It's the two-year anniversary of the January 6 Capitol attack, and the House is stuck on failed Speaker bids, while a recently filed anti-trans bill in Oklahoma heralds another year of far right extremism in US politics.
It’s called the “Millstone Act of 2023”, which should tell US citizens everything they need to know about the ongoing struggle with far right Christian extremism. Named after Luke 17:1-2, a passage in which Christ advocates that it’s better for a person to have a millstone tied around their neck and be drowned, than that they harm “little ones” (either literal children, or a reference to any of his followers), the bill introduced to the Oklahoma senate late Wednesday would make it a felony to offer gender-affirming care to any person under 26 years old.
In practice, GOP state senator David Bullard, the author of a 2022 anti-trans law banning youth from using change and rest rooms that best accord with their gender identity, probably isn’t that concerned about gender-affirming care involving breast augmentation, genital reconstruction, and other forms of medical intervention already used to reinforce a patient’s natal/genetic sex.
It’s just the forms of care, decided upon by medical professionals, in consultation with their patients and in accordance with guidelines established by the American Medical Association and other major regulatory bodies, that involve physical modifications that do not align with conservative ideas of what a body with certain chromosomes (or at least the outward appearance of having those chromosomes) should look like.
Last year, LGBTQ+ groups called attention to language in other anti-trans legislation that was already nudging the scope of government bans to the age of 26, well into adulthood. This language clearly indicated that far right groups were not so much interested in “protecting children” from wildly misrepresented ideas of “the left” wanting to lop off body parts, as in eliminating the ability for trans people to seek forms of care and societal readjustment that demonstrably improve overall well-being.
Other bills slated for 2023 advancement, in Arizona, Kansas, Kentucky, Missouri, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, and Virginia, variously target healthcare providers and parents with criminal charges for supporting gender-affirming care. Some even go so far as to legally mandate what names and pronouns adults are allowed to use with legal minors. (And of course, blanket legislation against hormone treatments, including puberty blockers, will also affect children who receive such healthcare for reasons unrelated to being trans. This is scorched-earth political meddling in private medical affairs.)
Trans people, under different names and societal contexts, have always been part of the human condition, and will continue to be so irrespective of state bans on public life. Only the quality of a trans person’s existence in the US today remains in serious question.
The bigger political crisis
Recent Pew polling found that 1.6 percent of the US adult population identifies as trans or nonbinary, with this number skewed toward young adults (2 percent trans adults under 30). But despite the small size of this demographic, far right movements successfully leveraged paranoia and panic around queer communities to significant extremes in 2022: legislation terrorizing queer families by creating invasive duties to report, far right citizens’ militias terrorizing drag events, a gunman killing five in Colorado Springs gay nightclub while far right media stoked the flames of homophobia and transphobia.
The only thing this single-issue mass-panic political tactic failed to achieve in 2022? Anything resembling a “red wave” in the November midterm elections. But as this year’s latest round of anti-trans bills illustrates, the far right has far from given up.
Congress currently finds itself embroiled in a humiliatingly historic round of failed votes to elect a speaker for the House. California Republican Kevin McCarthy has thus far failed 11 leadership bids: all of which have made for easy online spectacle, and even a measure of schadenfreude from the “other side” of the US political spectrum.
But it would be a grave error to allow the absurdity of this crisis to distract from what its resolution will entail. The only way for Republicans to overcome this standstill is through concessions, and some on offer include installing more “rabble-rousing” Freedom Caucus members to the House Rules Committee, as well as allowing for a single vote to topple the Speaker at any time: two choices that will profoundly destabilize an already fragile and routinely deadlocked government assembly of “the people’s” representatives.
Meanwhile, today is January 6, the second anniversary of an insurrection at the US Capitol, wherein protesters attacked federal buildings and drove Congress to shelter for safety. Along with protesters who died on-site from health conditions, and Ashli Babbitt, shot while breaking into the House, Officer Brian Sicknick died the next day of related injuries, and four police officers died of trauma-informed suicide in the days and months thereafter.
In November, Stewart Rhodes and Kelly Miggs, of the Oath Keepers, were convicted of seditious conspiracy. 978 people have been charged so far in connection with events of that day, with 465 pleading guilty, and 335 having received sentencing. The Final Report of the Select Committee, released in December, recommended former president Donald J. Trump be charged on four counts by the Department of Justice: obstruction of an official proceeding, conspiracy to defraud the US, conspiracy to make a false statement, and conspiracy to defraud by assisting, aiding or comforting those involved in an insurrection.
On paper, this might sound like progress, but McCarthy and other House Republicans have already made clear their plans to undercut the power of the Office of Congressional Ethics for at least the next two years. Term limit changes are also strategically included to oust sitting Democratic members, which would significantly change the focus of any investigation going forward. Whatever happens with the coming struggle to elect a Speaker, it’s only the beginning of a complex two years for those seeking better integrity from US government.
Amid early 2023 state bills already criminalizing the homeless and targeting queer communities (as per the usual extremist tactics to rally voters around fear, hate, and disgust), and also in the throes of this latest spectacle in Congress, it’s easy to be diverted into case-by-case outrage. Easy, too, to forget that these are all symptoms of the same, overarching democratic crisis.
Nevertheless, it’s far right extremism, aided and abetted by significant portions of the mainstream Republican party, that remains pressingly on the US political agenda, and which continues to imperil its democracy. What can average citizens do—and how can international allies help—to bring about a better union at long last?