Transphobia Is a Sham

As a parade of “bathroom bills” traipses across the landscape, every mainstream media outlet takes care to stipulate that the scary scenario of men pretending to be trans women in order to rape little girls in public restrooms is “not supported by the facts,” journo-speak for utter bullshit. As usual, the mainstream media doesn’t go far enough. Not only is the bathroom menace nonsense, the whole idea of seeing trans people as a threat is phony.

In most states, it’s legal to discriminate against trans people in employment and housing, and the recent state laws have broadened the permissible discrimination to public accommodations and even health care! In most of the US, trans people have little or no legal protections and are the most-murdered people in America. Despite the frankly bizarre assertions of a weirdly out-of-touch Southern governor, there is no group in America more maligned, victimized, marginalized, and isolated than the trans community. Not only are they not a physical threat, they are not even a cultural threat because they are such a tiny minority, most of whom live in secret.

The real reason professional activists are writing and lobbying for these laws is as ballot bait: to get gullible conservatives to the polls in an attempt to change the unfavorable demographics in the 2016 Presidential election. Now, with Donald Trump as the apparent nominee, even the Senate is up for grabs, and the rhetoric and legislation take on a particularly shrill and desperate character. There’s a reason why North Carolina has ratcheted up the severity of its voter suppression and anti-LGBT lawmaking: it was known to be a swing state in the Presidential race this year, but now the whole ballot is under Democratic threat.

So, the next time you hear someone defend anti-trans discrimination, recognize that it’s just a cheap attempt to exploit ignorant fear for political gain. It’s not an argument, or indeed a view, you need to respect. Transphobia is a sham.

#BernieOrBust Is Stupid.

#BernieOrBust, the movement/idea to boycott the Presidential election if Bernie Sanders doesn’t get the nomination, is a really dumb idea. I put all the obvious, probably insulting, reasons why it’s dumb at the end so I could point out what should be obvious, but somehow isn’t:

Don’t leave the Democratic Party, take it over.

Google “[Your County Name] Democratic Executive Committee,” show up at the next meeting, and apply to be an appointed, then an elected, precinct committee member. County DECs elect State Committees, who elect the Democratic National Committee. Bernie supporters are,on average, younger and more passionate than the average DEC member. Use that. It’s your Party, take it. The next Progressive firebrand who runs for President would be the Establishment candidate, not an insurgent outsider.

The obvious, probably insulting, reasons why it’s dumb not to vote for President:

The immediate result will be to dramatically increase the odds of electing a far-right nutjob as President who will, with a Republican Congress, undo the modest progress of the last eight years. We will lose the Affordable Care Act, and up to a hundred thousand Americans will receive a death sentence. The dramatic progress made in solar power and electric cars will be destroyed by industry lobbyists, and we will dramatically blow through our carbon targets. The progress made on equal pay, access to contraception, protections for victims of sexual assault and Domestic violence is viewed as unamerican by the Republicans. Kiss civil liberties goodbye. If you thought Obama was bad on deportation, privacy, encryption, whistleblowers, racial justice, drug policy reform, criminal justice, etc.; the GOP all think he’s too soft on all of the above and want to crush individual liberty. Since there will be at least two vacancies on a 4-4 Supreme Court for them to fill without the need for compromise, their agenda would become essentially permanent public policy in the US. You’d be handing them the keys to the kingdom. It very well might be one person, one vote, one time.

If you thought Obama was a warmonger, oh, boy, you ain’t seen nothing yet. I live a few miles from Central Command Headquarters. I have a personal stake in avoiding the consequences of a right-wing President’s miscalculation of Vladimir Putin. Every one of the GOP candidates wants a tougher, more violent foreign policy, and Republicans in Congress all agree with them. I have never heard any Republican elected official or their advisers mention the risks of more aggressive foreign policy. Have you?

Colonies are unAmerican

Puerto Rico’s debt crisis has finally reached the public consciousness thanks to Jon Oliver:

Setting aside for the moment the absurdity of public policy in the world’s most powerful country being dictated by late night comedy and variety shows, I’d like to focus instead on the absurdity of a country, founded in a revolutionary war against a colonial empire, that maintains colonies over a large part of the world.

In 1901, in a series of frankly racist majority opinions, the Supreme Court ruled that the residents of conquered and subverted lands could be denied basic protections of citizenship because they were inferior and incapable of self-government. It was one thing to accept the unacceptable when racism was a respectable and majority view. It’s quite another to assert stare decisis when you can be fired from virtually any job for spouting such odious nonsense.

The bizarre and byzantine series of statuses held by residents of different American territories is best explained by:

and, again, by Jon Oliver:

While the text contains a hole big enough to drive a truck full of Federalist Society nutjobs to a book burning, the gist of the Fourteenth Amendment is pretty clear:

All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside. No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.

It’s also pretty clear that a country established as an Enlightenment-era political experiment in liberty is inviting some pretty serious political legitimacy questions by maintaining empire and demi-citizenship.
It produces legal and political precedents for all kinds of assaults on human rights, whether economically or politically motivated. It makes no difference whether these abuses take place overseas or in the District of Columbia. There can be no half-citizens. Every liberal and progressive should be committed to the principle of In or Out: Every place subject to American law must be part of a state whose residents have full representation both in Congress and the Executive or it must be all or part of an independent country. After all, our first rallying cry was:


The Party of Women

In the last 40 years, the Democratic Party, long the political home of Southern segregationists and Northern labor unionists, has been searching for a constituency. Ham-handed attempts to appeal to Black voters are no substitute for a ballot with Barack Obama at the top. Our appeal to Hispanics can be summed up as: “those other guys really hate you.” As for youth outreach, well:

The less said, the better. Hillary with the stars of “Broad City.”

If only the GOP would embark on a program to find brilliant new ways to piss off 51 percent of the American population. Hmmmm ….

How about, when asked for ways to prevent campus rape, the “moderate” Republican candidate for President were to advise staying away from parties? No? OK, Well for parents trying to balance work and kids, you can take your babies to work, right? Well, at least working women can earn money to raise those kids. OK, no kids, focus on work. Well, it’s not like all those Republicans elected in the States in 2010 pulled some bait and switch after promising jobs and spent their time trying to ban abortion instead, right? No, obviously not.

See, none of this is fair. Surely the top two Republican politicians in the US have a disciplined, professional attitude toward the majority of Americans. I’ll bet the GOP’s Presidential front-runner has a genius for pandering to women voters. No? Well, then, there’s always his responsible opponent.

The Democratic record on measures strengthening families’ health and pocketbooks could be a useful electoral counterpoint. I don’t think there’s any reason to be coy about it. If there’s one way Democrats, warts and all, could shatter the GOP’s governing coalition, this is it.

The Power of Simple


In the 2016 Presidential election, one of the greatest sources of amusement has been experienced political pundits and journalists struggling to understand why political technocrats with long resumes and impressive accomplishments have fought long, sometimes losing, struggles against also-rans like Donald Trump or Bernie Sanders.

For me, this confusion signals the power and longevity of one of the most powerful myths in American politics: the idea that rational thought is important in voters’ decision-making. The logic of our constitution, with its protection of political speech, creating a “marketplace of ideas;” our belief in the meaning of debates; the roots of our philosophy of minimal government in the Scottish Enlightenment; etc. all embody this belief. The idea that, given the available information, people will make the decision best for them is so pervasive in American life that it’s impossible to give a complete account of its reach and consequence.

The truth is that, while humans are capable of using logic and reason after rigorous discipline and training, we can never be free of the biological nature of our brains. Ideas have power when they support our emotional attachments. When you ask people to do things like write checks, knock doors and drag our monkey asses to the polling place, you have to motivate us. You have to flatter us and insult our enemies because that territorial baboon never goes away. Narrow technocratic appeals ain’t gonna cut it, folks. Ask Jeb Bush or Lindsey Graham, or oh, you can’t, `cause they’re politically dead. Why hasn’t Hillary Clinton, whose power and presence scared almost every major Democrat out of the race this cycle, clinched the nomination in late April? The reason is that people need enemies and they need hope. Yeah, I hear your “tssk” of disapproval from here. You ain’t any different, and neither am I.

Like it or not, we’re tribal creatures with utopian leanings. When Trump promises that “We’re gonna win so much, your head will spin,” or Bernie promises “a political revolution,” it fires up millions of people. When they promise to make China or billionaires pay for their programs, their rallies fill up and voters stream to the polls. Supporters make heroes of political neophytes or obscure legislators, making art or dressing themselves or their children in their likeness, and generally making fools of themselves in their presence or in their name. This kind of irrational frenzy has political power because emotion impels action, and politics is not about getting people to think something. It’s about getting them to do something.

That the downside to emotional appeals in politics is, well, apocalyptic, doesn’t change the facts. Humans need simple, comprehensible emotional appeals to motivate them. Our responsibility as campaigners and activists is to understand and use the emotional character of the human mind to influence voters. If we want to drag America, kicking and screaming, into the Twenty-First Century, we gotta do it by the short-and-curlies. The Right gets that. We’d better start.

Why Bernie Sanders Matters

Although the Vermont senator’s path to the nomination is almost entirely closed, his popularity with key Democratic demographics tells us how to win national power. The key to Sanders’ success was his message of economic empowerment, amplified by a lifetime devoted to economic democracy. The reason for Democratic weakness is that our rhetoric of economic, cultural, and social pluralism is not paired with a consistent record of pursuing it.

Bernie Sanders

Without a lifetime of loyalty to the Democratic Party, young voters vote for Sanders, seeing authenticity in his consistency and longevity. The decrepit party Hillary and Bill Clinton inherited, hollowed out by the backlash to civil rights legislation and its own abandonment of the labor movement, lacks such ideological cohesion and, for lack of a better word, a brand. Without that identity, the general public, without activists’ loyalty to party, has no way of knowing what we stand for and no reason to turn out to vote for down-ballot races that lack the personalities of the national campaigns. The transactional, inches-every-down style that the Clintons and their inheritors favor merely deepens the problem.

The results of this lack of broad appeal could not be clearer. When you leave the cities and the coasts, Democratic power in America disappears. The GOP controls 23 state trifectas (governor and both houses of the legislature), the Democrats 7. Almost all the government that affects most people in this country is run by the most extreme conservatives to hold power in America in three-quarters of a century. This has been enough to threaten women’s right to chooseeffectively disenfranchise millions of Americans, and deny millions of Americans access to healthcare out of spite. The Democratic Party’s failure to turn out younger, poorer, non-white, and low-information voters in down-ballot elections is directly related to our lack of a consistent and appealing brand that could mobilize those voters. A strong economic populist appeal could be the key to that brand.

Sanders’ huge success with younger and independent voters shows there is a constituency for his populist brand of politics, and that the party cannot count on the loyalty of those left-leaning outsiders. Their loyalty must be earned. If the party were to adopt a Sanders or Warren-style populist message consistently enough to make it our brand, we could turn out an expanded electorate in Congressional and state races, instead of just the top of the ballot, enabling us to truly contest Republican power where they hold a decisive advantage.

Although Sanders’ political career may be coming to an end, his ability to raise enough money and inspire enough support to build a campaign completely outside the party make it inevitable that a younger and more appealing candidate will repeat his success to greater effect in a future cycle. It has also brought millions of new left-wing Democrats into the party at a time when aging county committees are crying out for new blood. I hope they are our future, because without them, we may not have one.