On Sunday, The New York Times published an article with the chilling headline “‘Transgender’ Could be Defined Out of Existence Under Trump Administration.” The article generated much discussion on political Twitter, some of which showed that there are far too many anti-Trump Americans who still don’t grasp the very real theocratic threat to human rights Trumpism entails.
A typical tweet read:
Dont fall for the distraction by Trump with Trans Rights. This is solely to fire up his base. Instead of arguing or getting into a battle with Twitter trolls, reply with the following then Mute them: “I plan to show my support for Transgender Rights by voting BLUE on Nov. 6th”
While the message to vote in support of trans rights is laudable, there are numerous problems with this “distraction” framing. First and foremost, even if the Trump administration is approaching the issue of reversing transgender rights and protections purely cynically, and even if the Departments of Education and Health and Human Services do not intend to follow through with their plans to make gender an immutable category defined by genitalia at birth, it is deeply unethical to treat government pronouncements that target the vulnerable, and thereby increase the likelihood of violence against a population already disproportionately subjected to discrimination and violence, as “a distraction” that has no real impact. Scapegoating is a core feature of fascism, in which internal “enemies” who are defined out of “the nation” or “the people” are necessary to sustain the regime.
Keeping the population in motion is also a key feature of authoritarianism, and “flooding the zone” with shocking move after shocking move, and lie after lie, is part and parcel of fascist efforts to demoralize the population and to eliminate objective truth so that there is nothing left but power. Furthermore, when the Trump administration considers and implements policy changes based on lies about the state of contemporary science and medical best practices relative to members of the LGBTQ community, it is not merely “firing up” or “duping” Trump’s white evangelical and rad trad Catholic base. The Trump administration has a pattern of pursuing the Christian Right’s agenda.
Perhaps the most glaring example of President Trump implementing a Christian Right priority that pundits, taking their cue from previous GOP presidents, thought he would never really follow through on, is his move of the U.S. Embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. Pastor John Hagee, one of the most prominent evangelical end times prophecy pushers, was invited to give the benediction at the new embassy’s opening in May. And the signs of Trumpism as theocracy have been there all along for those who have eyes to see, so to speak.
Scapegoating is a core feature of fascism, in which internal “enemies” who are defined out of “the nation” or “the people” are necessary to sustain the regime.
While more or less shunning religious leaders of a more liberal persuasion, Trump has maintained an evangelical advisory board, providing his evangelical supporters with an unprecedented level of White House access. All the while, the Trump administration is packed with radical evangelicals and right-wing Catholics, including in top-level cabinet posts. Vice President Mike Pence, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, and Attorney General Jeff Sessions are all right-wing Protestants known to attend a weekly Bible study hosted by Capitol Ministries’ Pastor Ralph Drollinger, whose radical views include young earth creationism and that women should not teach men.
When Jeff Sessions quoted Romans 13 to defend the Trump administration’s cruel “zero tolerance” policy of caging immigrant children separated from their asylum-seeking parents at the border, he was using the same rhetoric and talking points as Drollinger (and also an old standby of slaveholder Christianity). Naturally, Drollinger is an opponent of LGBTQ rights.
So, why shouldn’t we expect the Trump administration to follow through on queer erasure and anti-transgender discrimination? Indeed, it already is. One of the earliest policy moves the Trump administration made was to overturn Obama administration Department of Education guidance on Title IX that was meant to protect trans rights. Only about six months into his administration, Trump announced a ban on trans people serving in the military. Despite four court orders overturning the ban, Trump has worked to defy the courts and move ahead with the ban.
So, when HHS and the DOE now move toward the further dismantling of trans rights, we can expect that they intend to follow through, that the Justice Department will back them up, and that, ultimately, increasingly right-wing radical federal courts, stacked with Trump appointees, will uphold discriminatory policies. This may happen even with massive public outcry, which did not stop Brett Kavanaugh from being appointed to the Supreme Court despite credible accusations of sexual assault, but we must make ourselves heard nonetheless. And in order to resist, we must understand that Trumpism is not just kleptocracy, but also theocracy.