America is an idea: "All men are created equal."
Or maybe it's a split infinitive: "To boldly go where no man has gone before."
Or maybe it's the alienating clusterfuck of our current political discourse(s), where no one actually talks to anyone who doesn't watch the same cable news networks.
Jefferson, Roddenberry, and O'Reilly vs. Maddow aside, my brother Dan's latest book, American Savage: Insights, Slights, and Fights on Faith, Sex, Love, and Politics (Dutton, $26.95) gets down and dirty with each of these definitions of America.
Dan is hip-deep in the clusterfuck, as he appears on various cable TV talkfests as a serious expert or comic "spokesgay," or is attacked by various Fox News chat-bots for his vituperative ways. His essays, here collected and revised and unified into narrative coherence, make arguments few have wanted to boldly make before.
But at the end of the proverbially clichéd day, he's all about equality: in relationships and in arguments.
Dan has fraught relationships with his argumentative foes. That he is attacked as much by LGBTQQETC folks who find him insufficiently compliant to their various (and often contradictory and intellectually incoherent) party lines as he is by wack-job conservatives should tell most readers that my little brother is onto something. Back before the mainstream media was killed by Craigslist and careless inbreeding with its putative political targets, right-wingers complained that the MSM was left-wing, and left-wingers cried that it was right-wing.
Such symmetrical dissatisfaction suggested to rational people that perhaps the MSM was just accurate, and that neither extreme was correct.
America has abandoned such moderation, and the MSM has become complicit in the system and will not call bullshit on the most egregious bullshit.
I can attest that calling bullshit was, and is, an ongoing family tradition around Savage (and Schneider and Hollahan) dinner tables going back several generations, and in American Savage, Dan lives up to that tradition, in every direction.
Again, our contemporary left-right dichotomy fails; Dan's rhetorical targets exist along a 360-degree range. He has to answer bisexual and transgender activists who attack him for having dared to suggest that some young men who claim to be bisexual (as Dan himself once did) should not to be believed... because they're lying.
Dan also has to respond to Christian conservatives who attack adoption by gays and lesbians, and same-sex marriage, and should not be believed... because they're lying.
Or, more theologically speaking, as Dan points out, they are "bearing false witness."
This sort of verbal precision distinguishes Dan's writing. He engages with the rhetorical and textual bases of his opponent's arguments, and then he demolishes them on their own ground and in their own language.
Dan treats his enemies as his equals, but he expects of them the same intellectual honesty he displays, to go wherever the argument and the evidence lead. When he's been wrong (and he has often been wrong, from female orgasms to certain wars in Kuwait- adjacent nations), he owns his errors. And when he is right, he stands his ground.
Beyond the political value of these essays, Dan is, as always, a hoot to read. You will mostly laugh, but you will sometimes cry.
You will definitely wish you knew our mother, Judy, personally. The opening chapter, on how her death brought Dan back into churches, if not back to The Church, demonstrates the moral seriousness and emotional honesty Dan brings to all his thinking and writing.
That seriousness and honesty doesn't prevent this book from being good dirty fun, though. The original Star Trek movie series, and this summer's reboot, could suggest a different, and pithier, subtitle: American Savage: The Wrath of Dan.
Bill Savage is Dan Savage's big brother.