Sunday, October 23, 2016

Gay Trump Supporters as Microcosm of State Deformation Theory

A Wall Street Journal reporter recently posted a brief interview he did with a gay couple at a Trump rally in Cincenatti, Ohio. The interview was unremarkable, with the two men expressing their concern about the state of the country and dissatisfaction with the status quo, the only thing that separated this interview from a million other reporter in the crowd interviews at Trump rallies is that the two men were gay. The reporter posted the interview on FB, and that's when things went downhill. In the over 900 comments the video received, numerous people attacked the couple as being gay traitors and threatened them with physical violence.

Things were taken to the next level when a gay-rights activist published the names of the two men, after which the hate and threatening messages started pouring in. Not to worry, though, one of them conceal carries because he "loves the second amendment."  

I found this article to be thought provoking on several different levels. In a sense, I think it can be viewed as a microcosm of what is going on in the country right now in regards to societal and political divisions, but at the same time, it also demonstrates something interesting about the future of gay culture in the U.S.

Lots of ink has already been spilled about the numerous divides between different demographics and their reasons for either supporting or not supporting Trump and it makes sense in this regard too. White blue-collar workers from rural rustbelt Ohio, pretty typical Trump demographic. However, what differentiates them is that they are gay, a demographic that usually leans left.

This is where things get interesting. Political scientist Mike Desch has an amazing paper entitled "War and Strong States, Peace and Weak States?" where he argues that because there have been less wars and people are feeling less threatened, social divisions that had previously been pushed to the backburner because outside threats led to political centralization and social cohesion are now bubbling to the forefront. As the outside threats have diminished, social cohesion is breaking down as various groups begin to reassert their long dormant grievances and issues now that there isn't a very clear and pressing reason for unity. Desch talks about places like Spain and the UK, but I think his argument is relevant to this situation as well. 

We can view the gay community somewhat like a state. Contrary to popular portrayals in the media, gay people are not all leftist inhabitants of large cities on the eastern and western seaboards. However, it is easy to imagine how this idea came about, as gay people from various different social groups coalesced around something of a shared identity to face the outside threat. The outside threat being criminal prosecution, violence motivated by bigotry, and finally a denial of equality before the law.   However, for most gay people, such concerns are no longer as relevant. And thus, we might be seeing a microcosm of state deformation theory playing out before our eyes.

Perhaps, this situation demonstrates, that for at least some number of gay people, their allowing themselves to be lumped in with the "gay demographic" supposedly comprised of coastal leftists was a way of dealing with an outside threat. Now that for many people that threat has been largely neutralized, much like the states talked about by Desch, the "gay identity" at least as it is dominated by coastal leftists, is also deforming and giving way to more localized demographic concerns.

Some of the comments reported in the WSJ piece reflect this divergence of concerns. Among the charges leveled against the couple was the idea that they are privileged white males (one of the worst things to be these days it seems). Yet, this accusation demonstrates the privilege and hubris of those who hurl it. It turns outs that both of the men in question are blue collar workers who sometimes each work 80 hour weeks to make ends meet. Yet,despite their economic situation, they are threatened with having their "gay card" revoked (not to mention the actual threats of bodily harm) for putting their economic well-being ahead of the group they are "supposed" to belong to. In the end, at least for this couple, it seems that they consider the situation regarding their sexual orientation safe enough to check out from their previous demographic association in favor of their rural blue-collar identity. If "being gay" (in the sense that being gay is one's primary demographic identity) continues to be associated with being a coastal leftist that is out of touch with the concerns of rural blue-collar people then it won't be surprising that "being gay" is subsumed into a rural blue-collar identity when the two clash.

This raises some interesting follow-up questions, such as if the idea of a gay identity even surviving as a primary demographic with which a person describes themselves as it gives way to more cultural and economic concerns in the wake of a decreased perception of threats based on sexual identity. Only time will tell and these are simply some preliminary thoughts,but this election certainly seems to be demonstrating the validity of Desch's original theory. The U.S. is tearing itself apart and no matter who wins in November things seem only likely to get worse. If Desch's theory holds, then there will likely be a large political realignment that could ultimately culminate in the breakup, or at least radical decentralization of the country. Hopefully, such a thing will be accomplished peacefully with as little chaos as possible.

I have not gotten into Desch's state deformation theory in great detail, but here is an excellent summary by Stephen Walt that also talks some about the future and a PDF of the full paper is linked to above. Please feel free to chime in with your thoughts.