Hearing the booms from the Independence Day fireworks on the National Mall, I imagine our capital city being under bombardment. I was born in the now-vanished Doctors Hospital halfway between where the fuses are being lit and where I am writing.
“The ditch is nearer,” wrote poet Robert Lowell six decades ago during the civil rights era, looking back to Colonel Robert Gould Shaw and his 54th Massachusetts Infantry Regiment, the black Civil War unit portrayed in the movie “Glory.” The closest the war came to where I am, other than the presidential box at Ford’s Theatre, was the Battle of Fort Stevens in the north of the city in 1864.
More violence has been directed from the District of Columbia than towards it; exceptions include the burning of Washington by the British in 1814, the riots following Dr. King’s death in 1968, and the storming of the Capitol in 2021. Our long-nurtured sense of immunity from sacking now seems quaint as the threat unleashed by Trump lingers, less from his mob than from the three justices he nominated to our high court.
Elie Mystal of The Nation describes how Republican justices on what he dubs the Extreme Court ignore reality: “In Shinn v. Ramirez, the conservatives ignored a man’s proof of his innocence and sentenced him to die just the same. In Kennedy v. Bremerton School District, they simply made up a set of facts in order to defend a high school football coach who was functionally pressuring public school students into Christian prayer. And in New York State Rifle & Pistol Association Inc. v. Bruen, they argued that actual statistics about gun violence are irrelevant to whether a state is allowed to issue gun permits.”
Affirmative action will likely be the next to go, LGBTQ rights not long thereafter. Yet instead of fighting back, some among us obsess over pronouns and attack Bette Midler of all people for wanting to be able to say “women” without adding obligatory boilerplate including every variant to avoid accusations of murderous indifference. Instead of advancing the cause of inclusion, this surrender to the professionally outraged—like the embrace of the wildly unhelpful slogan “defund the police” in 2020—makes us look obtusely overzealous.
We cannot fight the far right effectively when we are too busy fighting among ourselves over seating arrangements in Utopia, nor when anyone who strays from the latest doctrinal formulation is accused of throwing people under the bus.
When dissent is demonized, the resulting silence is not agreement. Treating any variation from the rigid gender roles we challenged for half a century as necessarily non-binary is not science but fashion. Liberation for all requires mutual tolerance and understanding, not imposing.
Gender diversity is not gender abolition. Those of us whose gender and birth sex are the same are increasingly treated as threats to a new genderless reality that radicals are willing into existence.
But that is not reality. The reality is that we are on the verge of losing rights for which generations fought. Meanwhile, trans friends of mine complain that their movement has been hijacked by people who are not transgender at all.
I wrote recently about the importance of channeling anger productively. Sadly, some view rage as a governing philosophy. It’s like Mao’s Permanent Revolution if it targeted Pride parades. The self-styled revolutionaries in this case, while they alarm the town criers at Fox News, are mainly assailing us with language policing, protesting Brett Kavanaugh’s dinner at Morton’s, and mulling over which affinity group requires a new stripe on the rainbow flag.
The entire point of the rainbow was that it is a metaphor for the whole spectrum of us. It is inherently all-inclusive. But it is metaphorical, not representational. As with the controversy over the Vietnam Veterans Memorial decades ago, some people prefer pounding differences to working together. Meanwhile, Christian nationalists work to suppress and nullify our votes. Our pulling apart helps them.
Progressive maximalists act vindicated when Democrats they deem imperfect lose elections. But all-or-nothing stances leave us with nothing. And the stakes have been raised. If Republicans retake Congress this November and the White House in 2024, we will likely lose all of our gains since Stonewall. We need the grace to temper our passions and address our abiding differences with respect, hope, and constructive commitment.
The July 4 fireworks have stopped, but a virtual bombardment is escalating. The black-robed enemy is already upon us.
Richard J. Rosendall is a writer and activist at [email protected]