For a lot of people, the Supreme Court upholding Trump's ban on transgender service members in the military is a minor outrage at best. Hell, for some it won’t even distract them from arguing over Oscar picks. As a veteran and a trans woman, this is all sorts of frustrating for the obvious reasons. However, it’s not the most infuriating and disappointing thing about it. The worst part of this mess is that it confirms a long-standing attitude among a lot of the left and liberals about how to create progress and change in our country; it's clear the plan has been an utter and complete failure, and a disaster for the people supposed to benefit from it.
There’s been an apocryphal quote long attributed to President Lyndon Johnson after he signed the Civil Rights Act of 1964 that said, “We’ve lost the South for a generation,” meaning Democrats would not be able to win there by advancing social progress. While the quote is not real, the attitude behind it has long been part of the left's attitude towards social progress in America. By the end of the 1990s you would be hard pressed to find a state in the Deep South with a Democratic governor or member of Congress, and state legislatures run by even moderate Democrats. This spread outside the South and into swing states stretching from the Carolinas to the Rocky Mountains — this left Democrats and those further to the left passing progressive policies in relatively small enclaves in the Northeast and along the West Coast. Save for a few exceptions, the days of a Deep South Democratic governor or senator like Bill Clinton or Al Gore are far in the past.
But you might ask what that has to do with the transgender military ban? Well, if you would just sit there quietly and let me fini--- I mean, great question! For years, far too many progressive-minded people have relied upon the idea of what I call “Trickle Down Equality.” Of course, we all know of “Trickle Down Economics”; the idea that if the rich are allowed to keep and spend their money it will eventually trickle down to the middle and lower classes. Of course we all know this is garbage. Well, that’s what “Trickle Down Equality” is. Since at least the 1990s, many of the establishment and elite liberals and left of America have relied upon the idea that they can create social progress by passing laws in the states that they can, in Congress when they can, and challenging discriminatory laws on the local level.
Of course this idea has long relied upon the dated idea that Republicans want to govern our country fairly and in good faith, harking back to an era before Newt Gringrich’s time as Speaker of the House began the long slide into the current state of American democracy, which bears an uncanny resemblance to a dumpster fire. With Mitch McConnell blocking Obama’s rightful ability to appoint a Supreme Court Justice after the death of Antonin Scalia, the stage was set for the final collapse of the failure of this long-standing belief that the Supreme Court would be the saving grace for American equality and justice.
When Bush appointed John Roberts many felt that he would be a moderate conservative and would err on the side of what would be best for our country, but that was always a fool’s belief. First with Citizens United and then with his gutting of the Voting Rights Act, he helped establish that monied interests could put undue influence on our politics and also gave an air of legality to Republican efforts to disenfranchise minority and poor voters who have long favored Democrats. From there, more swing states have gone Republican (Ohio, Florida, etc.), and Republican strongholds have only grown stronger, eventually leading to the election of Trump. From there, Trump filled Obama’s slot for SCOTUS with Neil Gorsuch and was handed another with the appointment of accused sexual abuser Brett Kavanaugh. With Ruth Bader Ginsburg's health failing, Trump may be able to give the Court a hard right majority for decades to come.
While the high court gets all the attention, Trump — under the guidance of Pence and hard right groups — doubled the number of federal judges and removed many of the traditional restrictions on approving them in the Senate so now Lambda Legal estimates that of the 12 circuit courts, five of them contain 25 percent or more of Trump appointees. The reliance upon the idea that the courts would be our saving grace and trickle equality down has been permanently quashed.
So what does this have to do with the ban on transgender servicemembers? It’s part of the longstanding plan by evangelicals and white nationalists for our country. While the left and liberals have fought over purity tests and abandoned efforts to effect on the ground change in conservative areas of the country, retreating into ever more densely populated but electorally inefficient enclaves, the conservatives have built coalitions of opportunists working to share a mutually beneficial goal. Instead of viewing the courts as their saving grace, they have relied upon winning legislatures where they can appoint the judges that would work to their benefit. The transgender military ban is just the beginning of blatantly discriminatory judicial decisions using discordant interpretations of laws that have long protected the marginalized. They will fill long term Justice Department positions with like-minded attorneys and law enforcement officials.
For far too long progressives have banked on executive orders and government policy to protect people. Far too long they have avoided taking the fight into conservative states to win legislatures and ultimately Congressional seats. Progressive have instead hoped that a system of American democracy that no longer exists would allow them to win change in the courts and vainly hope cultural change could precede legal change. Progress is not an ideology of purity, passivity, and reaction, and it’s well past time to relearn that it is one of coalitions, aggression, and proactivity.