The very day the Trump Administration barred The New York Times from a press briefing and the president said reporters “shouldn’t be allowed” to use unnamed sources (“we’re going to do something about it”), much of the Left couldn’t be bothered to protest. They were too busy howling about a minor change to federal transgender bathroom policy. Once again, President Donald J. Trump’s opponents have been pursuing something shiny and gossamer while barely noticing unprecedented threats to the Constitution.
Which is precisely what the president wants.
There are really three levels of opposition to this president, and they range from essential to important to trivial.
At their best, opponents of this Administration protest the ways Trump is undermining our system, as he chips away at the Constitution. Friday’s attacks on media freedom were dangerous, as were the president’s steps toward undermining the separation of powers (“the opinion of this so-called judge”) and trust in our democracy (“millions of people who voted illegally”). Assaults on fundamental aspects of the American system by a president popular within his own party create their own momentum and are hard to reverse. Even those inclined to give Trump the benefit of the doubt must be vigilant so America’s freedoms and checks and balances stay intact.
Then there are the president’s policy steps that Americans who disagree can and should organize against. Conservatives like me who oppose protectionism on trade or an expensive but nugatory wall along the Mexican border should lodge our protests, as should liberals who oppose school choice or the Keystone Pipeline. Organizing around policy issues should take a backseat to opposing threats to the American system of government, but they’re still important.
Then there are the largely symbolic issues that have taken up too much liberal bandwidth in protesting this president. The latest – reversing President Obama’s nationalized transgender bathroom policy – is a great example. Despite the hyperventilating distortions of Big Gay (a “disaster,” a “blind and cruel attack on young children”) it’s a tiny change. The policy under Trump will be the same as under Clinton, Bush, and even President Obama for the first 92 percent of his term. Where were the protesters then?
Trump’s move will not affect the vast majority of transgender children – only the ones who attend schools that will now bother to reverse their compliance with the mandatory Obama policy, which seems to have worked in most places. In those schools, in most cases trans students will be asked to change and use the facilities in separate quarters like nurse’s offices.
I question the idea that discreet use of private bathrooms will lead to bullying, since the biggest risk of bullying is when trans students are face to face with cis (non-transgender) students – such as when they share a bathroom. In any event, within months the Supreme Court may very well moot the whole debate.
So why all the attention to such a small issue? LGBT activists want government imprimatur for their ideas about gender (most of which I share). Most protesters are liberals with what I call Phantom Selma Syndrome – the sense of regret at not having been able to march with Martin Luther King, accompanied by a constant search to exaggerate the latest ersatz civil rights cause.
The brouhaha over Trump’s “refusal to denounce” anti-Semitism is a similar non-story. The fact a low-level staffer didn’t mention Jews in a press release commemorating the Holocaust, and the meandering way Trump answered media questions about attacks on Jews are merely symbolic. While in a normal presidency I could understand paying attention to every symbol, this is not a normal presidency.
Sometimes I wonder if the administration is deliberately dropping baubles down rabbit holes, confident the president’s opponents will chase them and not notice when he takes away things that matter. Example: before the inauguration, I received an E-mail suggesting I protest Trump’s “inauguration painting” because, if studied closely, it suggests sympathy for slavery. (Really – this was a thing.)
Then, with any of these non-issues, Trump can “give in” (as he did denouncing anti-Semitism) and opponents can feel like they won.
And Trump can continue his march to autocracy unabated, our checks and balances impotent to stop him. Under this president, only the united voice of the people can make sure America stays America. And I applaud those liberals and conservative dissenters who over the weekend began organizing to fight for press freedom.
Too bad the rest of them were busy scurrying down a shaft worrying about where a few thousand kids pee.
David Benkof is a columnist for The Daily Caller. Follow him on Twitter (@DavidBenkof) or E-mail him at [email protected].