Trump adds trans rights to his targets in US culture war
America Letter: Comeback speech by former president includes new front for attack
In response to QAnon supporter Marjorie Taylor Greene posting an anti-trans sign outside her office in Capitol Hill, Democratic Congresswoman Marie Newman, whose daughter is transgender, hung a transgender pride flag outside her door. Photograph: Stefani Reynolds/New York Times
As Republicans face four years in the political wilderness following Donald Trump’s defeat in November’s election, last weekend’s CPAC conference gave a good indication of the current direction of right-wing political discourse.
“America Uncanceled” was the theme of the annual Conservative Political Action Conference gathering in Florida, the letters proudly displayed above the stage where dozens of conservative figures, including the former president, spoke.
“Cancel culture” has become a focus for a Republican Party still finding its way post-Trump, who warmed to the theme in the final months of his presidency. On the eve of the presidential election he signed an executive order establishing a “1776 commission” to examine the teaching of American history in schools – a counterpoint to the New York Times’s acclaimed 1619 project, which aimed to place slavery at the centre of US history.
America’s culture wars are nothing new – Republicans have long accused Democrats of wanting to “cancel Christmas”, for example. But the embrace of the theme by the CPAC last week is an indication that cultural battles over “wokeness” and revisionism are emerging as a key faultline in American politics.
This week a new controversy erupted. The estate of the late Theodor Seuss Geisel, author of the Dr Seuss children stories, announced it would cease the publication of six books due to their portrayal of people “in ways that are hurtful and wrong”. Just as Herge’s TinTin and Roald Dahl’s fictional creations have had to adapt to the norms of modern times, Dr Seuss’s publishers confronted some of its controversial themes and characters – in this case its depiction of Asian and African people.
The announcement was made on “Read Across America Day”, which marks Geisel’s birthday, March 2nd. The reaction from the right was swift and indignant. Donald Trump jnr denounced the move on his father’s favourite TV show, Fox & Friends. House of Representatives minority leader Kevin McCarthy accused Democrats of outlawing Dr Seuss during a debate in Congress, later posting a video of himself reading Green Eggs and Ham, a Dr Seuss classic, on YouTube.
White House press secretary Jan Psaki faced questions from journalists about why President Joe Biden had not mentioned Dr Seuss in his Read Across America Day proclamation, unlike his predecessors Trump and Barack Obama.
The Dr Seuss controversy followed a similar uproar last week over the rebranding of Mr Potato Head as “Potato Head”, though the creator of the toy insisted that the Mr and Mrs Potato Head characters would still be available.
While the controversy over kids’ characters is likely to blow over, a more serious and potentially insidious issue is festering.
Trump’s comeback speech last Sunday, which recycled many of the themes of his campaign rallies, included a new topic. Referring to transgender rights, he declared that women in sport are being forced to compete with “biological males”. “If this is not changed, women’s sports as we know it will die, will end,” he said.
Trump was tapping into an issue gaining ground at state level. Mississippi just adopted a Bill banning transgender student athletes from female sports teams. Similar measures are under way in other states such as Wisconsin and Tennessee.
The debate over trans rights has arrived in Congress. Marjorie Taylor Greene, the controversial QAnon sympathiser recently elected to Congress, posted an anti-trans sign outside her office in Capitol Hill. It followed the passing of the Equality Act, a law banning discrimination against LBGTQ Americans, in the House of Representatives, though it still needs Senate approval.
Greene’s move was particularly antagonistic as her office is located across from Illinois Congresswoman Marie Newman, whose daughter is transgender. Newman responded by hanging a pink and blue transgender pride flag outside her own door.
“Thought we’d put up our Transgender flag so she can look at it every time she opens her door,” she tweeted. Meanwhile, Republican Rand Paul was criticised for his questioning of Rachel Levine, a transgender Biden nominee, during her Senate confirmation hearing.
Biden is hardly a woke icon. His views on social issues such as abortion have evolved over the years. But on LGBTQ rights he is unambiguous. He reversed Trump’s ban on transgender people serving in the military, and welcomed the Equality Act as “a critical step toward ensuring that America lives up to our foundational values of equality and freedom for all”.
“No one should ever face discrimination or live in fear because of who they are or whom they love,” he declared. As Republicans position themselves in an increasingly fraught debate, they may want to consider that that’s a view most Americans share.