The Conversation

Readers respond to our January/February 2019 cover story and more.

Don’t Call Me LGBTQ

In the January/February issue, Jonathan Rauch made the case for adopting one overarching designation for sexual minorities. He proposed using a single letter: Q.

What a relief to read something about the absurdity of the “alphabet soup” designation for gay people. I totally agree with Jonathan Rauch that it has become a symbol “for the excesses of identity politics,” which have fueled animosity and intolerance toward homosexuals. I’m amazed that anyone would add more letters to this train wreck.
You will never promote more tolerance and peace in the world by diminishing individuals into ever more exclusive and reductive parts. Large, broad categories are much more efficient and easy to understand.
Patricia McAnulty
Eugene, Ore.

No, a thousand times, no!
Jonathan Rauch makes a valid point about the awkwardness of LGBTQ as a term to represent sexual minorities, but to substitute simply Q would be a huge error. While Rauch mentions the baggage of the word queer (which Q would inevitably reference), he gives no sense of the fact that queer was the primary name assigned by society to homosexuals before gay came into popular parlance in the later 1960s. And queer was not descriptive in a positive way. It was ugly, hateful, pejorative, demeaning, and diminishing. It is not the right word with which to be labeled, if one must be labeled.
Julian Balfour
Asheville, N.C.

I don’t personally identify as queer, but because I had a couple of decades when gay was the overall descriptor whether one identified as such or not, I’m fine with queer being the primary descriptor for the next couple. The word has long since been taken away from the haters and used as a term of empowerment rather than degradation.
Jim Longo
New York, N.Y.

Here in rural Virginia there have always been plenty of Q people. But no one uses LGBTQ or queer, and they won’t use Q. The entire project of requiring names or labels is unworkable with rural people—and with working-class people generally, wherever they live. It is primarily a project of academic elites, cultural elites, and self-interested parties in national or state “identity” organizations.
Edward Strickler
Scottsville, Va.

The thesis of this article appears to be something akin to: Inclusion has become too confusing for us old-timers, and the straight white males of our country are inclined to resent the community the more it grows. So how about we just roll back decades of progress because it would make the powers that be happy?
Straight white males in America have never had to fight for their civil liberties; they have been endowed with such rights since the conception of the country. The entire pursuit of civil rights in this country has been a game of catch-up; women and racial, ethnic, and sexual minorities aren’t pursuing “special rights”—the pursuit has always been one for equal rights.
So when Rauch posits that the LGBT+ community should contract to include only the “queer” classification, he is effectively suggesting that a nuanced and complex community should strip its members of each of their respective, hard-fought identities so as to appease the very community that would so willingly dismiss and oppress the LGBT+ community altogether.
Phoebe Solomon
Irvine, Calif.

I was thrilled to read Jonathan Rauch’s compelling piece. I agree emphatically with his sentiment, one that I have had myself for years (I research queer people and provide therapy to queer individuals and couples). The critique he makes of the ever-increasing LGBTQ initialism, with the continued exclusion of at least one group (often more), is spot-on, especially as the quantity and diversity of sexual and gender identities continue to grow.
I would just like to draw attention to two shortcomings I noted while reading Rauch’s article. First, an additional critique of the acronym that was omitted is that each of the four identities subsumed within the most ubiquitously referenced acronym (LGBT; or lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender) assumes gender and sexuality to be binary and static, which science overwhelmingly indicates is false. As nonbinary gender identities and fluid sexual identities continue to emerge—especially among young people—there is even more reason to drop any acronym and use a term that is, as Rauch describes, “simple and inclusive, and carries minimal baggage.”
Second, I challenge Rauch’s use of the phrase sexual minorities in reference to LGBT people—transgender people are not inherently sexual minorities. A more representative phrase would be sexual and gender minorities.
Samuel Allen
Washington, D.C.

Why Are We So Angry?

Charles Duhigg wrote about the untold story of how we all got so mad at one another—and how anger might actually be useful (January/February).

I write to correct the misuse of my words by Charles Duhigg.
By omitting the role hope plays in turning anger into a constructive force, Duhigg twisted my words to support his argument—which contradicts my views and those of the farm-worker movement I served. He repeatedly purged from my comments all references to hope, which I consistently connected to anger.
Anger, especially when linked with fear, easily turns into the kind of hate we see far too often. Duhigg makes it seem as though organizers are simply “stoking” people’s anger, devoid of any capacity for agency or understanding. Managing the tension between anger and hope is what organizers do.

Similarly, he misrepresents the movement, taking words like defiant, outrage, and revolution out of context. The songs on Chavez’s 28-day march to Sacramento during Lent were spiritual, not defiant; the banners read PEREGRINACIÓN, PENITENCIA, REVOLUCIÓN (“Pilgrimage, penance, revolution”), rather than simply “Celebrating revolution.” To describe Cesar Chavez as “an embodiment of all the progress that righteous anger can achieve” misses the essence of his work.

Duhigg does a deep disservice to the movement and what it can teach. Its greatness was in linking anger to hope and love. We know a lot about anger these days. We need a deeper understanding of what it takes, in the words of Langston Hughes, to realize the America “that never has been yet—and yet must be.”
Marshall Ganz
Cambridge, Mass.

Charles Duhigg replies:

While I was reporting for my article about anger, Marshall Ganz was a helpful source in understanding the role emotion played in the labor movement led by Cesar Chavez, a movement Ganz witnessed. Because the subject of my story was anger and its function in society, I focused on how Chavez used anger to organize and mobilize his followers. But I also emphasized Chavez’s commitment to nonviolence and belief in self-determination, and described the measures he took—including a 25-day fast—to inspire his followers to stand up for their rights without succumbing to acts of retribution against the people who had exploited them.

While I appreciate that Ganz would have preferred I emphasize the feelings of hope Chavez inspired, I did not twist Ganz’s words or misrepresent our conversation. My account of Chavez’s movement, drawn from my discussions with Ganz—as well as from numerous other sources—offers an accurate assessment of the role moral outrage played in advancing Chavez’s cause. It also makes very clear how combustible anger can be, and the remarkable work Chavez undertook to channel his followers’ righteous discontent into an effective, nonviolent movement for justice.

Some, like Ganz, may believe a focus on anger is inappropriate. But to minimize the role of anger is to fundamentally misdiagnose how movements like Chavez’s have found followers and effected change. We should seek to understand anger’s nature, rather than downplay its role in the past and present, so we can channel its power to do good, and avoid its dangerous pitfalls.

In Case of Emergency

In a crisis, the president can invoke extraordinary authority. What might Donald Trump do with this power?, Elizabeth Goitein asked in the January/February issue.

Thank heaven we have a president who doesn’t read stuff, like history books, the Constitution, intelligence briefings, or articles that give a blueprint for authoritarian government in America. Elizabeth Goitein’s excellent piece on presidential powers is scary no matter who sits behind the Resolute desk in the Oval Office.
Richard Muti
Ramsey, N.J.

#Tweet of the Month

Elizabeth Goitein describes a “parallel legal regime [that] allows the president to sidestep many of the constraints that normally apply.” These little-known executive powers need to be recognized by the newly elected members of Congress as among the most urgent matters facing them and the country.
Goitein states that though the use of these numerous legal executive powers might seem extreme, misuse of them has become standard as leaders gather more power for themselves. More important, she describes how Trump could easily misuse these parallel executive powers by provoking an international crisis.
In light of Trump’s actions so far, this scenario should be regarded as inevitable. At this crucial juncture, a strategic intervention by Congress is imperative.
Mary Vandezande
Kingston, N.Y.

Elizabeth Goitein replies:

I’ve heard from several readers who are concerned that the article provides a “blueprint for authoritarian government in America,” as Richard Muti puts it. I had similar thoughts at the outset of this project, and before deciding to publish, I consulted many former executive-branch lawyers. They assured me that only the American public was in the dark. The lawyers in this administration, as in all others, are well aware of these powers; indeed, agencies keep binders of them close at hand. This assessment was confirmed when Trump referred to the caravan of migrants as a national emergency shortly before the article was published.

The best hope for preventing this president—or a future one—from deploying these powers for authoritarian purposes is for the public to insist that Congress reform the legal system for emergency powers. On February 15, Trump declared a national emergency to get around the will of Congress and build a wall on the southern border. He has now proved his willingness to abuse emergency powers. We can expect more if Congress doesn’t act.

The Global Backlash Against Women

What unites Donald Trump and his ideological cousins around the world is a desire to roll back the feminist gains of the past several decades, Peter Beinart argued (January/February).

“Foster women’s equality in the home, and you may save democracy itself.”
Your solution to legitimizing women’s public power is to increase their private power—that is, to empower them in the home, so they can appear acceptable for public office.
But I believe that the domestic revolution is the more difficult one for women to win, and that we’ll have to save democracy—and society—by giving women (or rather, by women taking) more political power. Then they can foster women’s equality in the home through legislation establishing publicly funded home- and child-care services (since men, as a whole, will never step in to share that burden). Women can’t liberate one another from their domestic cages directly, but they can vote one another into public office.
Shirley Kressel
Provincetown, Mass.

The Big Question

On Twitter, we asked people to pick their favorite reader response to March’s Big Question. Here’s how they voted.

Q: What was the biggest scandal of all time?

62% Catholic sex abuse

28% WMD hunt in Iraq

6% Iran-Contra

4% The 1919 World Series