It’s been a news-filled and tragic week. I normally would have written something about gun violence, but I did that in The Daily Campus following the Las Vegas shooting. Frankly, I don’t have much more to say on the topic.
I will, however, say this: the situation is much more complicated than many people are willing to acknowledge. Our tendency to reduce impossibly scary, repetitive events of terror to one or two straightforward factors is understandable — doing so makes these shootings a little less terrifying. But it will not make them go away.
Trump asserted that the shooting “isn’t a guns situation” but instead described it as “a mental health problem at the highest level.” He was rightly attacked for this stance; his attempt to postpone or ignore gun ownership-related policy considerations is irresponsible.
Trump’s attempt to pin the attack on mental health is especially irresponsible, since earlier this year he revoked an Obama-era regulation which made it harder for people with mental illnesses to buy guns.
Such blatant hypocrisy has apparently become Trump’s calling card. It is not only the product of a careless and incompetent administration, but is also part and parcel of Trump’s continued support among his base.
A specific example will serve to illustrate the fundamental role of hypocrisy in Trump’s success — namely, his administration’s treatment of LGBTQ people during the past year: Donald Trump heralded himself as the first gay-friendly, Republican presidential candidate. During a speech just before the election, he unfurled a rainbow flag on which someone had written “LGBTs for Trump.”
The only problem was that the flag was upside-down (for those of you wondering, it’s supposed to be red on top, purple on bottom). This might have been, at the time, an innocent, well-meaning and unfortunate mistake. It turned out, however, to be an ominous symbol of how the administration would establish a facade of support for LGBTQ rights while steadily eroding much of the progress made under the Obama administration.
Almost as soon as Trump took office, signs showed that he would not be as gay-friendly as he claimed to be.
In February, he revoked Obama-era protections that allowed transgender students to use the bathroom of their gender.
In July, he infamously tweeted a ban on transgender military service members. The ban was blocked by a federal judge Oct. 30; its ultimate fate remains to be seen.
In early October, the U.S. voted against a UN resolution condemning the discriminatory use of the death penalty (for example, the execution of men found to have had consensual same-sex relations, a commonplace punishment in many parts of the world).
The vote was complicated. The U.S. claims to have objected principally to language condemning the use of the death penalty — which is still legal in 32 states — in general. Nonetheless, the episode was ambiguous, poorly handled and hardly befitting for an LGBT-friendly administration.
The incident was also especially pernicious given the frequency with which certain Republicans during the 2016 election offered the vague example of “how poorly they treat gays in the Middle East” to somehow justify how badly they are still treated, often by those same Republicans, in the U.S.
Also in October, Attorney General Jeff Sessions directed U.S. attorneys to no longer interpret federal law as protecting transgender people from discrimination on the basis of sex. The directive coincides with the proliferation of so-called religious-freedom bills — the most recent of which was enacted in Mississippi — which explicitly permit businesses to discriminate based on sexual orientation and gender expression.
In summary, President Trump is not an LGBTQ-friendly president. If he ever truly was, he seems to have quickly changed his mind almost as soon as he stepped into the Oval Office. Doing so appears to have energized many in his evangelical base while causing minimal loss of support among his moderate supporters, or those who are relatively indifferent to LGBTQ issues.
Indeed, the Trump supporters who paraded his apparent support for LGBTQ Americans now too readily overlook, or even applaud, the open hypocrisy of his administration’s actions over this past year. As Masha Gessen writes for The New Yorker, “The appeal of anti-queer gestures goes beyond the hard evangelical right, and probably includes some people whose best friends are gay.”
In other words, the skeptics were right not to trust him. The LGBTQ community was right not to trust him. Those who did trust him ought to recognize the error of their ways and get out while they still can (local and mid-term elections are great places to start).
We should never forget what Trump said in a speech at the Republican National Convention. In response to the Pulse nightclub shooting, he claimed that he would “do everything in my power to protect our LGBTQ citizens from the violence and oppression of a hateful foreign ideology.” Apparently, that didn’t include protection from Trump himself.