Conservatives, as a rule, lie to win elections. This isn’t some unique observation I’ve just made, it’s a pretty well-established fact. Their policies are almost always bad for a majority of people, and so they can’t run on what they actually want to do. They have to distract people. At their most honest, they lie about the effects of the laws they want to pass, like when they insist that cutting taxes for the rich will cause that wealth to “trickle down” to everyone else. They make similar claims about keeping wages low, and deregulating businesses, but they’ve been saying that stuff for so long that most people can see the lie for themselves.
Their preference, at least right now, is to focus on what we’ve come to know as “the culture war”. This narrative relies on the much more vague overarching lie that the reason everything’s getting worse (whether or not it actually is) is all those cultural evils and bad people they’ve been warning against. Immigrants, secularism, homosexuality, anti-racism, and – their current favorite – the terrifying existence of trans people. They’re playing on nostalgia – the idea that things used to be better in “the good old days”, and drawing a spurious correlation: All this stuff that seems new and makes us uncomfortable has been increasing at the same time as things have been “getting worse”, therefor the new and uncomfortable stuff must be the cause of things getting worse. If we can just make the bad people and bad stuff go away, things will go back to the way they used to be, and everything will be good (for us) again.
It’s an old lie, but an enduring one. I think part of its tenacity, at least in the United States, comes from the ubiquity of certain kinds of Christianity. We grow up hearing about how God causes societal calamities as a way to punish people who’ve “gone astray” and do evil things. Sodom and Gomorrah were destroyed because the people there just wouldn’t stop sinning, and so God killed them all. The entire planet was flooded, and every terrestrial life extinguished (except for a handful on a boat), because they were all just so evil that God didn’t have any other choice. All those evil, evil babies just had to go!
I think if you directly challenged them on this connection, many conservatives would say they don’t actually believe that there’s a direct link, but rather that it’s all coming from the same people. Maybe some would say that God is “allowing” bad people into government as punishment for tolerance, or something like that, but there seems to be this general belief that all this “decadence” and acceptance is somehow making everything worse, so we need to return to the Old Ways.
This has had varying levels of success. A majority of people don’t seem to think this way, but our laws are built so that you don’t need an actual majority of people to gain power. You need a majority of voters in key locations, which can be a clear minority of the overall population. That means that there’s power to be gained from collecting a small number of dedicated people, and keeping them enraged at all times.
The go-to over the last few years has been attacking trans people, and lying about them to scare gullible bigots. It’s been observed by others that they tend to make the perfect target. They’re a small enough minority that a lot of folks can go through life never (knowingly) meeting a trans person, which makes it easy to lie about them without getting caught by the target audience. They’ve also shown that their sense of self is strong enough that they won’t just go away in the face of an oppressive society. The fact that trans people are who they say they are means that they will keep fighting to live as themselves, as anyone would, and so there’s a movement for conservatives to push against, and lie about. When you break it down, it seems like a reliable strategy, and the Republican Party has certainly made it central to their efforts.
Fortunately, it doesn’t seem to work quite like they want it to.
Youtuber Three Arrows did a video about this about a year ago, pointing out that the vicious campaign against trans people was failing, as an electoral strategy. The blog Ettingermentum has been making a similar case, and recently went on The Majority Report to elaborate:
It’s just not working. People at large aren’t buying the bullshit the way the hardcore Republican base are, and all the hateful rhetoric isn’t translating to electoral success. In some cases, it’s even hurting them, and it’s wonderful to see.
That does not mean that the problem is going to go away by itself. Bigotry does still motivate a lot of people, and the US is set up to heavily favor a conservative minority in a number of ways, meaning that they’re fully able to pass laws and foment violence against trans people (and any perceived as such), and that means that the fight for trans rights is as important as it’s ever been. Transphobia is still widespread in the general population.
The thing is, it’s not something that’s actually motivating new people to go vote for the oppression of trans people. Those who do vote for it were already reliably going to vote Republican, and most other people – even if they’re transphobic – view the focus on trans people as some great existential threat as the bizarre obsession that it is. At times, it can feel as though we’ll be stuck fighting the same battles forever, but in many ways, that feeling itself is a lie told by the bigots themselves – that they will never go away, never stop hating, and that they never lose. The truth is that they are losing on this issue, because humanity as a whole is simply better than them. Keep fighting and keep loving, because it is making a difference!