Thursday, December 17, 2020

Mayor Pete goes to Washington

Change that moves society forward and that helps to advance fairness and equality never comes in one moment, or one single event. It evolves over time, building on the layers of rock built by those who came before. In that context, the nomination of former South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg to be Secretary of Transportation is truly historic precisely because it helps to move society forward.

Mayor Pete was for a time a strong contender for the Democratic nomination for President, but when that path closed off, he sensibly stepped aside. That was after he’d caught people’s attention (including mine) and established a profile that would eventually lead him to be one of the top surrogates for the Biden-Harris campaign (not the least because he was one of the few who’d appear on Fox “News”). Because of all of that, it was always assumed that he’d be nominated to something in the Biden-Harris Administration. Yesterday, President-elect Biden nominated Mayor Pete to be the Secretary of Transportation. I think this was a brilliant move.

First, it continues President-elect Biden’s commitment to diversity in his Cabinet which is shaping up to be the most diverse in American history. Including the first-ever LGBTQ Cabinet nominee was logical, and so was Transportation as the choice: As a former mayor, Pete arguably has more lived experience with the implications of transportation policy than do many members of far-distant Congress. But let’s be honest here: The appointment is far less controversial than if it had been, say, Secretary of State or some other high-profile office.

As the saying goes, “haters gotta hate” and he will be opposed for no other reason than the fact he’s gay, especially by the fundamentalist “christian” base of the Republican Party. Appointing him to Transportation gives cover to some more “moderate” Republicans (all three of them…) whose votes may be needed for confirmation; a high-profile position wouldn’t give them any “cover” for doing the right thing and voting to confirm.

Which may lead some people to assume it’s only about symbolism, perhaps reinforced for them because Pete is only the second nominee so far to get an in-person announcement. But symbolism is damn important, as Pete himself said in his remarks:
I am also mindful of that the eyes of history on this appointment—knowing this is the first time an American president has ever sent an openly LGBTQ cabinet member to the Senate for confirmation.

I can remember watching the news, seventeen years old, in Indiana, and seeing a story about an appointee of President Clinton, named to be an ambassador, attacked and denied a vote in the Senate because he was gay, ultimately only able to serve only by a recess appointment.

At the time, I had no aspirations of being appointed by a president to anything—at that age, I was hoping to be an airline pilot. And I was a long way from coming out, even to myself. But still, I watched that story, I learned something about some of the limits that exist in this country when it comes to who is allowed to belong. But just as important, I saw how those limits could be challenged.

So, two decades later, I can’t help but think of a seventeen-year-old somewhere who might be watching us right now, somebody who wonders whether and where they belong in the world, or even in their own family, and I’m thinking about the message that today’s announcement is sending them.
Pete was referring to James Hormel who was, for a time, the USA’s first openly-gay ambassador, no thanks to the troglodytes in the US Senate. I, too, remember what happened to him, and how it seemed as if the world would never get better for LGBTQ people. That’s why the symbolism of Mayor Pete’s nomination is so important: It helps people see possibilities where once they saw only barriers—and hatred.

Every time a barrier is broken, young people can see new possibilities, like the Black kids who, thanks to President Obama, saw they might become US President one day, too, or little girls who saw with Hillary Clinton that they might be nominated for US President by a major political party. Those same examples also show that with every advance there are forces trying desperately to attack, destroy, and reverse that progress, like the racists who were so incensed that a Black man was elected president (twice) that they helped cause the rise of the soon to be ex-occupant of the White House, or the sexists and misogynists who hated Hillary to the core of their being for no apparent rational reason.

Many of those same people, or other bigots in their place, will hate Mayor Pete, too. But just as Mayor Pete was the first LGBTQ strong contender for the presidential nomination of a major US political party, so, too, he will push things forward as the first LGBTQ member of Cabinet. We’ll have to wait and see if there are the same kinds of desperate attempts to attack and destroy that progress as there was after President Obama and Secretary Clinton (I’m betting there will be). But every step forward is still a step forward and it makes the next one that much easier, because of the opposition as much as in spite of it.

I’m also keenly aware that some on the Left hate Mayor Pete, too, for their own reasons. That’s their business, not mine (I don’t share their views). Still, in my opinion, if the objective is to rebuild the USA in order to move the country forward, then maybe—just maybe—someone the Left and Right both hate may be just the right sort of person.

At the very least, it seems to me, somewhere in the USA some scared, vulnerable 17-year-old won’t care about any of that—not the politics, not the potential for backlash, not whether it doesn’t go far enough or goes too far. All they’ll care about is that someone like them is being nominated to sit at the Cabinet table for the first time in US history, and that matters—a helluva lot.

Change that moves society forward and that helps to advance fairness and equality never comes in one moment, or one single event. The nomination of Pete Buttigieg to be Secretary of Transportation matters precisely because it helps to move society forward.

Graphic source: Biden-Harris Transition Facebook Page.


Roger Owen Green said...

There was some scuttlebutt that Biden would keep Chao at DOT to try to leverage Turtleman. I guess not.
I like Pete. I even learned to pronounce his name: PEET!

Arthur Schenck said...

Hahaha, I learned to spell his surname without having to look it up! I don't think there was any way Chao would ever have stood a chance of being retained. The goal is to have a Cabinet where people are actually competent and know what they're doing. Meow.