights group called the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence, whose members often dress up as nuns to mock the anti-gay positions of some Christian faiths, conservative critics howled. The team disinvited the sisters, and when that provoked complaints, the Dodgers reinvited them. Subsequently, Pence tweeted that the “Dodgers decision to invite the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence, a hateful group that blatantly mocks Catholicism, to their event next month is deeply offensive.”
Yet in his speech, Pence didn’t cite the Dodgers specifically. He slammed the entire MLB in what seemed a wider assault than his gripe about the sisters. Twenty-nine of the MLB’s 30 clubs are holding a Pride Night this month; the Texas Rangers are the only exception. And with his inclusion of Target—whose only sin (as far as the anti-gay extremists see it) is selling and promoting Pride merchandise—Pence was equating recognition and support of gay rights with an “assault on our families.”
This is a revival of what was once a mainstay of the right: the war on gays. Remember Jerry Falwell, the Moral Majority, and Anita Bryant? The religious right appeared to have lost this battle with the 2015 Supreme Court decision, Obergefell v. Hodges, which essentially legalized same-sex marriage. At that time, Christian fundamentalists largely threw their hands in the air and admitted defeat (while insisting America’s soul was lost). Yet the right didn’t give up. It found other ways to prosecute this war.
We’ve seen the new fronts in recent months. The anti-gay warriors have gone after discussion of LGBTQ issues in schools. They have attacked drag shows. They have claimed kids are being “groomed” to be gay. They have decried transgender people. These are all proxy fights for their main beef: It is wrong to be gay and to enshrine rights for LGBTQ people. They have have moved from obsessing over grooming and drag shows to outright opposing Pride celebrations, asserting Target and other corporations are transgressing against American families by recognizing and accepting gay Americans. And the strategy is working. In response to the boycott mounted by a small group of zealots, Target has pulled Pride merchandise from its windows.
Racism did not go away with the election of Obama. The religious right did not give up after Roe. And the forces of repression and reactionaryism have not ended their crusade against gayness. They found footholds—drag shows and children!—and are expanding their attack, blasting Pride celebrations that have been commonplace and widely accepted for years.
Pence and his comrades in this battle show us that the fight for progress doesn’t end. Racism, sexism, homophobia, and transphobia have staying power. Yes, there have been many victories in the struggle against intolerance and bigotry. But enduring progress requires active preservation. As Pence, who throughout his political career has been one of the leading Republican opponents of gay rights, leaps into the presidential race in the middle of Pride Month, he is providing a useful service, even though his campaign is likely to be a bust. He is a reminder that hate doesn’t sleep and that the effort to counter right-wing extremism requires constant vigilance.
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If you are the least bit tuned in to the world of US media, then you likely know of the Atlantic profile of Chris Licht, the chief executive of CNN, which hit last week and sent shockwaves through this insular community. Licht, the onetime media wunderkind who piloted Morning Joe, The Late Show With Stephen Colbert, and CBS This Morning, took the helm of the original cable news network a little over a year ago, and starting last November, he gave reporter Tim Alberta a boatload of access, granting him numerous on-the-record interviews, allowing Alberta to accompany him to rehearsals of CNN’s new morning show, and even permitting Alberta to witness his workout sessions with a private trainer named Joe Maysonet, who works in a gym that caters to magnates, athletes, and actors. (“Licht jumped off the [work-out] machine. At Maysonet’s instruction, he squatted down to grab a long metal pole lying flat on the ground. ‘[Former CNN chief] Jeff Zucker couldn’t do this shit,’ Licht said through clenched teeth, hoisting the pole with a grunt.”)
The result is devastating for Licht. One anecdote after another, one interview after another, indicates that he's floundering at CNN and doesn’t have a handle on the network’s problems and challenges—or, more important, his own failures.
Licht may not be the right person to run CNN. That’s not only because when he came aboard he dumped some of the network’s most conscientious journalists—Brian Stelter and John Harwood—because they were too tough on Donald Trump. Or because he quickly tried to make nice with the election deniers and pro-Trump disinformationalists of the GOP. Or because he orchestrated that awful Trump town hall that provided a supportive audience and useful platform for a man who tried to sabotage American democracy and overturn an election. These actions can all be dismissed as moves adopted to implement a grand plan to render the network more amenable to Fox-ish viewers—a questionable strategy, but one established by Licht’s corporate overseers. Worse, the Atlantic profile shows that Licht suffers from a lack of judgment.
Licht was, to be blunt, a fool to allow a reporter to trail him as he has attempted to remake CNN and deal with a flood of internal turmoil. Whether this vision for a new CNN made sense or not—and was implementable or not—he knew it would be a tough mission. (Joe Scarborough and Colbert told him not to take the job.) Plenty of eggs would have to be broken. And—to use another culinary cliché—rejiggering the sausage-making would not be pretty. Transparency and accountability are wonderful values, but permitting a reporter to observe all this was an act of hubris. It suggests that Licht was so confident in his own abilities and ideas that he could not see how his controversial decisions and stir-up-the-pot notions might come across to others. Opening the door wide for Alberta indicates that he was overly concerned with his own PR and believed his own press too much. Successful journalists need to be more skeptical—particularly about themselves. In a stunning fashion, Alberta has taken us inside the world of big-media journalism. Licht, by participating in this exercise, offers us a troubling insight about Licht.
Just before the Atlantic story came out, CNN announced that David Leavy, the chief corporate operating office of Warner Bros Discovery, the parent of CNN, would become the cable network’s chief operating officer. Leavy is a close confidante of David Zaslav, the top dog at Warner Bros Discovery, and this move triggered speculation that Licht’s days at CNN may be numbered. One thing the article made clear was that CNN’s pivot toward Trumpland was not only Licht’s idea but a desire at the top of the corporate pyramid. That means that whether Licht stays or goes, CNN’s major problem will likely remain.
The Watch, Read, and Listen List
65. I’m a sucker for time-travel and dinosaur movies. So when I was in a mood for a dumb popcorn movie, I fired up the new Adam Driver action film, 65, which I thought was about an inadvertent time-traveler who finds himself and his spaceship back in the age of the dinosaurs. But to my dismay, there was no time-skipping in this tale. Driver plays a space pilot named Mills who lives on the planet Somaris in some far-off galaxy when the date on Earth is roughly 65 million BC. His civilization is advanced enough to have the ability to explore vast regions of the cosmos in sleek flying machines, but here’s the bad news: Health care is still difficult to obtain. His daughter is sick, and he must take a long-haul assignment (two years!) to earn enough pay to cover her treatments. Off Mills goes, with a load of cryogenized passengers. Long into the journey his vessel encounters an uncharted asteroid belt. The ship is battered and crash-lands on Earth—what for him and his folks is an alien planet. With dinosaurs.
None of the human cargo survive except for a 9-year-old girl named Koa who speaks a language Mills doesn’t understand. (Conveniently for us, Mills speaks English.) Though Mills has a version of a smartphone that can tell him what’s happening kilometers away and even create holograms of these events, it cannot translate Koa’s sentences for Mills. Bad break. The other bad break: The escape pod that could get them off this rock is in a debris field 10 miles away. There are plenty of dino-nasties in between here and there. Oh, that fiery object in the sky that’s getting closer? That’s an asteroid, a very big asteroid. What a coincidence. Mills and Koa picked the worst day in Earth’s history to get stranded on this orb.
The trek to the escape pod is a not-too-pleasant stroll through Jurassic Park, with many familiar features from Steven Spielberg’s franchise. Mills and Koa, of course, bond, as they experience one narrow escape after another. Velociraptors, T. rexes—we’ve seen this before. 65 eschews the paleontology controversies the Jurassic Park films employed to gussy themselves up and is essentially one long chase between various prehistoric beasts and two humans, offering a few clever chills and thrills. Ultimately, it doesn’t do much to advance the genre of dino-flicks. And you never get to really know the dinosaurs. Then again, why bother? Look up. They’re not going to be around long.
“We’re All Gonna Die,” Joy Oladokun. Last December, at the White House signing ceremony for the Respect for Marriage Act, Joy Oladokun, an Americana singer-songwriter, performed alongside Cyndi Lauper and Sam Smith. The daughter of Nigerian immigrants who was raised in Arizona, the 31-year-old Oladokun initially won critical acclaim as a Black queer artist in the vein of Tracy Chapman, who happened to inspire Oladokun to learn guitar when she was a child. She’s written songs about LGBTQ issues and Black experiences. NPR listed her tune “I See America,” a BLM-spurred exploration of systemic racism, as one of the 100 best songs of 2020. She’s been compared to John Prine. But with her new album, Proof of Life, Oladokun has expanded her horizons to encompass pop and rock sensibilities.
This is especially true with a track the New York Times dubbed an “emo-punk anthem”: “We’re All Gonna Die.” It’s a bouncy number about the inevitability of death. The song focuses on the basic shared feature of humanity: the impossibility of understanding why the hell we’re here. The tune is quite catchy, with a Beatlesesque strings intro and bridge. It’s hooky refrain: “We’re all gonna die tryna figure it out.” In a recent interview, Oladokun, a fan of the Beatles, Beyoncé, the Beach Boys, and Radiohead, said, “I would like to be the Black Bruce Springsteen.” For Oladokun, who has been quite open about confronting her assorted demons through therapy, figuring how to do that will be quite the mission.
Read Recent Issues of Our Land
June 3, 2023: What the GOP’s hostage-taking in the debt ceiling fight tells us about regulating rogue AI; Dumbass Comment of the Week (Jenna Ellis and Glenn Greenwald); the Mailbag; MoxieCam™; and more.
May 31, 2023: What the hell is Ron DeSantis thinking?; Moonage Daydream is too dreamy; Tina Turner’s “Whole Lotta Love”; and more.
May 27, 2023: How the media aid and abet GOP hostage-takers; Henry Kissinger at 100, still a war criminal; Dumbass Comment of the Week (Pat McCrory); the Mailbag; MoxieCam™; and more.
May 23, 2023: Is contextualizing old movies the same as canceling them?; the Citadel is a forgettable spy show; The Independent needed a rewrite; and more.
May 20, 2023: Lions, rhinos, elephants, and soft power in Africa; more from Namibia; Dumbass Comment of the Week (Elon Musk); the Mailbag; MoxieCam™; and more.
May 17, 2023: My visit to a famous prison cell; more photos from Robben Island; and more.
May 13, 2023: From the Our Land archives: Can you still watch your old favorite movies?
May 9, 2023: From the Our Land archives: Call it what it is—the GOP is pushing for political apartheid.
May 5, 2023: The big question about AI: who decides?; Dumbass Comment of the Week (Jesse Watters); the Mailbag; MoxieCam™; and more.
May 2, 2023: President Joe Biden’s crusade; KCSN’s eclectic mix of new and old music; and more.
April 29, 2023: Of guns, God, and a clinging GOP; a useful idiot is gone from Fox; Dumbass Comment of the Week (Sen. Ron Johnson); the Mailbag; MoxieCam™; and more.
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