From the same academic program at the same State University, we arrived in Orlando within a year of each other in the early 1990s.
Our paths zig-zagged upon the surface streets of Orlando’s trendy neighborhoods. We flirted with each other at Barnes and Noble on Colonial before Grindr and in the age of Firestone. We bleached our super-gelled 1990s hair at the same overpriced Washington St. hair salon and drank mimosas on the same Sundays at Dexter’s brunches.
We became buddies.
We were both on other ends of the 1990s culture wars—he a larger-than-life flaming liberal and I a rather boring, haughty conservative with a nice smile. We assumed these roles within a beautifully developed human discourse.
We both bought into neatly framed and congenitally dialectic readings of the days’ issues. We each told ourself—and each other—that we were ideological Puritans, cast across a frigid sea and staking our claims to the virgin landscapes in our minds.
We cut our colors on Clintons and Bushes. We tightened our brushstrokes along the way with ideological distractions that made us feel better about ourselves. With varying degrees of contra-torpidity, we sketched ourselves into issues that might otherwise have skewed our panoramas.
Lovers of letters and linguistics, we sharpened our pencils and our tongues upon the rhetorics du jour, often holding our noses as we had to defend the assholes and moral failures (disappointments, at least) that aligned themselves upon the political palette we’d been handed (We thought we’d discovered). We operated as masters within our high and tight world, arguing over nuance as if it were stark.
He ran for mayor of Orlando and made a movie. He became a celebrity and a blistering commentator. He became heralded editor of a respected “progressive” magazine.
I entrepreneured and published a book. I became a poet-economist-blogger with a pretty-cool international audience. He hired me to be a counterpoint columnist in his respected “progressive” magazine.
We were both born in the 1970s to somewhat effed up families. Gloria Steinem embodied feminism and Ronald Reagan embodied conservatism. Stonewall and AIDS were puffy clouds in our consciousness. During that decade, George HW Bush was head of the Republican Party and CIA chief. Bill Clinton began the first of his five terms as Arkansas governor. Over the next forty years, generations and spouses of Clintons and Bushes have painted themselves into a vast complex that has nurtured our proclivities and needs. From the CIA to Department of State to statehouses to the White House, reaching out to wider and wider interests and constituencies, Bushes and Clintons have brought America to a position of such greatness that it is almost unrecognizable from within its blinding pursuit of liberty’s blessings.
All the while, we have had our ups and downs, pulled just to the left and just to the right of a contrived ideological divide that’s been painted as a canyon, but that is really little more than an institutional ravine: perspective. I begrudgingly supported Republican Charlie Crist. In the most absurd incarnation of this dual partisan pseudo-reality, he begrudgingly supported Democrat Charlie Crist. The same reprehensible man was, in a matter of months, embraced and repulsed by each of us.
While a generation of millenials came of age and while a huge swath of Americans were left behind by a political establishment, he and I have thrived, living in our letters and telling the world what we’ve been told to tell them to think.
Meanwhile, he and I have been engaged in activism and discourse framed by what has seemed two parallel lines. In reality, we have been engaged in a series of intersections where two sets of parallel lines met: the corners of a frame around an institutionalized debate. We have been the strident poster children for a semi-organic matting embodied by the Bush-Clinton-Media complex. We have become totems to an establishment, arguing theory and embracing pragmatism. We have, together, come to reflect a picture of each other, he a little cooler, I a little more reserved: a picture in a frame that Sanders-Trump populism has neither time nor respect for.
Our Clintons and our Bushes are as much a part of our conjoined political DNA as our gay genes.
We may not be part of the dense political machinery of Washington, D.C. We are, however, beneficiaries of its machinations. The trickling down of civil rights, the bubbling up of money from nowhere (deficit spending), the protection of our borders, the proliferation of technology and media: these are all externalities created by the maintenance of institutionalized power by modern government and its direct benefactors. These blessings of modernity are the result of “The Establishment.” We, he and I and you and you, are utterly dependent upon the establishment.
WE ARE THE ESTABLISHMENT.
His side of the establishment may want a little more deficit spending while I may want a little less. Mine may want fewer abortions while his wants “more access to women’s health services.” But these are tints upon the same canvas upon a painting that is being incrementally perfected. Our discourse is the special shading and sometimes jarring spatial incongruencies of a fantastic work of art. We are framed by the greatest, most complex and compelling piece of modern collaborative performance ever conceived.
This establishment is what has made America great and anybody who says that it isn’t suffers from a hypercritical myopia. Populism that seeks to upend the establishment does so from within the safety of the frame it wishes to shatter. The establishment has every right—a responsibility—to preserve itself against those political and cultural forces which have strapped bomb-belts across their waists and implanted themselves on the borders of our establishment’s frame: our malleable and richly textured Constitution.
I need a president who understands religion and science, who can speak to them, who is beholden to them—or not.
I need a president who understands croneyism and capitalism, who can speak to them, who is beholden to them—or not.
I need a president who understands unions and education and political deal-making and trade and healthy discourse and diversity and the rule of law and equity and hope: the establishment: who is beholden to it—or not.
In this presidential contest year, I know one thing. That thing is the establishment and the Bush-Clinton beholdenness to its classically liberal tenets. Whichever side of that faux divide I may be on, I need one of them—a Bush or Clinton—in my life. I need to either faux-fawn or faux-fend. I need my frame and, whether you know it or not—whether or not you can recognize the always-already greatness of this work of art called America—you do too.