With this week’s first primary outcome in Iowa, as damaged by computer glitches as it has been, the sudden emergence of the Democratic presidential hopeful Pete Buttigieg at or near the top is properly one of the biggest news stories of this or any presidential election year.
As competent as Mayor Pete proved himself to be on debate stages in the runup to this start of the actual race, there is no comparison between good debate performances and even poll numbers, on the one hand, and a voter turnout effort when the votes are actually being counted, on the other.
What this week proved is that Buttigieg is the “real deal,” a man capable of defeating formidable opponents in his own party and, by extension, the presidential election.
In the ongoing struggle to achieve equality by all segments of the U.S. population, what the Buttigieg result means for LGTBQ Americans simply cannot be overstated. It is fully equivalent for that population, myself included, as President Obama’s rise was for the African-American population earlier in this decade.
Just as the longer-term impact of Obama’s achievements will be appreciated and seen as even more profound and epochal by the impact of time, so it will be with Buttigieg. This bright and articulate young man is not only advancing his candidacy for the presidency, almost by his very being, he is engaged in a profound paradigm shift in American culture with respect to LGBTQ persons and ripple effects extending far beyond, and indications are that he is aware of this.
Of course, he is standing on the shoulders of other great names in the LGBTQ movement, including the scores of highly qualified elected officials serving today at all levels of state, local and federal government, dating back to, in the modern “post-Stonewall era,” the historic role of martyred Supervisor Harvey Milk in San Francisco in the 1970s.
They, in turn, stand on the shoulders of western civilization’s greatest figures advancing human rights for all and democratic institutions and pioneers legitimizing LGBTQ persons from Walt Whitman forward.
Buttigieg’s rise comes at a time when LGBTQ people are sorely in need of a culture that affirms their distinguished, respectable and serious role in wider democratic society, as a whole. Sadly, some of Buttigieg’s sharpest critics are coming from within the so-called “gay community” who claim he does not represent “gay culture.” But these critics most often have vested interests in institutional elements of older urban LGBTQ subcultures, and associated lifestyles.
In the modern scholastic sociological and psychological, including Freudian, distinctions between Apollonian (law abiding) and Dionysian (law breaking) paradigms, the LGBTQ option has been identified as falling on the Dionysian side.
Yet, as I have argued in my own scholarly work on this subject (my book “Extraordinary Hearts”), the Appollonian-Dionysian dichotomy in modern social studies is a fallacy because it ignores a third option associated in Greek mythological terms with the figure of Prometheus. Prometheus gets ignored or suppressed by scholarship because he is portrayed as a radical humanist that many associated with the American revolution identified with.
Prometheus in mythology is the enemy of Zeus (Apollo) because he founded the human race and gave humanity the gift of fire (and invention, by extension). Zeus punished him ruthlessly but could not prevent the benefit of what Prometheus brought humanity independent of Zeus.
If the role of LGBTQ persons in society is seen through the lens of a Promethean, rather than an, in particular, Dionysian, paradigm standpoint, then the impact of that on the self-identity and self-esteem of LGBTQ persons can be truly profound.
Buttigieg is evidence that a Promethean paradigm for LGBTQ persons is valid, and elevates a paradigm that brings to the gifts and talents of all such persons a new sense of importance for civilization as a whole not only in politics, but in the arts and literature, dramatic arts, education and every manner by which such persons, as myself, contribute to a culture grounded in hope and optimism.
As a role model, Buttigieg could not be more important to LGBTQ persons at all ages and levels.
Nicholas Benton may be emailed at [email protected]