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PSA: Throwing Trans People Under The Bus Will Not Help Democrats Win Elections
It would also just be a crap thing to do.
We are all of us bound, in some way, by the stories we tell ourselves about ourselves. We get married to certain narratives. We create our own superstitions. If we do this , then this will or won't happen, if we don't do this , then this will or won't happen. A story much of the Democratic Party has told itself is that the surest way to earn the respect of the American people is to openly denounce things Republicans consider objectionable or have tried to make frightening, thereby appearing reasonable and open to compromise. The only way to get some of the things we want, they argue, is to give up on other things we want. After all, we cannot let perfect be the enemy of the good!
Every once in a while, these sorts will come out with a statement or an op-ed explaining that if the Democratic Party wants to survive, they're gonna have to go a little Donner Party . Years ago it was anti-war activists and gay rights advocates, these days it's often criminal justice reform advocates, Democratic socialists and abortion rights writ large. Oh, and trans people.
James and Margaret Reed of the Donner Party. They ate some folks. commons.wikimedia.org
Without calling anyone out in particular, there have been more than a few people lately saying that if Democrats want to win elections, they're just gonna have to throw trans people under the bus. Let's just say that as attacks against transgender people and queer people in general have ramped up across the US, as Proud Boys invade Drag Queen Story Hours and call everyone who doesn't share their bigotry a "groomer" or a "pedophile," some people have thought, out loud, that Democrats should perhaps just cry uncle and cede this issue to the Right, so that they will stop using it against them.
The very idea of this should make us all ill, for the obvious reasons. At least those of us who care about human rights.
But perhaps one of the most irritating things about this strategy is that there is no actual proof that it works. The best evidence they have is that Bill Clinton talked shit about a Black woman one time and then won the presidential election five months later (after doing and saying multiple other things that some might argue were more compelling). It would be one thing if there were multiple instances they could point to and say "Hey, we rolled over on these people and look where it got us!" But they can't.
One can make an argument for eating people for reasons of survival. Not everyone will agree, but the argument could reasonably be made. However, without a life-or-death situation on the table, you're just Jeffrey Dahmer. An argument can be made that if you are stranded in the ocean after your cruise ship sinks and all you have is a door to hang onto, not sharing that door with Leonardo DiCaprio is reasonable to safe your own life. But if there's room for him on the door ...
I am not a fan of utilitarianism, personally, but if you're going to argue utilitarianism, you can't be bad at utilitarianism. If you're going to argue utilitarianism, you have to actually prove that the thing you want to do is going to produce the best result for the largest number of people. If you can't, I don't know what that is, but it's not utilitarianism.
This strategy is not utilitarianism because it has backfired more often than it has been successful.
NAFTA, Don't Ask Don't Tell, the 1994 Crime Bill, support for the Iraq War, support for "civil unions" over marriage equality — all of these things were supposed to help Democrats. They were supposed to make Democrats seem reasonable and fair, they were supposed to win over swing voters and even some Republicans, they were supposed to make Republicans more willing to compromise. None of that ever happened . No thank you notes were sent, no IOUs or brownie points given.
What did happen was that each of these issues was later used against Democrats running for office once everyone realized that these (conservative) ideas were exactly as bad as the prematurely correct among us said they were going to be. What did happen is that Democrats alienated a lot of people they needed to win elections. Perhaps the main problem with this strategy is that if you keep Sister Souljah moment-ing all of your constituencies, you eventually run out of constituencies.
"Vote for us because we've done stuff for you and stood by you" is a much easier sell than "vote for us and maybe we'll get to your shit later, but also the only other option is fascism, so you're a terrible person and a fascist if you don't." This does not mean that the latter argument is not reasonable, it's just that it is tougher to make. It also sows division and resentment and sourness among people who should be allies.
At some point, we have to realize that Republicans are just not acting in good faith. If Democrats roll over on something over right-wing criticism, they'll just find a new thing to go after, and they'll keep doing it over and over again, because it works.
The only way to "win" is to stop the cycle, to not roll over on anybody or any issue, to not show weakness, and to be decent, door-sharing, non-cannibalistic human beings. These are people we are talking about. They are our friends, neighbors, co-workers, family and, most importantly of all, our fellow human beings. If we don't stand up when people are being discriminated against and oppressed, because we're worried it might not go over with the popular kids, then what is the point of us?
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