20 May 2016
The other 1% (approx.)
Actually, according to a quick check of online statistics, only about 0.3% of the U.S. population is "transgender." On the other hand, if you ask progressives how many people actually control the U.S., their estimate might also go well below the more attention-grabbing 1% mark. I bring this up because someone called into our news office today to complain that, in his push for transgender rights, President Obama is catering to less than 1% of the population. I was struck by the symmetry of this complaint and the persistent progressive railing against "the 1%" who they see as the source of all our troubles. What worries me is that the transgender-phobic anger at an approximate 1% may have more political potency than the progressive polemic against their ever-underestimated 1% plutocracy. Ever since the Occupy movement broke out I've warned that "1%" rhetoric misrepresents the problem progressives face in the U.S., where their agenda has been checked not by a plutocracy but by a more extensive bourgeoisie and a bigoted lumpenproletariat, to borrow Marxist terms, all of whom claim a stake in the present social order, or an idealized earlier form of it which the left and its constituents are alleged to have corrupted. No left movement in this country can ever hope to rally or even represent 99% of the population in opposition to the richest one-hundredth. At the same time, "1%" rhetoric ignores the fact that many people in the statistical 1% share at least some of the progressive social or cultural agenda, from higher tax rates for the richest to greater tolerance and inclusiveness overall. By comparison, the transgender "1%" presents a less-slippery target for right-wing demagogues, and the Democrats' current obsession with public-restroom access has only shown that there are no limits to how much the Obama administration can infuriate the populist right. If anything, it seems like those people find transgenders even more disgusting and threatening than they do homosexuals. It seems clear from the samples I hear that they see the restroom controversy entirely as an attempt to empower perverts while endangering innocent children. I have a bad feeling this issue will only help Republicans this year. I can understand the justice of the progressive position on an intellectual level, but pushing this issue at this time seems likely to alienate more people than it may inspire. Progressives may envision a broad, diverse coalition of women and all minorities, all of whom presumably empathize with anyone who feels excluded from anything. But I'm not sure how many people who are not transgender will feel more motivated to vote Democratic because of the stand the party is taking for transgenders, while more people may be motivated to vote against Democrats because they see the country more than ever going the way of Sodom and Gomorrah. Again, I can sympathize with a progressive impulse to smash all barriers raised by ignorance and superstition, but something still seems impolitic about forcing this particular issue now. I don't want to dismiss all of this as "identity politics," but I'd like to think that if a political party's highest priority is to get as many votes as possible, that should determine the ranking of other priorities -- and with apologies to the 1% or so who do deserve better, I think Democratic priorities right now are a little askew.