In the days following the alleged attack on a previously obscure TV actor named Jussie Smollett in the early morning hours of January 29, politicians, journalists, and fellow entertainers lined up behind him. Members of Congress tweeted messages of support; CNN’s Don Lemon texted him every evening to see how he was doing. People on the left, it was clear, wanted to believe that Jussie, who is both gay and black, had, as he claimed, been set upon at around two A.M., in subzero weather, on a Chicago street by a pair of white thugs wearing MAGA hats and spouting anti-gay and anti-black insults.
Never mind that the whole tale seemed fishy from the start. The assailants had supposedly been wearing MAGA hats and hoodies. How does that work? Apparently they’d not only recognized Jussie from a show most of us have never heard of (Empire, on NBC) but also knew he was gay. They’d said he was in “MAGA country.” (Since when is Chicago MAGA country?) They’d put a noose around his neck and poured some liquid on him that Jussie first identified as bleach and that the cops later said was gasoline. (So they’d been wandering around the Windy City on an ice-cold night with a noose and a container of caustic liquid on the off chance that they’d run into a black TV actor?) Perversely, when the cops showed up at Jussie’s home to take down his report, he still hadn’t removed the noose from around his neck.
Yet some folks were so fiercely supportive of Jussie that they slammed journalists for (quite properly) using the word “alleged” to describe the attack. At Out Magazine, a writer named Tre’vell Anderson instructed readers that it was wrong to harbor any doubt about Jussie’s claims: “Somehow, I thought, or at least hoped, society at large was at the point of believing victims, what with the enduring impact of the #MeToo movement.” That some observers were still uncertain proved to Anderson “that we as a country are still in denial” about the fact “that Donald Trump’s presidency has thrown a rock at the beehive of white cis hetero patriarchy and supremacy hanging over our heads.” Not a terribly felicitous metaphor, but you get the gist.
Even after it began to be painfully clear that the whole thing was a scam, many of Jussie’s hangers-on hung on. As recently as last Wednesday, the day before the Chicago Police finally arrested him, actress Gabourey (Precious) Sidibe insisted she still stood by him, whatever that can mean under such circumstances. Don Lemon, instead of exhibiting even a scintilla of contrition for the speed with which he’d lapped up Jussie’s lies, reacted to the collapse of the scam by complaining that Sean Hannity and others on the right would exploit it to the hilt.
The bottom line about Jussie (who, cops say, conceived of the hoax as a way to get a raise) is that he should be thrilled to have what he has. He’s a very lucky guy. But in these twisted times, in places like Hollywood, it’s better to be a victim than to be a success. No, that’s not quite it: the thing nowadays, in such milieux, is that it’s good to be a success, but if you’re going to be a success, you’d better also be a victim, owing to your group identity or identities, and had better embrace that victimhood with all you’ve got. That’s what Jussie was doing with his scripted assault: claiming his factitious victimhood. Sending out the message that, in Trump’s America, even somebody with a network TV series can still be legitimately considered oppressed because of the minority groups he belongs to.
Jussie might have used his success in the opposite way: to show young black and gay kids that their group identities need not be barriers to achievement. That America, in the year 2019, is bigger and better than that. That playing the victim is a loser move that leads nowhere good. But that’s the old-fashioned approach. In the age of Trump, when the PC armies demand that you buy into the proposition that the orange-haired billionaire’s presence in the White House has unleashed a nationwide tsunami of violence against women, blacks, gays, transsexuals, disabled people, etc., etc., you’d better go along with that party line or else.
What’s supremely ironic here is that even as Jussie Smollett was selfishly exploiting – and encouraging – the corrosive notion that Trump’s America is a society awash in homophobia and racism, the Trump administration itself was preparing a concerted effort to fight anti-gay prejudice in those places around the world where it really exists on a lethal level. In 72 countries, being gay is illegal; in eight, it’s a capital offense.
In the aftermath of the legalization of same-sex marriage in the U.S. and other Western nations, this is what gay-rights professionals should be concerning themselves with: namely, helping gays abroad to achieve at least some measure of the rights they themselves enjoy in the West. Instead, most of them are preoccupied with transsexuality – specifically, with advancing such dubious causes as the right of unstable parents to give their “gender-nonconforming” kids puberty blockers and with demonizing decent people (such as Martina Navratilova) who challenge the right of men who say they’re women to compete as female athletes, use women’s bathrooms, and so on.
It’s bad enough that people who work in the gay-activism racket or for gay “community” institutions show so little interest in working for the rights of gays in non-Western countries. Even worse is that when word came out that the Trump administration was taking on that job, some of these people reacted with outrage. At Out Magazine, Mathew Rodriguez (who’d covered Jussie’s saga with total sympathy and not a hint of doubt) waxed cynical: although Trump’s “global campaign to decriminalize homosexuality in dozens of nations where anti-gay laws are still on the books…looks like an atypically benevolent decision by the Trump administration,” wrote Rodriguez, “the details of the campaign belie [sic] a different story. Rather than actually being about helping queer people around the world, the campaign looks more like another instance of the right using queer people as a pawn to amass power and enact its own agenda.” In the U.S., of course, it’s the left – the Democrats – that has consistently used gays as pawns over the past decades; offhand, I can’t recall a major instance in which the right has done so. I also know that Trump publicly supported same-sex marriage long before any of the Obamas or Bushes or Clintons did. But let’s set all that aside for now.
Rodriguez went on to note that the new Trump pro-gay plan “centers [on] homophobic violence in Iran” and “has reportedly been spearheaded by the U.S. ambassador to Germany, Richard Grenell, who is also the administration’s top-ranked gay official, in response to news that a young gay man was hanged in Iran recently.” How to make this sound nefarious? Well, first Rodriguez referred to “Grenell’s sudden interest in Iran’s anti-gay laws.” What does Rodriguez know about Grenell that justifies his use of the word “sudden”? Rodriguez also compared Grenell’s supposedly cynical concern about gays in Iran to Trump’s response to the 2016 Pulse massacre in Orlando: “Trump used the 49 deaths as a way to galvanize support for an anti-Muslim agenda rather than find a way to support LGBTQ+ people.”
As it happens, the Pulse massacre was an act of jihad, pure and simple, and Trump’s response was therefore entirely appropriate. But such facts are too politically incorrect for Out Magazine. No, here’s Rodriguez’s angle: just as Trump used Orlando to bash Islam, Grenell is using Iran’s anti-gay laws to bash, well, Iran. Rodriguez even quoted postcolonialist academic hack Gayatri Spivak’s famous statement that Westerners who profess to care about oppressed Islamic women are “white men saving brown women from brown men” – i.e., racists. For Rodriguez, Grenell’s attempt to keep gay Iranians from being hanged or thrown off roofs “might be a case of white men trying to save brown gay men from brown straight men.” You’d think this would be a good thing, but in a world where white people are never right and people of color are never wrong, it’s not.
Rodriguez wasn’t alone. In Britain, the Independentran a story by Louis Staples headlined “Thanks, Donald Trump, but as a gay man I’d rather you didn’t go on a global campaign in my name.” Thanks, Mr. Staples, but if I were a gay man in Iran or some other hellhole, I’d rather you didn’t try to talk the most powerful man in the world out of doing something to prevent my execution.
Staples’s piece was more of the same: “The Trump administration’s unlikely foray into the realm of LGBT+ rights is just the latest in a long tradition of far-right parties attempting to rebrand themselves as pro-gay. Marine Le Pen surrounded herself with gay advisers during the 2017 French presidential election. Geert Wilders from Holland – the first country in the world to legalise same-sex marriage – cherishes the ‘tolerance of homosexuality’ as a Dutch value. Alice Weidel, leader of Germany’s far right party Alternative for Germany, is a lesbian. So is Britain’s Anne Marie Waters, who was even considered too right-wing for UKIP. Tommy Robinson even said in 2015 that he wants to ‘fight for a gay man’s rights.’”
Staples summed up all this as follows: “These people have one thing common: they loathe Islam and want you to hate it too.” Yeah, they loathe Islam at least in part because it condemns gay people to death. But for the proud bridge-builders at the Independent, as for their counterparts at Out, admitting this reprehensible truth is a bridge too far.
So it stands. For a few weeks, at least, the hero of the American left, and especially of America’s gay-left establishment, was a TV actor who did something incredibly selfish based on the premise that Trump and his supporters are racists and homophobes. Meanwhile the most prominent gay member of the Trump administration is taking real action to help gay people around the world – and the same professional gays who unquestioningly bought Jussie’s shaggy-dog story are, out of sheer irrational Trump-hatred, distancing themselves from what may well be one of the most significant human-rights initiatives in decades.
Such is the state of gay activism in the Western world today. Even as the lockstep soldiers of the gay-left establishment (which has never been about helping people, but about using gay-rights rhetoric to win gay support for Democratic politicians and “progressive” policies) keep promoting the transsexual agenda and keep denying that Islam is an existential threat to gays, the president whom they’ve cast in the role of their #1 enemy is taking on Islamic regimes in an attempt to help gay people around the world to whose plight that gay-left establishment is indifferent. They call themselves gay activists; but Trump is the real gay-rights hero – an objective fact that they’re obliged to deny in order to keep their tiny heads from exploding.