Distractions and Manipulations: Transgender Redefinition
Published October 30, 2018 / Updated August 6, 2020

Distractions and Manipulations: Transgender Redefinition

A short series on media manipulation

by Chris Thomas

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Image by Ted Eytan

Editor’s Note

This is “Part 2 on our series of awful issues meant to distract and manipulate” the American electorate. Part 1 covered the Migrant Caravan and is available here.

Distractions and Manipulations: The Caravan

This essay focuses on transgender rights (which are not a “distraction”), a critical front in a new LGBTQ civil rights movement and how the administration’s timing of its attack against them reeks of a cynical, political agenda.

Let’s just start out with an obvious statement: if you are transgender, being understood and recognized as such is extremely important. But, for all that importance, the recognition, understanding, and freedom from discrimination and persecuting you need demands very little from the U.S. government, even as an employer. While transgender identities may be considered challenging in competitive sports or the military, in professional, civilian, office life they can often be accommodated with a press release.

That’s why the Trump administration’s move to classify gender based on biological markers is such a naked and obvious attempt to manipulate the news cycle and control the media. Since the announcement comes down to a change in internal rules, the Trump Administration doesn’t need Congress’ approval to reclassify transgender federal employees. Legally speaking, it can do so whenever and however it wants to.

So it’s no accident that they’re talking about doing so now. The midterm elections are about a week away and Democrats are polling roughly eight points ahead in the generic ballot. This is going to come down to the wire and election night is going to be a nail-biter, but Republicans are understandably nervous.

That’s why they’re trotting out the wedge issues — issues that motivate voters, drive the GOP base to the polls, keep marginal Democrats at home, and generally don’t figure into any major policy initiative. The Trump Administration’s interest in reclassifying gender as a “biological, immutable condition determined by genitalia at birth” is one of those wedge issues.

Image by Eye DJ

Now, the administration’s position is hurtful, painful, dehumanizing, and cruel towards transgender individuals, but it doesn’t actually change much of anything from the government’s standpoint. There is no policy objective accomplished here that Trump can point to and say “we got this done and all we had to do was treat transgender people like garbage.” Heck, the policy doesn’t even make scientific sense.

But in doing this — in being awful and taking this position — the GOP forces Democrats to take an opposing position. Of the two parties, Democrats are the ones trying to hold together a larger coalition. That coalition ranges from “people who are actually transgender themselves” all the way over to “people who are a little uncomforatable about whole LGBTQ thing but dislike Trump.” Meanwhile the Republican base pretty much excludes the LGBTQ community and its allies wholesale, so this costs them nothing.

For Republicans, then, this is a smart, callous, and mercenary play. Making Democrats take time to discuss issues like gender identity weakens the Democratic coalition while distracting from messaging that might actually resonate with undecided or unmobilized voters.

Issues like the shootings in Pittsburgh, the bombing attacks on politicians and media outlets, healthcare, social security, medicare, the deficit, tax breaks for the wealthy, veterans care, corruption, nepotism, trade, foreign policy, human rights, Russian election interference, and the hundreds of other policy catastrophes that lay strewn about the last two years.

Keep your eye on the ball.

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