Apr 18, 2023

The Bud Light-Dylan Mulvaney controversy.

The trans culture war strikes again.

I’m Isaac Saul, and this is Tangle: an independent, nonpartisan, subscriber-supported politics newsletter that summarizes the best arguments from across the political spectrum on the news of the day — then “my take.”

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🏳️‍⚧️ Today, we're covering the controversy after Bud Light sponsored trans infulencer Dylan Mulvaney. Plus, a reader question about the best way to pick judges.

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Quick hits.

  1. House Speaker Kevin McCarthy said the Republican-controlled House will vote on legislation that would lift the debt limit for one year and introduce spending cuts as well as work requirements for people receiving federal benefits. (The comments)
  2. Sens. John Fetterman (D-PA) and Mitch McConnell (R-KY) are set to return to the Senate after weeks of absences. (The returns)
  3. Prominent Russian opposition figure Vladimir Kara-Murza Jr. was sentenced to 25 years in prison yesterday on treason charges. He was outspokenly opposed to the war in Ukraine. (The conviction)
  4. Rep. George Santos (R-NY), who faced intense scrutiny for fabricating parts of his resume during the 2022 House race, announced his plans to run for re-election. (The decision)
  5. U.S. ambassador to Russia Lynne Tracy visited Evan Gershkovich, a Wall Street Journal reporter who has been detained by Russia on accusations of spying. (The visit)

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Today's topic.

Bud Light. Last week, one of America's most iconic beer brands became the center of a culture war controversy after it partnered with a transgender influencer named Dylan Mulvaney. Bud Light sent Mulvaney custom beer cans with an image of her on them, and she then posted a video of herself online celebrating March Madness and her "first year of womanhood."

In a matter of days, Mulvaney's collaboration with Anheuser-Busch drew criticism from conservatives. Kid Rock, who has become a right-wing influencer, posted videos of himself shooting cans of Bud Light with a rifle. Country music singer Travis Tritt is banning the beer from his tour. During a performance Friday night, country singer Riley Green dumped the words "Bud Light" from his famous song "I Wish Grandpas Never Died," substituting them with "Coors Light."

Criticism about the partnership drew so much attention that the CEO of Anheuser-Busch, Bud Light’s parent company, responded to the backlash. Brendan Whitworth said in a press release that the company "never intended to be a part of a discussion that divides people. We are in the business of bringing people together over a beer."

Even before the Bud Light sponsorship, Mulvaney was a controversial figure. She was addressed by The Daily Wire's Matt Walsh in a video earlier this year, in which Walsh said, "you are weird and artificial, you are manufactured and lifeless, you are unearthly and eerie." The comments drew criticism even from Walsh's staunchest allies on the right, and from one colleague who quit The Daily Wire over the video.

(Disclosure: I was also a part of the criticism. Walsh and I had an exchange on Twitter in which I criticized his remarks as cruel).

Mulvaney, who identified as a man until 2020 and worked as an actor while performing in the musical The Book of Mormon, rose to stardom after detailing her transition on TikTok. While her videos have been hailed as inspirational by her supporters, critics say she has caricatured women in her videos and worry her popularity will promote gender dysphoria among her youngest fans.

Not long after the Bud Light video was posted, Mulvaney also shared a paid partnership with Nike.

Today, we're going to wade into the culture war with a look at some arguments from the right and left on the Bud Light story, then my take.

What the right is saying.

  • Many on the right criticize Mulvaney for caricaturing women, and criticize Bud Light for misreading its customers.
  • Some say Bud Light's partnership with Mulvaney is offensive to women.
  • Others argue that Mulvaney is suffering from a mental illness that needs to be addressed.

In The New York Post, Karol Markowicz said women "deserve more than to be lampooned by Bud Light and Nike."

Mulvaney hit prominence doing "what appeared to be sketch comedy but actually wasn't: a TikTok series called '365 Days of Girlhood' in which the biological man Dylan transformed himself into a girl," Markowicz said. "Mulvaney kicks off the first video of the series saying, 'I’ve already cried three times. I wrote a scathing email that I didn’t send. I ordered dresses online that I couldn’t afford. And when someone asked me how I was I said ‘I’m fine!’ when I wasn’t fine.'"

The videos were like "asking ChatGPT to write a script on womanhood... that is deeply offensive but also unfunny," Markowicz wrote. "For this caricature of womanhood, Mulvaney has been rewarded with endorsement deals from brand after brand: Kate Spade, Ulta Beauty, CeraVe, Instacart and recently Nike and Bud Light." What's the big deal? Well, "ignoring it is what the large majority of the country were doing before women were recalibrated as 'birthing people' and suddenly no one could define 'woman' at all."

In Spectator, Teresa Mull said she feels sorry for Dylan Mulvaney.

"I can’t imagine the suffering people who do not identify with the sex God gave them must experience," Mull said. "Until recently, though, transgenderism was considered to be a mental illness, and though the American Psychiatric Association now diagnoses transgender people as having ‘gender dysphoria,’ doing so does not eliminate the mental health afflictions such people continue to endure." It's "pretty plain" Mulavaney is a person "in pain."

"Can you imagine how unhappy you must be to undergo surgery to change the shape of your face? Mulvaney has admitted to his misery, lamenting, 'Why will nobody kiss me?' and admitting that, 'I’m not enjoying my womanhood as much as I was… And my pain… is very real.'" We should "speak up" about Bud Light's campaign not just because it damages our "Judeo-Christian values," but because Mulvaney and millions of others "are victims of a godless, empty, loveless culture."

In Fox News, Vivek Ramaswamy criticized Bud Light for caving to the "gender insanity cult."

"For a drink that was once a blue-collar staple of middle America, this isn’t a winning sales strategy," Ramaswamy said. "One of the goals of my candidacy for president of the United States is to close the gap between what people are willing to say behind closed doors versus what they say in public. In that spirit, here goes: Dylan Mulvaney might need mental health care, not endorsement deals."

Ramaswamy argued that most trans people are "suffering from a mental illness," and he rejects the idea that it is "humane to affirm their confusion." Meanwhile, "the cult of gender ideology increasingly foists sexuality upon children ('drag queen story hour'), makes a mockery of women (can’t answer 'what is a woman'), and undermines female sports (Lia Thomas and countless others) by creating a zero-sum game where men with mental health disorders dominate at the expense of women." The trans movement has "successfully wrapped itself in a veneer of legitimacy" by hitching itself to queer rights, shutting down "rational debate or reasonable criticism."

What the left is saying.

  • Many on the left mock the right's outrage, and criticize the response as transphobic.
  • Some argue that Mulvaney is simply living her life like a normal person, and this enrages conservatives who want to control her.
  • Others say Bud Light ultimately caved to the pressure and betrayed Mulvaney.

In MSNBC, Katelyn Burns, a trans reporter, said the outrage is backfiring.

"It was the latest outcry in trend of conservatives getting upset at a company for 'going woke' — and then, confusingly, buying more products made by that company, just to destroy them in a performative social media post," Burns wrote. "Conservatives want a world in which trans people like Mulvaney are ashamed of being trans and driven into privacy and obscurity, not hawking cheap domestic beer and sports bras all over social media." But the truth is that trans people are normal people who "have jobs and homes and drink beers."

"Some of us wear sports bras and some of us don’t. Some of us drink whiskey, and all of us deserve to live lives free of government or conservative control — and that’s a fact that conservatives simply can’t abide," she said. "It says something, however, that for all the conservative boycott threats and cancellation attempts against Mulvaney, none of these companies have backed off from their campaigns involving her or other LGBTQ ambassadors. Companies have made their calculation that Mulvaney can help increase their bottom lines, perceived wokeness or not."

In USA Today, Rex Huppke wrote a sarcastic piece entitled "why I decided to shoot all my Bud Light."

"The company I have long supported by getting day drunk on Bud Light recently caved to the absurd liberal notion that we should treat everyone with kindness and respect by partnering with Dylan Mulvaney, who I’m told by Google is 'a transgender social media influencer,'" Huppke wrote. "I learned about this through my primary news source, Kid Rock’s Instagram page.

"I and my fellow truth-tellers took time away from our important crusade against the horrors of liberal cancel culture to encourage others to never, ever drink Bud Light again," he said. "I dare any of you to name a more noble quest than protesting a company by purchasing and then destroying its products while drawing vast, unpaid national attention to its brand. But despite the righteousness of shooting several dozen cans of beer I had just paid for, all I hear from you neighbors are complaints. What harm am I causing, aside from one stray bullet lightly grazing Ms. Henderson’s labradoodle?"

In Bloomberg, Ben Schott said Bud Light kicked a hornet's nest and ran away.

"The reaction to this collaboration from some quarters was as predictable as a Trump tweet," Schott wrote, adding that this is less a story about trans rights and more about corporate bravery. "Even Mulvaney’s harshest critics must acknowledge that she is standing tall in a hurricane of hate, taking the invective with remarkable poise. In cowardly contrast, Anheuser-Busch instantly retreated into the shadows. Ditching its regular schedule of promotion, Bud Light ceased posting to Instagram on March 30 and to Twitter on April 2; Anheuser-Busch was absent from Twitter and Instagram after April 1."

Then the CEO released a "bizarrely convoluted and incongruously patriotic statement." It's hard to figure out what the company "actually thinks about trans rights or Dylan Mulvaney," but it "sure sounds like a complex issue being thrown under the bus." The action by the 3rd most valuable beer brand in the world is worse than a gaffe; it’s a betrayal by Bud Light, which "sought to 'evolve and elevate' its 'fratty' image on the coat-tails of a trans-influencer — but quit when the going got tough."

My take.

Reminder: "My take" is a section where I give myself space to share my own personal opinion. If you have feedback, criticism, or compliments, don't unsubscribe. You can reply to this email and write in. You can also leave a comment.

I recently answered a reader question about which issues I like writing about the least, and I mentioned trans issues. Not because I am scared of the topic, but because — as this debate surely illustrates — so many people view it as a great battle of "good vs. evil," and seem so totally incapable of approaching it with any kind of rationality or attempt at empathy for the other side. Too often, debates about trans issues play out like this one: No substantive disagreements about a policy or law or psychology or medical science, but almost entirely emotional culture war posturing online.

Let me start with the easy stuff. Karol Marcowicz (under "What the right is saying") said "Trans people have always existed, and everyone was fine with it."

That’s either wishful thinking or revisionist history, but it’s not realistic. The movement for more trans visibility would not have become a priority on the left if everyone had always been fine with trans people. Just a few years ago, gay Americans faced considerable backlash for gaining marriage equality, and are still fighting for widespread acceptance. Whatever your feelings, the idea that "everyone" was or is "fine" with trans people is self-evidently untrue, as can be seen in the culture warriors on the right and left fighting against and for the normalization of trans people.

Katelyn Burns (under "What the left is saying") wrote that trans people just want "lives free of government or conservative control — and that’s a fact that conservatives simply can’t abide."

As one of the most visible trans pundits in America, Burns is well positioned to articulate the desires of trans people here. But she’s overplaying her hand describing the Bud Light boycott as an act of government or conservative control. Conflating a boycott with actual government overreach into the lives of trans people is a counter-productive way to have this argument, and it makes real threats to the rights of trans Americans less clear. As stupid as I think it is for Kid Rock to go buy a few cases of Bud Light to shoot up with a rifle in his backyard, he isn't violating anyone's rights by doing so.

Writing about "trans rights" is especially fraught because the expression itself is vague, and very obviously means different things to different people. It should not be complicated to say that transgender Americans deserve the same protection and equality under the law as all other Americans. Believing that they all deserve dignity and freedom does not mean you have to think that gender affirming care is always the right medical choice (it often isn’t), that trans athletes should always be able to compete in divisions matching their gender identity (which is situationally dependent), or that disliking Dylan Mulvaney in particular makes you a transphobe (it doesn’t).

I don’t personally like Mulvaney. Not because she is trans, but because her online personality — as with most "influencers" — can be grating and annoying. The conservatives who wrote about Mulvaney, including Marcowicz, raise some good points, too. Her online personality is a caricature of a woman, and I understand why many women might find it offensive. Mulvaney seems to be reinforcing the idea that crying several times a day and going on shopping sprees are what makes someone a woman. We should all be offended by that.

Now, Mulvaney might find comfort in over-the-top expression of femininity. But consider this: Before writing this piece, I had two trans women who read Tangle write to me — unprompted — to criticize Mulvaney, and express worries about the damage she is doing to trans women more generally. It’s worth emphasizing that minority groups are not monoliths, and disagreements about trans issues exist within the trans community itself.

To me, there is also something deeply ironic and silly about this whole boycott. I mean, aside from the obvious — they sent Mulvaney a few beers, relax! — Bud Light has been "woke" for a long time, if we're going to use the already overused term. For literally decades, Bud Light was the "queer beer" alternative to Coors, which had been accused of discriminatory hiring practices in the 1950s. Fast forward to today, and many conservatives publicly dumped Bud Light for partnering with Mulvaney, declaring their loyalty to Coors. I guess they were unaware Coors has partnered with Caitlyn Jenner, a conservative activist and trans athlete? Is Coors okay because Jenner is conservative? Or because she is a more "acceptable" trans person? Or maybe they simply didn't know?

As I've said in the past, the U.S. is possibly the most pluralistic society in the world, if not in human history. That’s what we all sign up for by living here, but there is still inherent tension in that. If you are someone who views trans people as evil or sick or unnatural, consider that you may actually already know a trans person — and really getting to know that person might change your perspective. Exposure is the best antidote to ignorance, fear and hate.

Similarly, if you think anyone who can't wrap their head around the idea of transitioning genders or preferred pronouns is evil and transphobic, I suggest trying to have a conversation with someone with those misgivings. You might find, as I have, that their concerns are usually not rooted in hate or malice.

My biggest takeaway from this episode is just how much more of that kind of dialogue we need. Every day, I hope for a world with less tweeting, fewer TikTok influencers, and zero influential people whose first impulse is to shoot up a case of beer with a gun when they’re mad. In that world, we might actually go seek out the people we don't understand or like. We could learn a bit more about each other in the real world, in real terms, with real dialogue. Maybe even over a nice cold Bud Light — or maybe even over a beer.

I'll keep hoping.

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Your questions, answered.

Q: I love reading Tangle and have shared it with many. You said you don't support electing judges, which I understand. But what do you think would be the best way to appoint them? How would appointments not also be politically biased and motivated — different means but same ends — as we've seen so clearly in the recent battles over U.S. Supreme Court appointees?

— Anonymous from Minneapolis, Minnesota

Tangle: First, I just want to say I reject the premise of the question. I don't think judicial appointments and judicial elections have the "same ends." When we aren’t using elections, judges are typically nominated by an executive (like a governor, who is elected in a general election) or voted on by a legislative body (like a senate, which requires some level of consensus). Judicial elections regularly turn into what is effectively a primary, where the most active and partisan voters participate while a majority of the voting population doesn't. By their very nature, judicial elections will result in more partisan justices than we’d get from appointments.

Believe it or not, I actually think the system we have in the Senate is the best option: Nominations by an executive with confirmations by a legislative body. The only big downside to this is that it creates incentives for moderate, ideologically homogeneous judges. But that is only true if the legislative body itself remains moderate, which it won't if the voting population tilts heavily one way or the other.

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Under the radar.

Yesterday, federal officials arrested two New York residents under allegations of conspiring to act as agents of the Chinese government. The defendants are accused of setting up and operating an illegal Chinese police station in the middle of New York that was being used to intimidate political dissidents. The Justice Department says the two men, American citizens who allegedly set up the outpost, deleted their communications with China's Ministry of Public Security (MPS) once they learned of the FBI investigation. CBS News has the story.


  • 49%. The percentage of Americans who now identify as politically independent, the most ever recorded.
  • 64%. The percentage of Americans who said they would favor or strongly favor laws and policies that protect transgender people from discrimination in jobs, housing and public spaces.
  • 10%. The percentage of Americans who said they would oppose or strongly oppose such laws.
  • 60%. The percentage of Americans who believe a person's gender is determined by sex assigned at birth.
  • 38%. The percentage of Americans who believe a person's gender can be different from sex assigned at birth.
  • 38%. The percentage of Americans who say society has gone too far in accepting people who are transgender.
  • 36%. The percentage of Americans who say society hasn't gone far enough in accepting people who are transgender.

The extras.

  • One year ago today, we were on spring break and didn't have a newsletter.
  • The most clicked link in yesterday's newsletter was our ad for Puck News.
  • Traitorous: 49.1% of Tangle readers said they opposed Jack Teixeira's leak and viewed him as a traitor. Just 2.97% said they support it and think he's a hero. 32.4% said they view it as somewhere in between.
  • Nothing to do with politics: I'm still trying to wrap my head around Evans Chebet, who won yesterday's Boston Marathon by running for two hours at a 4:37 mile pace (for 26 miles).
  • Take the poll. How do you view trans acceptance in America? Let us know.

Have a nice day.

Australian scientists say they have successfully used a backyard mold to break down one of the world's most difficult-to-recycle plastics. Researchers at the University of Sydney found that two types of fungi could be harnessed to attack polypropylene, one of the most common plastics used in everything from takeout containers to machinery. It took 90 days for the fungi, Aspergillus terreus and Engyodontium album, to degrade 27% of the plastic tested, and about 140 days for it to completely break it down. The researchers hope the discovery could lead to new and more effective methods to reduce plastic pollution. Australian Broadcasting Corporation has the story.

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Isaac Saul
I'm a politics reporter who grew up in Bucks County, PA — one of the most politically divided counties in America. I'm trying to fix the way we consume political news.