At its most basic, government is a mechanism for living together. Politics, as the old saying goes, is war without the weapons–the process of mediating the demands of various interest groups and constituencies. Some governments are expressly established to privilege members of certain groups over others; America’s legal system, in contrast, is based upon a belief that people should be treated as individuals–that government should treat its citizens based upon their behavior, rather than their identity.
Being true to that ideal has always been a struggle; there have always been Americans who want to single out others as “less” not because those individuals have behaved badly, but simply by virtue of their race, religion, gender or sexual orientation. That–as Paul Ryan recently noted–is the textbook definition of bigotry.
In the Age of Trump, those voices of bigotry are in danger of being legitimized. They are certainly being amplified.
From Talking Points Memo, we learn that
The same Republicans who have argued that gay couples should not be allowed to marry, that LGBT Americans don’t need federal anti-discrimination protections and that trans people should not use the bathroom that matches their identity are now claiming that they — not Democrats — are the party on the LGBT community’s side.
Their reasoning? That somehow, in the wake of the Orlando shooting at a gay night club that left 49 people dead, there’s now a mutually exclusive choice between supporting Muslims and protecting gay people, and Democrats have chosen the former.
The unlovely premise of that rationale is that all Muslims are terrorists, as one Republican congressman has baldly stated.
It is hard to think of anything more un-American–or more dangerous– than treating any group of people as a monolithic whole. The truth of the matter is that–idealism and fundamental fairness aside–no one in any group is safe in a society that allows government to pick and choose which identities are to be privileged and which marginalized and demeaned.
The effort to set one marginalized group against another is particularly despicable, although politically understandable. (You guys go fight each other and don’t pay any attention to the fact that we “real Americans” are running the show.)
Fortunately, the LGBT community understands–and rejects–the tactic. An essay titled “We Are Strong, but We Are Not Okay” posted in the wake of the Orlando massacre, included this paragraph:
We are not okay when you criminalize the Muslim community because of the actions of one evil man. We have been the Muslim community: hated, feared, misunderstood. Questioned, berated, threatened, afraid to show our faces. Why would we condone treating an entire community as poorly as ours has been treated in the past, and in many scenarios, still is? When you come for one minority, you come for us all.
Treating citizens as individuals, refusing to discriminate on the basis of group identity, is a central premise of this nation’s approach to government. An attack on that premise is an attack on America.
Unfortunately, that’s a lesson we keep having to learn.