Shaking My Faith in America

From The New York Times:

The bloodshed in the Tree of Life synagogue is a sign that hatred of The Other is poisoning our public life.

By Howard Fineman
Oct. 27, 2018

WASHINGTON — I grew up in Pittsburgh’s Tree of Life synagogue. My parents taught Sunday school there. I learned to read Hebrew (sort of) there. I was a bar mitzvah there. My mother sewed a fancy velvet jumper for my little sister to wear there.

On Saturday morning — the Jewish sabbath — Jews at prayer were slaughtered at Tree of Life because and only because of who they were. It was possibly the deadliest anti-Semitic attack in this country’s history, according to the Anti-Defamation League.

My response is grief, of course, and the immediate realization that this horror is part of a larger pattern of mayhem and hatred in America and around the world. Churches, minority communities, gay nightclubs, politicians and journalists are threatened. We live in an age of assault rifles, pipe bombs and bone saws.

But I also have to admit — and am grieved to admit — that the mass murder at Tree of Life has shaken my perhaps naïve faith in this country, one that I began developing as a boy growing up in Pittsburgh.

The predominantly Jewish Squirrel Hill neighborhood has a bucolic-sounding name, and it fits. It is bounded on two sides by huge, wooded parks. The streets of mostly single-family homes are lined with lush trees; there is easy access to universities, civic institutions, playing fields and excellent schools.

I was reared in a Jewish paradise — a.k.a. America, my Promised Land. Not the one God gave us (though I love that one, too), but the one we chose for ourselves.

I was taught in Squirrel Hill that we were in the one country that was an exception to the history of the human race in general and the Jews in particular. Founded on Enlightenment principles of individuality, freedom, tolerance and justice, the United States was the only place besides Israel where Jews could live at one with their nation, unburdened by fear or confusion about identity.

Now I must wonder: If Pittsburgh isn’t safe for Jews, if Squirrel Hill isn’t safe, if the Tree of Life isn’t safe, what place is? Without diminishing anyone else’s suffering and death, it’s a sad fact that the Jews often are the canaries in the coal mine of social and political collapse. So, what does the bloodshed in the Tree of Life mean?

It is a sign that hatred of The Other is poisoning our public life. It’s always been a vivid strain in America, stimulated by the stress of immigrant waves, but one we have overcome time and again. Although we often honor it in the breach, our founding idea remains: that each person here is precious and born with unalienable rights. Now, political enemies in America deny each other’s humanity.

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Trump’s laws cannot erase trans people, but it can allow others to hurt them

From The Guardian UK:

The far right’s belief in gender uniformity ignores the arc of trans lives, says Moira Donegan

Fri 26 Oct 2018

Last week, the Trump administration issued a directive to the Department of Health and Human Services, instructing them to consider “sex” as an unchangeable condition determined by a person’s genitals at birth. The suggestion is that the administration intends to oppose an emergent legal theory that asserts that gay and transgender people are protected from discrimination under federal law, and to limit other civil rights protections for trans people in particular.

Just days later, the far-right Hungarian prime minister Viktor Orbán banned gender studies programs at the country’s universities. “We do not consider it acceptable for us to talk about socially constructed gender rather than biological sexes,” an Orbán deputy told the press. Meanwhile, Brazil’s far-right presidential candidate Jair Bolsonaro, a Rio congressman with fascist leanings, retains his polling edge ahead of this Sunday’s run-off election – despite, or perhaps because of, his routine issue of rabidly misogynist and anti-gay sentiments. Bolsonaro has publicly said that women who are raped “deserve” it, and that he would be incapable of loving a gay son. In 2002, he remarked: “If I see two men kissing each other on the street, I’ll beat them up.” Bolsonaro aims to pack Brazil’s supreme court, in part with the goal of reversing a 2013 decision legalizing gay marriage.

On Thursday the Guardian reported that the US delegation to the UN has been seeking to remove references to gender from international human rights documents. The move signals that the US will wield its considerable diplomatic power with the aim of discouraging efforts to protect gay and trans people around the globe; sparking the ire of western European allies, according to the Guardian report, and putting America in line with some of the world’s most oppressive regimes.

The moves by these far-right leaders around the world to limit the rights of LGBT people reaffirm the right’s long-standing hostility toward gay rights, transgenderism, and gender variance. They suggest, too, that strong man leaders like Trump, Orban and Bolsonaro view their own power and legitimacy as derived from their maleness, which they regressively understand as mandating a masculinity composed of brutishness, peevish intolerance for difference, obliviousness to nuance, and a bully’s contempt for the vulnerable.

Before the global rise of the extreme right, LGBT rights, at least in the west, had seemed to be a nearly settled issue. Early predictions from the 2016 election speculated that even a Trump administration would be lenient toward the queer community. The rapid shifts in popular opinion that surrounded gay marriage in the first decade of the 21st century seemed to be mirrored during the second by an increasing level of understanding and acceptance for trans people. But acceptance of gender variance is anathema to the emerging ideology of the globally ascendant right wing. Given these leaders’ intolerance for diversity and eagerness to unite their followers around a distrust of those different from them, this distain for trans rights is not exactly surprising.

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