The Left

The Conversation

Bruce Jenner
Bruce Jenner
Bruce Jenner
Caitlyn Jenner (born William Bruce Jenner, October 28, 1949) is an American television personality and former track and field athlete. Pictured here on the cover of 2015 Vanity Fair just after he "came out" as Caitlyn Jenner. | Photo: Vanity Fair | Bruce Jenner, Caitlyn Jenner, Olympic, Athlete, Decathlon, Transsexual, Crossdress, Shoulders, Gay,

Some conservatives insist we have it on their terms.

Want to know who's really to blame for racist Charleston church shooter, Dylan Roof? According to right-wing pundit Erick Erickson, it's Caitlyn (the former Bruce) Jenner.

In a June column, Erickson babbles that while Roof shooting black people was certainly racist and evil, South Carolina is obviously not racist, so Roof's desire to shoot down blacks clearly cannot have been influenced by racism in the community. Therefore it must have been influenced by Jenner.

A society that tolerates Jenner's desire to be a physical woman, Erickson wrote, "cannot have a conversation about mental health or evil because that society no longer distinguishes normal from crazy and evil from good ... and so cannot recognize what crazy or evil looks like." (Of course the same might be said about a man who insists that trans rights had more influence on a racist killer than racism).

The idea that there's some issue we need to have a conversation about, but aren't having one -- and that this is a bad thing -- is one that political columnists fling out every so often. For example, after ESPN's Chris Broussard said in 2013 that you couldn't be gay and a Christian, he took a lot of flak for his views on Twitter. Libertarian Matt Welch objected that "if such comments aren't expressed, a real conversation can't be had ...better to have that conversation out loud than let it fester."

In what parallel universe do Welch and Erickson exist that The Conversation doesn't take place? We've been conversing, debating, discussing, arguing, lobbying and filing court briefs about gay rights for longer than this century's been around. Trans rights hasn't been a prominent issue for as long, but I see people conversing about it everywhere from columns such as Erickson's and Welch's to Facebook comment threads.

But I don't think that's these guys' real issue. When someone complains we aren't having The Conversation, what they really mean is that we're not having the conversation they want us to have.

Consider Welch. In his view, it's a legitimate part of the conversation for Broussard to say gay basketball player Jason Collins isn't a real Christian and is in "open rebellion to God and to Jesus Christ" -- a pretty in-your-face thing to tell a believer in Christ. But criticizing Broussard for saying that, now that's destructive. That's what makes The Conversation impossible!

Welch argues that Broussard only said what a lot of people in sports were thinking, but presumably that's true of everyone who criticized Broussard on Twitter too. Why is only one position a conversation killer? Why is criticizing the anti-gay guy worse than criticizing the gay guy (other than the perennial right-wing conviction that criticism = oppression)

With Erickson, I get the feeling the real issue is not that we're not having The Conversation but that it's not going the way he wants it. The conversation Erickson presumably wants is "Mr. Erickson, you're so wise! You've convinced us Caitlyn Jenner is crazy and evil! We shall shun her as the agent of Satan upon the Earth!" Instead large numbers of people are fine with Jenner's sex-change, and uninterested in Erickson's shrieks of outrage. It's not that Americans can't recognize evil, it's that we don't think it lies in the places Erickson points at.

I totally sympathize with that. I get frustrated when people read the brilliant insights of my columns, yet don't immediately realize that what I say is right. That anyone who disagrees with me is obviously incapable of recognizing evil when they see it.

Oh, wait, I don't think that all. Because I'm capable of grasping that people who disagree with me aren't necessarily blind to the truth, they just disagree about what the truth is. And disagreement is part and parcel of having any conversation.

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Updated May 6, 2017 5:51 AM EDT | More details

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