The 1940 presidential election centered on potential U.S. entry into World War II. In 1860, Lincoln and Douglas, along with two other candidates, squared off over chattel slavery and state liberties. John Adams’ use — or abuse — of presidential power animated the 1800 contest with Thomas Jefferson. And 2016 found Ted Cruz going after “Caitlyn” (or Bruce — take your pick) Jenner over transgender bathroom rights. Jenner had posted a video lambasting Cruz for support of a North Carolina law intended, in practice, to bar Jenner and fellow transgender women (who were born men) from use of the ladies’ room.
The road to the future leads downward as well as upward. It’s a fact you can’t miss as you look around the country today. But back to bathroom “rights” — an issue less interesting for its tangible implications than for what it shows about the American soul in the year of grace 2016. The fact that the debate’s being framed as a rights issue shows the distemper of the times.
The great rights, as civilization used to understand them, flowed from the nature of man. And woman. We had received our rights from God, who trusted us to do something constructive with them under a regime that emphasized freedom consistent with social and civic purpose. England’s bill of rights, and our own, a century after England’s, inscribed on the public record the attitudes necessary for upward movement: free speech, the right to worship, the right to assemble, the right to trial by a jury of peers … and the right to your bathroom of choice? The founders must have missed that one. Wonder how. We can’t see, apparently, the transcendent need not just to alter human architecture but, further, to force public acceptance of that rather unusual requirement.
The Great Transgender Bathroom Debate isn’t about bathrooms at all. It’s about the monarchical privilege — running counter to all concepts of human rights — of making the world agree you’re who you say you are, whether or not what you say makes sense.
“Oh, excuse us, we somehow had the idea you were a man.” Such is the idea the Great Transgender Bathroom Movement wants to dethrone. The GTBM wants to say forcefully and loudly to the world: “Shut up! This isn’t about you; it’s about me! Me — got that? Whatever nature got wrong (on my personal reading) concerning my sex and me is a dead issue. The live issue is — well, me, of course. What else? Who I say I am is who I am. Thus I demand my choice of bathroom! Note I didn’t say ‘request.’ That’s too gentle, too forbearing. You’re going to give me what I want because it’s my right.
“My right.” Sigh. The rights, the verities of the larger society yield in every case these days to the demands, the claims of the self-empowered. Agree with ’em, or lose any reputation you ever had for sensitivity, tolerance, fairness and receptivity to the formerly unknown and now just barely sensed.
Acceptance of a compromise — the public’s provision of a genially sex-neutral bathroom, for those who want such a thing — would fail to serve the purpose. Sometimes choice goes too far. In the present instance, it could leave you wondering (if I’m Bruce/Caitlyn) whether or not you have beaten your head on the floor in humble submission to my demand for acknowledgment — of the new, improved, undoubtedly wonderful Me.
That’s the Great Transgender Bathroom Debate in the proverbial nutshell: a contest for power over imputed critics and foes. As Edward G. Robinson enjoined in the old TV commercial, “You do it my way, see?” That’s until we see, coming toward us, the next imposition on historical, civic, philosophical and theological understandings that the left (all this stuff comes from the left, naturally) wishes to impose on contemporary thought.
Donald Trump, Ted Cruz, Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders? Sorry, kids, they’re just bystanders, onlookers. The battle to reshape civilization goes on not at the polls but in the high school restroom.
William Murchison writes from Dallas. His latest book is “The Cost of Liberty: The Life of John Dickinson.”