Sweating the Smallest Stuff

As any married person knows, and as any formerly married person knows all too well, the nastiest arguments, the ones that cannot ever be resolved, are over the small stuff – who walks the dog – that sort of thing. The issues are proxy issues for what’s really going on – anger and fear and loathing, and resentment over what is too dangerous to deal with directly. “Does this dress make me look fat?” Don’t answer that question. That question is not about the dress – but there’s no way not to answer that question. Whether you like it or not, you’re going to get drawn into arguing about something that doesn’t matter at all, as a proxy for something that matters a whole lot. You’ll just never quite know what that is. The next thing you know, you’re in divorce court. These things happen.

They happen in politics too. A woman, who was formerly a man – a rare enough thing – needs to take a leak – but where? In North Carolina she cannot use the women’s room. In North Carolina she’s still a man – or she might have been a man all along, one who cleverly wants to molest little girls in public restrooms. This has never happened. It is theoretically possible but really, the argument is about nothing real, and that led to the day’s argument about ESPN:

According to Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX), ESPN made the wrong decision by dismissing baseball analyst Curt Schilling after he argued that transgender individuals should use bathrooms that conform to their birth sex.

“ESPN fired Curt Schilling for making the rather obvious point that we shouldn’t allow grown male adult strangers alone in a bathroom with little girls,” the Texas senator said in a Thursday interview on Glenn Beck’s radio show. “That’s a point anyone who is rational should understand.”

Schilling was fired Wednesday night, days after sharing a meme on Facebook that showed a man wearing a wig and tight women’s clothing, with the caption: “Let him in! To the restroom with your daughter or else you’re a narrow minded, judgmental, unloving, racist bigot who needs to die!!!”

Curt Schilling was a great pitcher, but he’s a bit of a jerk, and of course this is about something else:

Like Schilling, Cruz sees opposition to this meme and to so-called “bathroom bills” as a result of unchecked “political correctness.”

The evangelical Texas senator warned that allowing transgender people to use the public restroom of their choice could allow “repulsive perverts and criminals” to enter bathrooms with “little girls.”

Beck enthusiastically agreed, saying that if the “bathroom bills” can “save one little girl from being molested by a heterosexual pervert, we should do it.”

What do these guys know about heterosexual perverts? Perhaps they know their own urges all too well, but they’re not alone:

Sarah Palin lamented ESPN’s decision to fire baseball analyst Curt Schilling for sharing several memes offensive to transgender people in a Thursday morning Facebook post.

“ESPN continues to screw up,” the former Alaska governor and Republican vice presidential nominee wrote, along with a link to a Hollywood Reporter article on Schilling’s termination.

Palin also shared a meme along the lines of those that led to Schilling’s dismissal. In the left panel, a white man labeled a “victim” complains about homophobic people intruding on his “safe space,” while the right panel features a young girl who is labeled a “bigot” for complaining about a “40-year-old man wearing a dress in the girl’s restroom.”

And add this:

Palin has come to the conservative sports commentator’s defense before. After he was suspended from ESPN last baseball season for sharing a meme comparing Nazis to Muslims, Palin accused the network of buying into “the propaganda of ISIS.”

The anger and fear and loathing, and resentment over what is too dangerous to deal with directly, is all there. The bathroom is a proxy for many things, and so this was inevitable:

The American Family Association on Thursday called for a boycott of Target stores after the company announced that transgender employees and customers should use the bathroom of their choice.

“Corporate America must stop bullying people who disagree with the radical left agenda to remake society into their progressive image,” AFA President Tim Wildmon said in a statement. “Target’s harmful policy poses a danger to women and children. We think many customers will agree.”

Wildmon said that while the conservative group “does not believe the transgender community poses this danger to the wider public,” they are concerned that Target’s policy “provides a possible gateway for predators that are out there.”

“When Target claims that ‘everyone deserves to feel like they belong,’ did they ask customers who don’t want to use a bathroom with an opposite-sex stranger?” he continued in the statement. “Why doesn’t ‘everyone’ actually mean everyone at Target?”

The American Family Association suggested that Target provide single-use unisex bathrooms to accommodate transgender individuals.

This seems like minor stuff, but that minor stuff is a proxy for remaking society into a progressive society – we cannot have that – so they do what they can:

The conservative group also stopped using PayPal after the company halted plans to open up an operations center in North Carolina in protest of the state’s sweeping anti-LGBT law.

It’s likely no one will pay any attention to their boycotts. The threat of dirty old men dressing up as transgender women to get at little girls is beyond remote – dirty old men are a bit more direct than that. Offer candy, or a puppy. That’s worked forever. They’re just not going to dress up like mannish women. Why go to all the trouble? That’s just absurd.

At least Donald Trump is pragmatic about this:

Donald Trump on Thursday morning came out against the new anti-LGBT law in North Carolina, pointing out the state has seen intense backlash from businesses.

“North Carolina did something [that] was very strong. And they’re paying a big price and there’s a lot of problems,” Trump said during an NBC town hall when asked about the new law. “One of the best answers I heard was from a commentator yesterday saying, leave it the way it is right now. There have been very few problems. Leave it the way it is.”

He’s saying there never was problem in the first place, but now there’s a different one:

“North Carolina, what they are going through with all of the business that’s leaving and all of the strife – and that’s on both sides. You leave it the way it is. There have been very few complaints the way it is,” he continued. “People go; they use the bathroom that they feel is appropriate. There has been so little trouble, and the problem with what happened in North Carolina is the strife and the economic punishment that they are taking.”

When asked whether he would let Caitlyn Jenner use the bathroom of her choice at Trump Tower, Trump said he would.

This is not a big deal:

The Republican presidential candidate then also said he had a problem with the push to create single-use bathrooms to accommodate transgender people.

“There’s a big move to create new bathrooms,” he said. “First of all, I think that would be discriminatory in a certain way. It would be unbelievably expensive for businesses and for the country. Leave it the way it is.”

At Mother Jones, Kevin Drum notes the obvious:

At a guess, Trump’s supporters are mostly people who think the North Carolina law is a good idea. Or at least, they used to. But now that Trump has come out against it, will the rights of transgender people to use the bathroom of their choice become the latest rallying cry of the angry working class? Perhaps we’re about to find out just how much influence Trump really has with his supporters.

We’re also about to find out if the bathroom is a proxy for much larger issues. Donald Trump may not know what’s really going on here – he seems to think this is actually about bathrooms. Ted Cruz knows better, and Steve M at No More Mister Nice Blog adds this:

Cruz doesn’t do very well in the East, where Republicans are far less likely to be evangelical Christians, and so he’s looking at defeats in five eastern states this coming Tuesday. But it’s my sense from watching the right that rank-and-file conservatives, secular as well as religious, have worked themselves up into a frenzy over transgendered bathroom rights. They are as certain that accommodating trans people in public restrooms leads to rape as they are that massive voter fraud is taking place – i.e., they don’t care what the facts say because it just feels true.

So Cruz should probably run an all-toilet campaign from now on.

No, it won’t endear him to the business-oriented Republican muckamucks he’ll need at the convention, but he can tell them he doesn’t really mean what he’s saying – remember, he’s the guy who’s out there promising to deal with the “crisis” of gay marriage while hitting up rich gay businessmen for cash and quietly telling other wealthy donors that fighting marriage equality wouldn’t be “a top-three priority” in a Cruz administration.

So go for it, Ted. Trump is out-hating you on so many issues. This is your chance to out-hate him for once. I think this could really drive Trump’s poll numbers down, even in the East, unless he walks it back.

He may need to. Andrew Lewis at FiveThirtyEight covers the anger and fear and loathing and resentment out there with these data points:

Many of Donald Trump’s supporters are intolerant – racist, sexist and xenophobic. Indeed, some high-profile work has highlighted Trump’s populism and his appeal to less-educated authoritarians – a potent witch’s brew challenging democratic norms. And other analyses have focused on the specific targets of Trump supporters’ anti-democratic attitudes – especially, but not solely, Muslims, immigrants and black Americans.

Add the gay folks too, but the ban on Muslims is his key proxy now:

Notably, those favoring a ban disproportionately supported Trump, with the exception of voters in Texas, where a plurality supported Ted Cruz. In Ohio, for instance, of those who wanted to temporarily ban all Muslims from entering the U.S., 48 percent threw their support behind Trump.

The same pattern holds when you look at GOP support for Trump’s statements and position on immigrants, especially those from south of the U.S. border. A majority of Republican primary voters don’t support his call to deport all of the estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants living in the U.S., but of those who do support that position, most favor Trump.

This parallels other data:

Pew Research Center found that 17 percent of Trump supporters said diversity makes America worse, a higher share than among either Cruz or John Kasich’s backers. Pew also found that 69 percent of Trump voters agreed that immigrants are a burden on the country.

An ABC News/Washington Post survey showed that among respondents who said that white Americans are losing out because of preferential treatment for Latinos and blacks, 43 percent backed Trump – higher than the 34 percent of Republican respondents who supported Trump overall.

Trump also performs well among those who dislike African-Americans and evaluate whites at higher levels than minorities.

Trump may have blundered here. His base of less-educated authoritarians will hate what he said about bathrooms, because that’s about something else entirely. They are angry, and they can choose anything as a proxy, as Matthew Yglesias explains here:

Harriet Tubman is going to be on the $20 bill, with former president Andrew Jackson demoted to the back. This will make, obviously, no practical difference in anyone’s life, but you may have heard or read a lot about it anyway.

This is precisely because it’s a purely symbolic question rather than a pragmatic one – it touches some of the deepest nerves in American politics. Fox News’ Greta Van Susteren calls it “dividing the country” while Donald Trump has denounced the move as “pure political correctness.”

That’s because something else is going on here:

The demographic face of the United States of America is changing, rapidly. The Democratic Party is fitfully and at times awkwardly embracing that change, while the Republican Party is to an extent being torn asunder by it, with one faction hoping to repackage traditional conservative movement politics for a multicultural audience while another faction wants to create a less ideologically rigid movement that stands foursquare against the declining social privilege of white men.

That is what this seems to be about:

On April 20, 2016, the Treasury Department leaked that they had decided to go in this direction. A woman – specifically Tubman – would go on the $20.

That news was immediately celebrated by most progressives. Taking an iconic figure of 19th-century white supremacy off of money to replace him with a courageous African-American woman who fought for freedom would make a powerful statement about American identity. It turns out, however, that the plan is not to remove Jackson from the money but instead to do a split with Tubman on one side and Jackson on the other.

This turns out to be one of those compromises that angers everybody. It puts Tubman on the money, but seemingly as a second-class citizen compared to the white men celebrated on other notes. But it also marks a formal recognition that the American pantheon is being revised in a way that reduces white male domination.

This, of course, requires a deep dive into American political history:

The process by which American liberals came to clamor for the replacement of Jackson – but not Hamilton – with Tubman is, essentially, the entire political history of the United States since its founding.

For the bulk of its history, the Democratic Party has understood itself to have been dually founded by Thomas Jefferson (in opposition to Hamilton’s Federalists) and Jackson (in opposition to the Whigs of Henry Clay and John Quincy Adams). And the modern day Democratic Party is very much the institutional descendent of Jackson’s party, while the Republican Party founded in the 1850s had very clear ideological links to the Whigs.

But during the middle of the 20th century, a complicated series of events caused the parties to “realign” on the question of racial equality.

And thereby hangs a tale:

Northern African Americans were brought into the Democratic coalition by the welfare state programs of the New Deal, and Northern urban machines began to incorporate their interests. Liberal ideologues and progressive labor unions joined African Americans in pushing for a civil rights agenda, and Southern white supremacists began fitful efforts to bolt the Democratic Party.

As the civil rights agenda progressed to include more demands for government regulation of private business and more affirmative provision of government services, the conservative ideology of Midwestern Republicans came more into line with the ideas of the white South.

The new, multiracial Democratic coalition has led to a historiographical revolution in American history that features skepticism of iconic Progressive-era president Woodrow Wilson and new respect for the left-wing credentials of figures like Hamilton, both Adamses, and Clay.

This manifests itself both in scholarly works (Daniel Walker Howe’s What Hath God Wrought), popular biographies (Ron Chernow’s Alexander Hamilton), pop culture (Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Hamilton but also the 1997 movie Amistad and the John Adams HBO miniseries), and punditry (Ta-Nehisi Coates’s series of posts celebrating Ulysses S. Grant).

The upshot is that the exact same intellectual currents in American society that were most likely to be enthusiastic about the idea of putting a black woman on American currency were least likely to be invested in the old Jefferson-Jackson tradition of the Democratic Party.

Everything got reversed:

There’s no hardcore Andrew Jackson constituency left in American politics, but the currency revision comes at a time when the Republican Party is being roiled by the surging support for Donald Trump. Trump has a tenuous connection to the GOP’s philosophical commitment to small government, and no personal investment in the kind of Evangelical Christianity that has powered much of grassroots conservatism. Instead, he advances a form of populist ethnic nationalism similar to what you see in many growing European “far right” political parties.

And while neither Trump nor Trumpism has much support among conservative intellectuals, both Trump and Trumpism have considerable support in the more commercialized segments of the conservative media world – talk radio, Fox News, and the tabloid press.

The $20 is a perfect incident to prompt this divide precisely because it has very little real content. There’s nothing in Tubman’s life or legacy that contradicts any points of modern-day conservative ideology or Republican Party policy ideas. But the very idea of going back through history and finding white male heroes to demote in favor of black female heroes rubs some people the wrong way. …

Trump himself denounced the move as “pure political correctness,” a term that has little specific content but that allows Trump to affiliate himself with the view – shared by most Republicans but not by most Americans overall – that anti-white discrimination is as big of a problem in America as anti-black discrimination.

Dylan Matthews then offers a summary of the record of Andrew Jackson as one of the very worst presidents in American history, because of that “Trail of Tears” ethnic cleansing he oversaw:

Jackson is even worse than his horrifyingly brutal record with regard to Native Americans indicates. Indian removal was not just a crime against humanity, it was a crime against humanity intended to abet another crime against humanity: By clearing the Cherokee from the American South, Jackson hoped to open up more land for cultivation by slave plantations.

There is that, and this:

It’s genuinely bizarre that some modern liberals, like Sean Wilentz and Arthur Schlesinger, have claimed Jackson for liberalism, ostensibly for his embrace of “populism” (read: rejection of northern anti-slavery white men in favor of Southern pro-slavery white men). In reality, Jackson’s economic policy views were almost cartoonishly right wing.

Context is important here. Jackson was succeeding John Quincy Adams, a truly great, scandalously underrated president who was an enthusiastic supporter of government intervention to build necessary infrastructure (“internal improvements”) and fuel economic development. Adams believed that “taxing and being taxed were essential to responsible self-government; the country required a modern, national, and regulated banking system … and the federal government had an important role to play regarding the ‘general welfare’ in the creation of educational, scientific, and artistic institutions, such as the Smithsonian Museum, the national parks, the service academies, and land grant universities,” according to recent biographer Fred Kaplan.

Jackson believed none of that. He believed government was a threat to be contained, that national banks like the one originated by Alexander Hamilton were abominations and threats to freedom, and that the federal government’s role in building infrastructure should be limited. He vetoed a bill to run a road in Kentucky, arguing that federal funding of such infrastructure projects was unconstitutional.

Jackson was Grover Norquist before there was a Grover Norquist, and Scott Lemieux adds this:

If there’s a link between the New Deal and the Jackson administration, it’s that the Jacksonian element in American politics made New Deal programs substantially worse as the price of enacting them and then withdrew their support almost entirely after the 1938 midterms. The idea that Jacksonianism was the precursor to the activist and progressive elements of the New Deal is an almost precise inversion of the truth. The Great Society required the defeat of Jackson’s political descendants, not their support.

The battle here was never about Harriet Tubman at all. It was about our first white nationalist libertarian Tea Party guy, although at National Review Online, Jim Geraghty tries to turn the tables on America’s overly tolerant lefties:

Perhaps some of the voices calling for Tubman on the $20 just wanted any prominent African-American woman to replace one of the white males on our currency. If it was political correctness that drove this decision, who cares? The Obama administration has inadvertently given Tubman fans of all political stripes an opportunity to tell the story of a deeply-religious, gun-toting Republican who fought for freedom in defiance of the laws of a government that refused to recognize her rights.

Kevin Drum mocks him:

Yeah. That’s the ticket. All those folks in the Obama administration had no idea who Harriet Tubman really was. They were all like check this out, Jack – black, female, helped slaves, done. Boxes checked. Identity politics satisfied. Put her on the twenty.

The poor fools. She was religious! She carried a gun while helping slaves escape! She was a Republican! She fought for freedom against a tyrannical government! If you think about it, she’s basically the poster child of the modern-day Tea Party. And none of those idiots in the White House had a clue.

Seriously. That seems to be what they think. Next they’re going to remind us that Abraham Lincoln was a Republican too.

Well he was – pretty much the first one – way back when the party was the opposite of what it is now. Jonathan Chait explained that last summer in The Party of Andrew Jackson vs. the Party of Obama:

Republicans have revived what they call “Constitutional conservatism,” which reprises the Jacksonian belief that the Constitution prevents economic intervention by the government. Tea-party activists in particular have sounded deeply Jacksonian themes in their populist attacks on TARP, and then Obama’s programs, as giveaways to powerful insiders. As a writer for the right-wing Breitbart News argued several months ago, “Jackson’s views on federalism and economics should be more carefully studied today.”

This combination of views on the Constitution, race, activist government, intellectual elites, and foreign policy all clump together geographically and ideologically. They also share a certain personality style – Jackson’s visceral style anticipates figures like George W. Bush and Sarah Palin. As the political fault lines of Rooseveltian America have grown increasingly distant in recent years, those of Jacksonian America have grown more recognizable. American history is returning full circle.

Yes, something else is going on here. The picture on the money was never the real issue, and Salon’s Amanda Marcotte unloads on what’s really going on here:

The strategy that modern conservative propaganda uses when called upon to rationalize overt racism and sexism is to get conservative women and people of color to express the sentiments. It’s a cheap and obvious but unfortunately effective ploy, and one that was immediately employed by the folks at Fox News to appeal to their audience members who want to hear why they aren’t bigots, even though they revolt at women and black people on money.

Greta Van Susteren played her part to the hilt on Fox Wednesday night, even going so far as to say that she’s “a feminist”, before offering an opinion that disproved this contention.

“Rather than dividing the country between those who happen to like the tradition of our currency and want President Andrew Jackson to stay put and those who want to put a woman on a bill,” she argued.

Denying women the vote, keeping women from working, putting women in the stocks for having a sharp tongue, treating women as subhuman property of men are also “traditions,” you know. The whole point of being a feminist is refusing to accept that tradition trumps a woman’s right to equality. But beyond just that, appeals to tradition are considered a logical fallacy for a good reason. The idea that we should keep doing a stupid and harmful thing because we have done it that way in the past isn’t a grand and noble idea. It’s refusing to learn from experience.

Of course, no one actually buys this argument, not really. The folks waxing poetic about the impropriety of change when it comes to the currency probably aren’t writing their sentiments on parchment paper with quill pens. The only time they cling to tradition is if the tradition flatters their prejudices, in this case the prejudicial belief that only white men can be great Americans.

It was always about that:

That there’s so much tantrum-throwing over what is ultimately just a symbolic gesture says a lot about the current state of American politics. The left gets criticized a lot for “identity politics,” but nothing the left does can even come close to touching the petty identity politics that lead one to demand that money be reserved for white men only, because your fragile sense of self is so violated by the idea that anyone else could have made contributions worth honoring.

One thing is for certain, the reaction to this proves feminists right. Feminists have long argued that better representation matters, and while symbolic gestures like putting women and people of color on money may not do anything in the immediate future to improve people’s lives, the psychological effect of saying, “These people matter, too,” can gradually help lessen prejudice. The panicked reaction from the right suggests that they agree, even though what feminists are hoping is true is what conservatives fear is true.

All that anger and fear and loathing and resentment has to go somewhere. Now it’s directed at the proxy small stuff, the smallest of stuff – North Carolina public restrooms – whose picture is on the money your ATM spits out at you. But then the smallest of stuff has destroyed many a marriage – and if America is one big marriage of all sorts of people, it could destroy that marriage too.

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About Alan

The editor is a former systems manager for a large California-based HMO, and a former senior systems manager for Northrop, Hughes-Raytheon, Computer Sciences Corporation, Perot Systems and other such organizations. One position was managing the financial and payroll systems for a large hospital chain. And somewhere in there was a two-year stint in Canada running the systems shop at a General Motors locomotive factory - in London, Ontario. That explains Canadian matters scattered through these pages. Otherwise, think large-scale HR, payroll, financial and manufacturing systems. A résumé is available if you wish. The editor has a graduate degree in Eighteenth-Century British Literature from Duke University where he was a National Woodrow Wilson Fellow, and taught English and music in upstate New York in the seventies, and then in the early eighties moved to California and left teaching. The editor currently resides in Hollywood California, a block north of the Sunset Strip.
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One Response to Sweating the Smallest Stuff

  1. Rick says:

    Yeah, it’s bound to happen here and there that I find myself agreeing with Donald Trump, and his saying this, in fact, was an easy one:

    “You leave it the way it is. There have been very few complaints the way it is,” he continued. “People go, they use the bathroom that they feel is appropriate. There has been so little trouble, and the problem with what happened in North Carolina is the strife and the economic punishment that they are taking.”

    First of all, I’m sure it will come as a shock to many to learn that transgendered persons have existed, with very little discussion, throughout American history, and it is not just this weird concept concocted by liberals in the last few decades as a way to piss off conservatives.

    And second of all, it’s probably safe to assume that all those guys and gals down through our history occasionally have had to go to the bathroom! I wonder where they went? But however they’ve been sorting themselves out, they seem to have been doing it heretofore without raising too much fuss, since we haven’t been hearing much about it in the news until very recently.

    In fact, I am seriously interested in seeing the statistics about how big a problem, legal or otherwise, that this has been.

    It’s hard to imagine a man who feels more comfortable dressing like — and identifies as — a woman, going into the girls’ room and molesting … a little girl! Not that it’s all that likely, but you’d think we would be more likely to see that same man, who identifies as a woman, be forced to dress like a man, being forced to use the men’s room, go into one and molest a little boy!

    No, wait! Scrap that! That’s also pretty stupid. But when you’re talking about some state that, only relatively recently, got out of the business of trying to enforce who gets to use which restroom, starts up doing it again, you’re going to find yourself contemplating some pretty stupid shit.

    But I do disagree with Trump on this one thing, as reported by Talking Points Memo:

    The American Family Association suggested that Target provide single-use unisex bathrooms to accommodate transgender individuals.

    Trump doesn’t like it — he says, “First of all, I think that would be discriminatory in a certain way,” adding, “It would be unbelievably expensive for businesses and for the country.”

    But I think the suggestion has merit, as long as Target and other businesses are allowed to build the extra bathrooms voluntarily, assuming they can afford the expense.

    But better yet, there’s no reason for these single-use bathrooms to be designated for the exclusive use of trans persons, but in fact, they could be made available to anybody who doesn’t feel comfortable sharing a bathroom with someone else — including those who don’t like Target’s new transgender-bathroom-use policy.

    In other words, if you have reason to believe that some guy will dress up like a girl just so he can molest your daughter in the girls’ room, have her use the no-share rest room instead.

    So it’s a “Win-Win” situation! Transgendered folks can go back to the good old days when they would use a public restroom with little fear of getting arrested for it, and North Carolina conservatives can go back to the good old days of going to the bathroom with no fear of their daughter being molested by someone wearing clothes they shouldn’t be wearing!

    And all we have to do to get from here to there is to get rid of that ridiculous law.

    Rick

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