Opinion: I Thought I’d Seen the Worst of Trump
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May 29, 2019
The Worst of Trump: his plans to take away health care protections for transgender Americans.By Jennifer Finney Boylan
Sometimes I wonder if, as far as the news is concerned, I’ve begun to resemble the protagonist in “The Princess Bride,” who develops an immunity to a poison, iocane powder, simply by ingesting a little bit of it every day. Incredibly, the monstrousness of our age no longer shocks me, not least because I spend part of each day taking it all in.
But on Friday, for the first time, I read the newspaper and just collapsed in a chair and wept actual hot tears. My wife and son came over and held me in their arms, fearing, perhaps, that I felt unloved.
But that’s not why I wept.
I’ve always felt a ridiculous love for this country, a kind of cheese-ball passion that is almost embarrassing to admit to. Maybe it’s because my mother was an immigrant, or because my father went from rags to riches, Horatio Alger-style. Maybe it’s because when I came out as something as unexpected as transgender in midlife, there seemed — against all odds — to be room for me. I don’t know. Maybe it’s just that I love rock 'n' roll, and Philadelphia hoagies, and the Boston Red Sox, and James Cagney. I am that Yankee Doodle boy — or, you know, girl.
The story that slew me, of all things, was about a proposed change to the Affordable Care Act, removing its civil rights protections for gender identity. The move wasn’t unexpected; after all, the Trump administration has been considering various means of erasing transgender identity since at least last fall.
But this was the one that broke the transwoman’s back, the latest in a series of actions our man has put in place solely to make the lives of people like me more miserable. Last Wednesday, the Department of Housing and Urban Development introduced a policy to allow federally funded homeless shelters to deny services to trans Americans. This, on the heels of yet another proposal earlier this month that would allow health care workers to refuse to help trans patients on religious grounds.
Why, I wondered, is the existence of transgender people so unbearable that Republicans are bending heaven and earth to make our lives harder? Is it really so unthinkable that this marginalized, endangered, maligned group of Americans might look to the most powerful man in the world to protect them — as, of course, Donald Trump promised during the campaign he would do?
Well, yes, I suppose it is unthinkable. But that’s not why I wept.
I also know full well that most people — including many of my fellow progressives — will simply shrug at this latest development, and dismiss the needs of my community as an obscure “boutique issue.” Bill Maher, bless his heart, once described my humanity as a “college campus pet peeve.” For years now, various progressive writers have raised all sorts of obscure and saucy arguments about trans identity and feminist discourse, all of which have served to divide us, one from another, just as the Christian right had planned all along.
I know that trans rights are not at the top of many progressives’ list of urgent concerns, and that some second-wave feminists secretly, or not so secretly, aren’t especially worried about the danger we’re in.
But that’s not why I wept.
What came to mind, in fact, was a poem by William Butler Yeats, “September 1913,” a work that reflected on the struggles of the Irish revolution. “Was it for this,” Yeats wrote, “the wild geese spread the grey wing upon the tide?” Each of the stanzas concludes, “Romantic Ireland’s dead and gone, it’s with O’Leary in the grave.”
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I was thinking about my parents, proud Republicans the both of them. My father died when I was young, but how he enjoyed debating all the issues of the day with me, with love and respect. My mother lived to be 94; in the final year of her life I made her dinner each night and we sat and watched the first half of the “O’Reilly Factor” on Fox News and the second half of “Countdown With Keith Olbermann” on MSNBC — “to get both sides,” as she said.
Had she lived to 2016, I’m pretty sure she’d have voted for Mr. Trump. She’d have had reservations, to be sure. But she’d have voted for him.
I thought about the country I grew up in, a place in which my mother tearfully described Gerald Ford as “the Healer,” a place where Ronald Reagan was “the Great Communicator.” I thought about all the people who went into a voting booth in 2016 and chose the country we now live in. I’m talking now about you, my neighbors and my friends. When you decided you wanted to make America great again, was this the country you had in mind?
We live in a country that puts endangered immigrant children in jail. Six children have died in United States custody in eight months. Was it for this that you voted for Donald Trump?
We live in a country with a national debt of $22 trillion and growing. We’re this deep in debt not because we’ve invested in our roads and bridges, or increased the salaries of teachers, or invested in scientific research, or worked to save the environment, or brought back middle-class jobs, but because we’ve given an enormous tax break to the wealthiest people in the country, plain and simple. Was it for this that you voted for Donald Trump?
We live in a country in which white supremacists march with torches, in which the president mocks the disabled, advocates violence and calls the press the enemy of the people. Was it for this that you voted for Donald Trump?
We live in a country in which the most desperate of people are pushed further to the margins. O.K., so you’re not transgender, and perhaps you don’t really care about trans people. Even so, do you really want people like me to be turned away from homeless shelters? Seriously, homeless shelters? Was it for this that you voted for Donald Trump?
That’s why I wept. It’s not that he has created this nightmare. It’s that so many people — including ones I love — think it’s all just fine.
Was it for this the wild geese spread the grey wing on the tide?
Romantic America’s dead and gone.