In a recent interview, the director Errol Morris discusses his latest film. It’s about Steve Bannon, the man who orchestrated the political rise of Donald Trump. During the 2016 presidential debates, a tape is released where Trump is heard bragging about sexual assault: “Just grab them by the …” In response, Bannon arranges a media spectacle where Trump is surrounded by women accusing Bill Clinton of sexual misconduct. It’s his signature whataboutism.
In the interview, Morris describes that moment. There is Bannon in the wings, “Rubbing his hands together, gleefully, like some kind of cut-rate Mephistopheles. And it’s powerful for me because cheap s--t works. I mean, that’s the ugly truth.”
That’s the playbook. Truth and reason get swallowed by distraction and outrage moving at the speed of Twitter. Bannon notes in the film that “the key was the comment section, the angry voices.” Never mind the real people who are harmed in the chaos. This isn’t what it meant to be a Republican. It’s not conservatism. It’s nihilism as orchestrated by Bannon, who unleashed Trump on us because, as he said: “I want to bring everything crashing down, and destroy all of today’s establishment.”
Since 2016, Texas politicians have used this playbook to attack transgender people. It started with bathroom bills and the Bannon-esque inversion of reality. Transgender individuals are bullied, attacked, abandoned and even killed simply for being who they are. And yet they became the threat. The victim is the perpetrator. Never mind the harm this did to vulnerable people. It scored lots of political points. It tapped into that urge for instant, easy rage.
Over the past few weeks, these same Texas politicians have taken this tactic to new extremes. It started with a custody battle involving a 7-year-old transgender child. The truth about the case didn’t matter to them. The angry comments and the churn of social media were enough. Attorney General Ken Paxton, Sen. Ted Cruz and Gov. Greg Abbott fed on the outrage. They want Family and Protective Services to investigate the mother, arguing that her loving support is actually causing “mental or emotional injury.”
The outrage isn’t limited to this one case. It’s pointed at all transgender children and their families. Texas state Reps. Matt Krause and Steve Toth pledged to file bills in the next legislative session to classify “transitioning of a minor” as child abuse. My wife and I are raising a transgender child. So are thousands of Texas parents. Will our children be taken from us? It seems unthinkable, but societies have succumbed to unthinkable paroxysms of fear and anger.
The inversion of reality this time is far crueler than the bathroom bills. They are casting love as hate. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends a gender-affirming approach to parenting transgender kids, one premised on loving support. Decades of research prove definitively that transition-related care is safe, effective and lifesaving. When transgender children are affirmed in their identities by a supportive family and community, their mental health is statistically the same as their cisgender peers. Having even one supportive adult in their lives reduces suicidality by 40%. Criminalizing supportive care and separating children and parents would create the very threats and abuses they claim to be fighting.
When reality is inverted, one thing that results is hypocrisy. Supposedly conservative politicians are calling on the state to act like Big Brother and break the sacred bond of family. At one point during the film, Morris says to Bannon “There’s an inherent contradiction in the views that you hold.” But remember, the playbook isn’t about logic or evidence. It’s about rage. It’s not about facts or honesty, it’s about scoring points. Cheap s--t works. That’s the ugly truth.
My family knows all about this now. In 2016, we hosted Attorney General Paxton and his wife, Angela, now a state senator, in our home for dinner. I grilled out, Angela told a funny joke about two muffins in an oven; the kids picked at their vegetables; and we talked about the joys and travails of raising children. It was a nice dinner. Attorney General Paxton promised to remember us and our loving family. Now he is calling us child abusers. Cheap s--t, indeed.
This new attack on transgender children and their families is baseless and vile. Fortunately, cheap s--t didn’t work with the bathroom bills. In that fight, we saw decency, facts and common sense prevail. My family and other transgender-inclusive families are praying for the same outcome. The lives of our children are at stake.