A story from our times: “We don’t want you sexual deviants and weirdos messing up our gay-pride parade!”
The gay-rights movement has gone neo-Victorian, but out-of-the-closet social conservatives still can’t win an election north of Oklahoma.
There is nothing as indicative of the Left’s achievement of social power — and its embrace of social power — as its new enthusiasm for respectability. About 80 percent of left-wing activism in our time consists of working to push individuals and institutions outside the increasingly narrow circle of respectability. Many of the people and subcultures that helped to build the gay-rights movement are no longer welcome in it, at least publicly. It would almost be worth resurrecting Gore Vidal to read what he would write about it. Out with The City and the Pillar, in with the McKinsey employee handbook.
The thing to understand about that respectability strategy is that in its weaponized form it is more focused on audiences and witnesses than it is on prominent figures and institutions, who are only incidental pretexts: The hysteria directed at, say, Tucker Carlson, isn’t really intended to deny him a voice or the opportunity to make a living — it is to make his audience feel disreputable for watching him, and to provide an ironclad instrument of dismissal should he make a point or report a fact that his critics find inconvenient. You see the same thing with, to take one recent example, Charles Cooke’s reporting on that nut-cutlet from Florida. If you are intellectually lazy, then you don’t have to deal with the facts in Charlie’s reporting, because . . . Bill Buckley had some embarrassing views about race in the 1950s.
Policing respectability is a funny business. Andrew Sullivan is going to do just fine on SubStack, but the point of the campaign against him has always been less to disturb his life or his work and more to make of him an example for others who might be tempted to express heterodox views. The same is true of efforts to police individual sentences in works of fiction — the demonstration of power itself, and not the trivial fruit of any particular exercise of that power, is the point: Tremble, and obey.
Eventually, the circle of respectability will narrow so tightly that the only person left inside it will be Pete Buttigieg, assuming he becomes a vegan and denounces his former work at McKinsey. But not the McKinsey aesthetic: Pete Buttigieg is always welcome in a gay-pride parade.