Like a toddler casting aside a toy he has tired of playing with, the Trump administration has tossed xenophobia out of its crib, for the moment. That’s good. But it then picked up sexual panic as its guide while casting government policy. That’s bad.
The issue of students using bathrooms they are comfortable with exists only in the minds of hysterical parents worried about crimes that never actually occur. And, of course, religious fanatics looking for someone to oppress. But that’s enough for our new alt-right federal government, meticulously working its way down the list of cheap symbolic victories, to turn its attention to a new enemy: transgender students.
After the Justice Department on Wednesday revoked federal guidelines that schools must allow transgender kids to use bathrooms according to their sexual identity, it’s a good idea to pause, step back and play connect the dots. President Donald Trump’s first month was roiled by his bigoted, unnecessary and illegal order restricting travel from seven Muslim countries. His second month now starts out by addressing another non-problem: the tiny percentage of children using bathrooms assigned to a gender they consider their own instead of ones belonging to the gender they were born into. In between, he announced that undocumented immigrants will be rounded up and deported by the millions.
What do these actions have in common?
Well, the administration would say that Trump is addressing the nation’s most pressing problems, which apparently involve the risk of Syrian families finding refuge here, migrant workers picking strawberries unmolested, and fifth-graders struggling with gender issues using the bathrooms they would like to use.
Myself, I wouldn’t choose these three. But then, I am not a bully. These actions are not being taken because they must be but because they can be. No matter what spurious bogeymen are raised, this is the government lashing out for no good reason at vulnerable communities who can’t easily fight back. Trump sure isn’t confronting bankers with their supposed excesses now, is he?
These bullies must have some kind of urgent need. Maybe it’s a little victory, to step on those beneath you. Makes ’em feel less bad about themselves. And it’s far easier to strike a blow against grandmothers from Yemen, short brown men hanging around the parking lots of Home Depots looking for day work, and girls who change their name from Coleen to Lee, than it is to, oh, defeat ISIS or bring back coal.
There is good news. The feds didn’t order school districts to force transgender kids into the bathrooms matching their birth plumbing, just turned the question back to the states. Bad, if you live in the Old South which, denied the fun of grinding down black folk, at least officially, has had to get creative. But good in places like Chicago, where we’re not going to start abusing our kids just because Donald Trump says it’s now OK. The Chicago Public Schools announced that its transgender policies will not be blown away by the wind blowing from Washington.
“While tonight federal protections for transgender students have been rolled back, I want to be clear that the city of Chicago’s and Chicago Public Schools policies providing equal rights to transgender residents and students will remain unchanged,” Mayor Rahm Emanuel said Wednesday. “Chicago will stay steadfast in our commitment to fight for equality and against discrimination in all its forms.”
Remember: bullies always have a reason, always offer an indignant explanation why they are the true victims. Trump has to erode facts, because otherwise the facts don’t back up his bullying. Not the travel ban, throwing the world into chaos to stop people from seven majority Muslim countries whose residents have never caused a terrorist death in the United States. There’s the nightmarish immigrant roundup, with its Orwellian provision about publicizing immigrant crime, even though illegal immigrants commit fewer crimes than red-blooded American types do. And now Trump has invited good old boys like Attorney General Jeff Sessions to drag these weirdos out of the bathroom and behind the football stands, where they can receive the treatment they deserve.
Or put another way: How big of a national problem is baking wedding cakes for gay couples, really? Now consider how much time we’ve spent talking about it. The bottom line is half the country is not threatened by any of these good people. But nearly half the country is. That’s the segment that elected Donald Trump, and they won’t be denied their fun, not so long as their hand holds the whip. And it does.Tweets by @neilsteinberg