If you’re not up on your Gramsci, you won’t know what’s happening.
Why did President Obama use executive authority to insist that the transgendered be allowed to use school bathrooms and shower room facilities of the gender with whom they identify? The GOP does not fully grasp this.
Neither does Time magazine, which devotes its May 30, 2016 cover to the topic: “Battle of the Bathroom: From schools to statehouses, what’s really at stake.” Even Michael Scherer, the author, fails to grasp the full significance. Scherer attaches to it this anodyne meaning:
As so often happens, the thousands of transgender Americans who struggle daily to find acceptance may soon become figureheads in a fight bigger than their fate. The 2016 battle over bathrooms is, after all, about far more than public facilities — it’s about gender roles, social change, federalism, physical danger, political polarization and most strikingly, a breakdown in the ability of anyone in this country to speak across divides, or appeal to common humanity.
Most strikingly a breakdown of anyone in this country to speak across divides or appeal to common humanity? Where to begin?
What’s really at stake is not the litany cited by Scherer, and certainly not “most strikingly” a failure to speak across divides or appeal to common humanity. What’s going on?
Welcome to the cultural revolution.
The left is advancing a cultural revolution of radical egalitarianism, creating a new cultural hegemony of which the Great Bathroom War of 2016 is but the most recent element.
The New York Post editorial board recently opined that the “Feds’ push for trans rights in US schools is simply insane.” Perhaps. Still, as Hamlet said, “Though this be madness, yet there is method in ’t.” The left is crazy like a fox.
As reported by the New York Times, maybe only three out of a thousand people identify as transgender. So why would Obama stir up a hornets nest to accommodate this tiny minority? Obama thereby has taken a symbolic stand of strategic significance for the ongoing cultural revolution. It has profound political implications both short and long term.
Conservatives, in reaction, are positing preposterous threats of rapine. The idea of a prepubescent Middle School (or even a pubescent High School) transgirl molesting a cisgirl is beyond ridiculous. And there are abundant ways to prevent such an event, or to prosecute it in the extremely unlikely event it were to occur.
Conservatives also have expressed concern over the possibility that boys will declare themselves girls in order to sneak into the girls’ showers. This is overwrought. There also are perfectly practical measures to prevent this.
Important? You bet. By making silly arguments conservatives lose dignity and short-circuit their own message. By propounding a false narrative alluding to fear of sexual molestation conservatives are certain to lose the Great Bathroom War.
We do not have a “culture war,” as it was referred to by the New York Times on its page 1 above the fold, May 22 Sunday edition in “New Front Line: In Culture War: The Bathroom. How a Transgender Fight Went National.” War merely implies a struggle between opposing groups. Rather, what is happening is a cultural revolution, a far more intimate and radical thing. War may lead to occupation and dramatic change. Revolution means redefining the very basis of society.
The real significance of the Great Bathroom War of 2016? Obama’s action overrides the value of modesty, a subset of orthodox religious doctrine.
What may be inferred is that the left views orthodox sexual morality not as a legitimate creed but as something innately bigoted. The only way the right could hope to turn back the assault on its creed is to drop the hysterical cries of rapine and to take a dignified stand for the legitimacy of modesty.
This is an argument the right could win. If the right does not rise to the moment then “The ceremony of innocence is drowned,” as Yeats so memorably wrote.
Conservatives famously lost the battle to keep marriage defined as a covenant exclusively between a man and a woman. Conservatives began to lose the argument the minute they allowed the left to frame it as about “discrimination.”
Classic Marriage is axiomatically discriminatory. To discriminate, though, is not necessarily a bad thing. The Supreme Court approves of discrimination … unless it is invidious, which, in plain language, translates to “motivated by ‘animosity or resentment.’”
Our traditional, religious, moral codes have integrity. The right could have won an argument for discrimination based on creed. “Creed” most fundamentally implies a religious code and thus explicitly is protected by the First Amendment. The right barely took this stand.
Gay marriage and transgender bathrooms or public shower facilities are battlegrounds in a much bigger struggle over equality, or, more specifically, the meaning of equality. The left is redefining equality to mean sameness. This redefinition process also can be seen at work in delegitimizing income inequality whether equitable (merited) or not (privileged).
The bleeding edge of the cultural revolution lies in delegitimizing the distinction between male and female. Male and female have been distinguished all the way back to that vivid statement in the fifth chapter of Genesis: “In the day that God created man…; Male and female created he them….”
Unless the right wakes up soon the left’s modernist undifferentiated view shall be made the cultural norm. The right’s differentiated view, itself more classical, will be marginalized, delegitimized, stigmatized, punished, and in certain circumstances, even perhaps criminalized.
As part of its advocacy for radical undifferentiated equality the left is intent on establishing gender fluidity as the cultural norm. This is radical. Opening public restrooms and school shower facilities to both biological sexes is a great leap forward in the cultural revolution of radical egalitarianism.
The moment fast arrives. As Vivian Giang wrote last year in and article for the very square Fortune Magazine, “Transgender is yesterday’s news: How companies are grappling with the ‘no gender’ society”:
With Bruce Jenner’s transition to Caitlyn, transgender issues have become front and center in the mainstream cultural conversation. But among many young people, there is a much bigger conversation going on about gender. The whole notion of “binary” — female and male — gender norms is being seen as limiting, and unnecessary.…
“The shifts we see happening around gender and gender identities are the opposite of a fad,” said Gieseking, who recently accepted a position at Trinity College as assistant professor of Public Humanities. “If we look back through history, we can see gender non-conforming people. What is happening today is a profound change in society, both for individual and group understanding, and a recognition of a persistent element of the human condition.”
Is there method to the madness? Yes indeed. The left is following the playbook of a brilliant, too little known, figure: Antonio Gramsci. I was introduced to the work of Gramsci, leader of the Italian Communist Party, by the late Michael Joyce, then president of the Bradley Foundation. Gramsci, spent a torturous ten years before dying in prison for his anti-fascist activities.
As summarized at the University of Michigan’s Nutshell Biographies #2:
One of Gramsci’s ideas was the concept of “hegemony,” or ideological domination. When one ideology, or world view, dominates, it suppresses or stamps out, often cruelly, any other ways of explaining reality.… These consist of a culture’s way of seeing and believing, and the institutions that uphold these beliefs, like religion, education, family, and the media. Through these beliefs and institutions, society endorses the ethical beliefs and manners which “the powers that be” agree are true, or right, or logical, or moral. The institutions and beliefs that the dominant culture support are so powerful, and get hold of people when they are so young, that alternative ways of envisioning reality are very hard to imagine. This is how hegemony is created and maintained.
According to Gramsci, hegemony locks up a society even more tightly because of the way ideas are transmitted by language. The words we use to speak and write have been constructed by social interactions through history and shaped by the dominant ideology of the times. Thus they are loaded with cultural meanings that condition us to think in particular ways, and to not be able to think very well in other ways.
Sound familiar? It should.
This is a long and powerful game.
The right is not even on the field.
The left considers its vision of progressive social and cultural justice to be superior to the vision of other regimes, including classical liberal republicanism. It fights for its vision, across the board.
The left believes that by dominating the culture, including civic groups, and using the courts and insulated government agencies, it will change the facts on the ground. Then it will win the political mandate.
The left is right. Missing the big picture, and the attendant strategy, the right’s response has been weak.
President Obama is committed to being a transformational president. He is succeeding, and in big ways.
His legacy includes disengaging from the Forever War, bringing home the troops, and shrinking the U.S. military to the smallest level since World War II, steps toward equalizing America as a world military power.
His contributions to the cultural revolution also are marked. These have included Obamacare, the War on Coal, ending Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, and giving a critical assist to gay marriage. Next up: the radical equality represented by the Great Bathroom War of 2016.
Doing this may cost the Democrats dearly down ballot. It may even cost them the presidency. Obama doesn’t much care. Transgenderizing school bathrooms and showers endears him to the hard core progressive base, as it should. That base will be his for a long and fruitful post-presidential career.
The left believes that it is on the side of history. The left has notched many victories and its morale is high. The left also believes that by putting its policies in place it will, in the end, win the political battles.
If Obama is succeeded by another Democratic president, the new, radically egalitarian, cultural hegemony may be made permanent. And if the Democrats lose in 2016, to their way of thinking, it is only a matter of time.
Tip your hat to the new, cultural, revolution.
Photo: Grave of Antonio Gramsci (Gabriele Di Donfrancesco/Creative Commons)