Everyone with a shred of awareness who woke up this morning to news of the President vomiting nonsense on Twitter, yet again, was neither surprised nor disappointed. This is Trump at his most predictable, and it is exactly what we should expect. Seemingly out of left field, he announced a ban on transgender military personnel.
The buzz that has circulated since has been about how this is at odds with official military policy. It is also clearly at odds with the cultural direction the United States military has taken, when we learned just a few days back that the USS Gerald Ford, the US Navy’s newest supercarrier, is the first US Navy vessel to be commissioned with gender-neutral bathrooms.
A second layer of buzz has circulated talking about how this transgender military ban is just a giant distraction tactic put out by the President to shift the public’s attention away from the healthcare debacle presently underway in the United States Senate. Pundits and people ostensibly on the left who admonish others for engaging in “identity politics” suggest that a truly odious healthcare bill will pass without so much as a peep from a complacent media and people riled up by the President’s latest bigoted tweets.
This, of course, has prompted reactions where transgender people insist they are not a distraction. They, too, are people, and their rights and dignity are being trampled.
The truth, of course, is that everyone is right. Transgender people are not a distraction to be disenfranchised. They are people. The Republicans in the Senate very much are trying to pass odious healthcare legislation. The United States military had been taking moves toward inclusion and tolerance. And, yes, this almost certainly is a gigantic distractionary tactic on the part of Trump.
None of this is new or different. Trump is very much aware that a divided populace is easy to manipulate and control, and that the attention span of the average American is not particularly long. What’s more, a harried and fearful populace, on the brink or in the throes of economic insecurity, with the specter of war looming the world around, simply does not have the time to engage with each and every political maneuver made by the corrupt government of the United States. A few acts of political prestidigitation is all it takes to buy government officials enough time to slip whatever repugnant element of their agenda is next on the docket right past a wary public.
The question is not about the veracity of any of the above. The question is why it even works at all. Why can Trump play this age-old game of divide and conquer? Why is the political left so easy to maneuver around?
The answer is the same answer to so many persistent problems: If your activism is not intersectional, it is worthless. If your politics are not intersectional, they are unjust. If you can argue for better economic policy, but overlook racial injustice to get there, you are not helping. If you can argue for better immigration policy, but simply ignore the problem of homophobia, you are not helping. If you can argue for racial justice and, at the same time, condone religious intolerance, you’re part of the problem. If your solution to climate change leads to the impoverishment of millions of people around the world, it is no solution at all. If you argue for the inclusion of transgender persons in the United States military, but fail to question the savage American imperialism that very military backs, then your activism is garbage.
It requires a substantial amount of effort and unwavering self-reflection to maintain an intersectional outlook about all things at all times. But, the cost for failing to do so in all of our activism, politics, and advocacy is that Trump’s extremely predictable tweet tactics remain politically viable. All injustices are interlinked, and, when you open the door to one, you open the door to all of them. If Trump can successfully use the issue of transgender people serving in the military to lay down cover for a vile piece of legislation, then this just serves as an object lesson of one injustice ushering in another. We will see bigotry beget economic disenfranchisement which, itself, will beget a threat to the health and lives of millions of people.
Instead of adopting pet issues and telling people “your problem is bad, but my problem is worse, so you are foolish not to focus on it,” we simply need to realize that everything is the same problem. Injustice is injustice, regardless of how it manifests, and to legitimately be against one type of injustice is to be against all types of injustice. It is white supremacy. It is the oligarchy. It is the patriarchy. It is the military industrial complex. It is oppression. It is imperialism. It is the police state. It is terror. It is the Holocaust. It is the apocalypse. It has many names and many faces, but, at its core, it is always the same entity that reaches out to attack, distract, and dominate. If it finds a hole in our defenses, all of its methods of injustice flow through the breach to take root, once again, in the political mainstream, where we find ourselves fighting the same battles over and over again.