Keeping track of the endless Trump scandals is a Sisyphean task: As soon as you fully dissect one anti-Democratic transgression, the rock rolls back down the hill as our faux president torches another American norm.
Attacking the free press, embracing murderous dictators, retaliating in the pettiest of ways against critics, enforcing an overtly racist ideology, demonizing longtime allies and late night tweets ridiculing everyone from Oprah and Meryl to Trudeau and Merkel. The list goes on.
Sadly, too many of us are taking the bait and wasting time and resources playing along with social media posts of our own responding to Trump and his enablers. Mainstream cable news outlets have devoted endless hours of pearl-clutching commentary to all the tweets. Instead, we should remain focused and resist being distracted by the sideshows. They are a smokescreen intended to hide what’s really going on, which is a systematic dismantling of the U.S. government. And it’s happening across agencies, from the State Department to the Department of the Interior. As Trump tweets, his sycophants roll back environmental regulations, abandon treaties, gut healthcare. And make no mistake that Obama-era LGBT protections are in the crosshairs. The Blade chronicles these attacks on a near daily basis so it’s hard to keep up. Here’s a primer on what’s been going on while you were vacationing this summer, in no particular order.
#10 Abandoning LGBT people in need around the world. The State Department used to advocate on behalf of LGBT rights in hostile countries. Now we have Trump kowtowing to Vladimir Putin behind closed doors. Do you think he raised the issue of Chechnya’s anti-gay crackdown in that meeting? Meanwhile, U.S. Rep. David Cicilline (D-R.I.) recently told the Blade that there is no policy in place that addresses the needs of LGBT immigrant children the Trump administration has separated from their parents. Where the United States once strived to set the example for equality, we now inspire autocrats in other countries to crack down on their press and suppress the rights of minorities. Our example matters. The bully pulpit is real. And it’s being used to embolden dictators and to green-light attacks on free speech and assembly.
#9 Undermining LGBT adoption rights. A House committee just last week approved an amendment that would allow taxpayer-funded adoption agencies to deny placement to LGBT families over religious objections. The measure would empower the secretary of health and human services to withhold 15 percent of federal government funds from states and localities if they penalize adoption agencies for acting on their religious beliefs in child placement decisions, as the Blade reported.
#8 Pushing federal workers back into the closet. As we reported, in a letter dated June 28 to Defense Secretary James Mattis, eight House Democrats expressed concern about lack of formal recognition of Pride this year, saying the Pentagon is “backing away from supporting and celebrating” LGBT service members and Defense Department employees. That issue crops up across the government. Where federal workers were proudly out and happy to talk to us about their Pride plans during the Obama years, now they are largely afraid to talk on the record. Trump and his anti-LGBT cronies like Attorney General Jeff Sessions have cast a shadow of fear across the government. The Justice Department, meanwhile, hosted a Pride event for its LGBT attorneys and law enforcement officials — but for the first time in 11 years, the ceremony wasn’t held in the building’s Great Hall. It was closed to media and attendees were too afraid to talk about it afterwards. The Small Business Administration removed LGBT references from its website, even though the agency won a prestigious award from Harvard University for its groundbreaking outreach to LGBT entrepreneurs during the Obama years. When the SBA reached out to me to assist in putting together its Pride celebration, I declined citing the removal, which was later reversed after much protest, including from the NGLCC. And for the second year, Trump declined to issue a proclamation recognizing June as Pride month.
#7 Stacking government panels with anti-LGBT zealots. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell named Tony Perkins, president of the notoriously anti-LGBT Family Research Council, to a two-year term on the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom. Perkins, whose organization was long ago labeled a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center, presided over a three-day “religious freedom” conference the State Department held last week in D.C. The event brought together some of the most bigoted homophobes of the far right, granting them the prestige and legitimacy of being endorsed by the U.S. government.
#6 Banning the Pride flag. A Republican lawmaker in the U.S. House has introduced legislation aimed at barring U.S. embassies from flying the Pride flag. Rep. Jeff Duncan (R-S.C.) introduced the measure last week, which seeks to “prohibit the flying of any flag other than the United States flag over United States diplomatic and consular posts, and for other purposes.” The State Department didn’t respond to the Blade’s inquiries on the matter. Will our openly gay ambassador to Germany, Ric Grenell, have anything to say about this effort? Although it’s not a Trump initiative, make no mistake that the anti-LGBT forces of the far right and their supporters are now unleashed thanks to Trump and the base tone he has set for the country.
#5 Undoing bias protections for trans people. The Trump administration has asserted that transgender people aren’t covered under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which bars sex discrimination in the workplace. In addition, Sessions has rescinded Obama-era guidance requiring schools to allow transgender kids to use the restroom consistent with their gender identity.
#4 Attacks on trans health. The Trump administration plans to roll back an Obamacare rule barring health care providers from denying treatment to transgender people, including gender reassignment surgery.
#3 Advocating for “religious liberty.” This is a common theme now, as the far right often pivots from overtly anti-LGBT statements, which don’t play well with independent voters, to their favorite code term for anti-LGBT bias, “religious liberty.” The White House in June hailed as a win for religious freedom the U.S. Supreme Court ruling in favor of a Colorado baker who refused to serve a wedding cake to a same-sex couple.
#2 Trans military ban. A federal appeals court recently reaffirmed an injunction barring the Trump administration from enforcing its cruel and discriminatory transgender military ban. That’s good news, but the move sets up a potential showdown at the Supreme Court. So far, the Trump administration is mum on its next steps.
#1 Anti-LGBT judicial appointments. Last November, New York Times reporter Linda Greenhouse wrote a column about the “conservative plan to weaponize the federal courts.” She cited a 37-page plan written by Northwestern University law professor Steven G. Calabresi, founder and board chair of the conservative Federalist Society, in which he declared their intention: “undoing the judicial legacy of President Barack Obama.”
To that end, we have Neil Gorsuch and now Brett Kavanaugh likely headed to the Supreme Court. But while the mainstream media are focused on Kavanaugh, there are scores of lower-level judicial appointees moving toward confirmation, many of whom have disturbing anti-LGBT records. Mark Norris, for example, was nominated by Trump for a seat on the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Tennessee. Norris served for 17 years as a member of the Tennessee Senate, where he advanced anti-LGBT legislation as Senate majority leader. A lawyer who defended Prop 8 in court is nominated for a seat on the U.S. District Court for the District of Utah. And so on.
These attacks, as reported by the Blade, have occurred in just the last few months. They will only increase as the midterms approach and Trump needs more red meat to feed his brainless base of bigots and rednecks. This motley crew was aptly described by Hillary Clinton as “deplorables.” They disdain education, ignore hypocrisy and racism and even basic facts, in defense of a bloated con man who will stop at nothing to line his pockets and those of his equally corrupt family and friends. Congressional Republicans in their blind allegiance to Trump have lost the moral authority to criticize any Democrat for any behavior for a generation. They have cast their lot with a wannabe demagogue and are in bed with the murderous Putin, whom they admire for his zero-tolerance of dissent and diversity.
There is one way out of this mess: Everyone offended by it must vote in November and again in 2020. Sadly, a new poll suggests that only 28 percent of millennial-aged voters plan to vote this year. You can march every weekend in protest and launch a million petitions on change.org, but if you don’t vote then the deplorable one-third of Americans who still support Trump will win again.
Kevin Naff is editor of the Washington Blade, a sister publication of the Los Angeles Blade. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.