Monthly Archives: July 2017

The Trump Presidency and LGBT Rights: A Study in Managing Expectations

On April 22, 2016, an article in The New York Times–not exactly a pro-Trump paper– carried the headline, “Donald Trump’s More Accepting Views on LGBT Rights Set Him Apart in GOP.” The article went on to describe what it saw as the soon-to-be presidential nominee’s moderately liberal positions on LGBT rights in contrast to other leading Republicans. The article did acknowledge that, “Of course, Mr. Trump is not as embracing of gay rights as the Democratic candidates are; he said during this campaign that he believes that marriage is between a man and a woman, a position he has held since at least 2000, when he briefly flirted with a bid for the presidency.” Nonetheless, the thrust of the article was to portray Trump as a new kind of Republican on LGBT rights. In fairness, Trump did sound a more moderate note on LGBT rights than past Republican nominees and many prominent Republicans. But that is not saying a whole lot. LGBT rights began being discussed by presidential candidates in the 1970s. By that point, the GOP had shifted to being the more conservative party on civil rights. Had they been operating in today’s political climate, many past Republican nominees, presidents, and other politicians would likely have held liberal positions on gay rights given their stances on other civil rights issues. It is difficult to say this for sure, but we saw glimpses of this possibility with Republican politicians who defended gay rights in the 1970s, such as Charles Goodell and Edward Brooke, as well as elderly, retired GOPers who spoke up for same-sex marriage more recently, such as Daniel J. Evans, William G. Milliken, Lowell Weicker, Alan Simpson, Thomas Kean, and Jim Thompson. And as I pointed out here, saying that Trump is less anti-LGBT than people such as Ronald Reagan, Bob Dole, George W. Bush, and Mitt Romney is akin to saying that a colonoscopy is better than a fecal transplant. Additionally, by the time that the aforementioned article was written, Trump had already stated that he would consider appointing Supreme Court judges to reverse marriage equality. And just as the article was published, he declared support for a “states’ rights” position on transgender bathroom use.

Most LGBT voters apparently agreed with my assessment of Trump; he won only 14% of LGBT voters, almost twice as few as John McCain, nine percentage points less than Bush, Jr., and eight less than Romney. Trump did worse with LGBT voters than he did with women voters, Hispanic voters, or Jewish voters. Despite this, however, Trump’s anti-LGBT views have gone largely unmentioned by the media. Many gay Republicans have touted Trump as an ally. And last month, even Washington Post columnist, Jennifer Rubin, one of the president’s most strident critics on the Right, incorrectly wrote, “Ironically, Trump has been supportive of gay marriage in the past and never made it an issue in the campaign. So the Trump base doesn’t even have Trump on its side on this one.” But as his recent tweet on transgender soldiers shows, he has been quite bad on LGBT rights thus far. So, six months into his presidency, let’s recap some of the lowlights of his record on LGBT rights:

  1. In addition to having Mike Pence as his vice president, he has hired a slew of people with anti-LGBT records as Cabinet secretaries and Cabinet-level officials, including but not limited to Jeff Sessions, Betsy DeVos, Tom Price, and Nikki Haley.
  2. Rescinded President Obama’s executive order allowing transgender public school students to use the bathroom that corresponds with their gender identity
  3. Praised, kissed up to, and pursued alliances with Russia, where being openly gay is effectively illegal, and Saudi Arabia, where homosexuality is a capital crime.
  4. Turned a blind eye to the ongoing anti-gay genocide in Chechnya and refused to offer asylum to gay Chechen refugees
  5. Appointed Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court, where he promptly dissented to support anti-gay discrimination in Arkansas’s marriage law.
  6. Nominated other anti-gay individuals as judges for lower courts.
  7. Shown little-to-no interest in passing anti-discrimination legislation for LGBT Americans.
  8. Rescinded key enforcement provisions of Obama’s executive order that banned discrimination by federal contractors based on gender and sexual orientation.
  9. Announced, on the anniversary of President Harry Truman’s executive order desegregating the armed forces, that transgender individuals are banned from serving in the military.
  10. Literally during the time between me writing a draft of this blog and posting it, Trump has allowed the Department of Justice to file an amicus brief stating that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 does not forbid discrimination based on sexual orientation. This is in direct opposition to the stance of the EEOC, as well as a recent 7th Circuit Court of Appeals ruling, and represents a departure from the Obama Administration’s position of neutrality on the meaning of Title VII.

It ought to be clear by now that the narrative of Trump the LGBT Rights Supporter is just as imaginary as Trump the Populist or Trump the Tough Guy. Yes, he is less anti-LGBT than George W. Bush was. It would be impossible for any president in 2017 not to be. Hell, you could have made Ted Cruz president, and he wouldn’t have been as anti-LGBT in 2017 as Bush was. But Trump’s LGBT rights record cannot be judged on him being less homophobic than a right-wing former Texas governor was ten years ago. Rather, we must ask, is he at least as supportive as our previous president? Are his positions on LGBT rights liberal for a politician now? Clearly, he fails to pass muster when judged by these criteria. If there was ever a time when he deserved the benefit of the doubt from LGBT rights activists, that time is gone. Trump is no more a friend to LGBT people than he is to women, racial minorities, immigrants, disabled people, or Muslims.

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Gun Control, Murder Rates, and Correlation vs Causality

The National Rifle Association is an impossible group to defend. Their CEO and executive vice president thinks the wrong side won the Civil War. They fall silent when an innocent black man with a legally obtained weapon gets shot by a cop. They are shameless flunkies for the Right who lump supporting gun rights in with being anti-minority, anti-woman, anti-LGBT, and pro-Trump. And instead of letting anti-gun control arguments stand on their own, considerable merits, they try to shift blame for mass shootings onto the video game industry  and mentally ill people. I bring all of this up, because a recent anti-NRA protest by organizers of the Women’s March also ended up being a protest for gun control. I am proud that I participated in a Women’s March in my hometown of Atlanta and would gladly do so again. However, the Left has been making what I believe to be a mistake by championing expansive gun control and making this a major issue. One of the most popular arguments for this is that countries with stricter gun laws have lower homicides rates than the U.S. It is certainly true that the U.S. has an unusually high murder rate for an industrialized, Western nation and that many Western nations with lower murder rates have stricter gun laws. But is this cause and effect or merely correlation? To clarify, correlation is when two trends are observed to go together, but they may or not be caused by each other. For example, in pre-1960s America, states where more people drank Coca Cola tended to have more racist laws, while states where more people drank Pepsi tended to have less racist laws. But nobody would argue that Coca Cola consumption caused Mississippi to have government-mandated segregation for longer than Massachusetts. Similarly, ice cream sales, drowning deaths, and riots are all probably more likely to happen in the Summer than in other parts of the year, but nobody thinks that ice cream helps cause drowning or rioting.

This blog post will focus on three countries and consider a piece of gun control legislation in each: the United Kingdom, Canada, and Australia. All have significantly stricter gun laws and significantly lower murder rates than the United States. Many people argue that this is proof or at least strong evidence that gun control reduces murder. If this is true, then one might expect that the murder rates in these three countries consistently decreased when gun control legislation was enacted. The first country that will be considered is the U.K. In 1997, the U.K. effectively banned ownership of most types of handguns. The following year, the murder rate saw a small decrease from 1.18 per 100,000 to 1.14. But from 1999 to 2003, the murder rate consistently increased, peaking at  1.79. After 2003, the murder rate began declining. But it was not until 2009 that the murder rate reached a level lower than what it had been before the handgun ban. Thus, it is difficult to conclude from statistics that Britain’s homicide rate was lowered by dictating what types of guns people can buy, and a strong case can be made that the data suggests the opposite result.

In 1969, Canada introduced “non-restricted,” “restricted,” and “prohibited” categories of firearms. That year, a total of 391 people were murdered in Canada. In 1970, the number jumped to 467. It continued to increase to 473 in 1971, 521 in 1972, 546 in 1973, 600 in 1974, and 701 in 1975. While it is impossible to prove that gun control caused this sharp increase, these statistics demonstrate that it certainly did not reduce the murder rate in Canada.

In 1996, a gunman at Port Arthur, Australia engaged in a mass shooting, killing 35 people and wounding 23 others. The Australian government quickly responded to this horrific event with stringent new gun laws. According to The New York Times, “Pushed through by John Howard, the conservative prime minister at the time, the National Firearms Agreement prohibited automatic and semiautomatic assault rifles and pump shotguns in all but unusual cases. It tightened licensing rules, established a 28-day waiting period for gun purchases, created a national gun registry and instituted a temporary buyback program that removed more than 20 percent of firearms from public circulation.” Going by figures from the Australian Institute of Criminology, the homicide rate remained stable between 1996 and 1997. It dipped somewhat in 1998 and increased somewhat in 1999. The significant drop in homicides often brought up by gun control advocates did not take place until at least the mid 2000s. A case could be made that this means that the National Firearms Agreement took awhile to make a serious impact. But it also makes any causal link far more difficult to trace.

None of the evidence that I have offered here proves that gun control is ineffective at reducing murder. As I myself stated, correlation does not equal causality. It can certainly still be argued that, all other things being equal, gun control makes people safer. Longtime readers know my view on the matter: I support requiring criminal background checks and passage of a safety test (similar to a driver’s test) before buying guns but oppose most other gun control measures for a variety of reasons. That said, one cannot insist that the lower homicide rates of the United Kingdom, Canada, and Australia prove that gun control works yet at the same time dismiss the statistics laid out in this post as irrelevant.


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Buy This Product Or Else: Why The Individual Mandate for Health Insurance Must End

America has a tendency to go through one bad health care policy after another. The broken pre-Obama system of out-of-control insurance costs and unfunded mandates begat the ill-advised Affordable Care Act, which begat the ever elusive American Health Care Act and all of its associated defects that have the magical ability to unite Tea Partiers, moderate Republicans, Trump supporters, and liberals in disgust. I wrote on this site years ago about why I dislike the Affordable Care Act, but to recap and expand: it involves too much government control of the health care system, soaks the middle class, risks being a backdoor to nanny state policies such as New York City’s short-lived, infamous “big gulp ban,” and may well have led to more unemployment by requiring businesses to provide insurance for their workers. The act certainly did some good things, such as providing necessary medical care to low income Americans and preventing insurers from charging extra for preexisting conditions. But changes like these could have been accomplished without most of the bad aspects of the ACA. For someone who opposes national health insurance, this is a very much a “pick your poison” thought experiment, but a system of single payer health insurance would actually be preferable to this system of mandatory employer-provided health insurance. Under a single payer system, the government would provide insurance directly instead of forcing employers to do so, preventing layoffs or reduced hiring. Unemployed people would have easier access to insurance than they do now, and the costs of the program would not be hidden by passing them onto corporations. To be clear, I do not support national health insurance, but if the United States is determined to have it, the best system is probably single payer. But there is another key problem with the Affordable Care Act, which the Republican bill at least attempts to remedy in spite of its myriad of serious flaws: the individual mandate, which requires everyone to buy health insurance whether they want it or not.

Before getting into detail about why I agree with conservatives who oppose the individual mandate, I should point out that a significant amount of the right-wing opposition to individual mandates seems to be motivated by a desire to disagree with Obama on everything. In the 1990s, Newt Gingrich favored an individual mandate as part of a right-wing alternative to the Clinton’s proposed health care bill. In 2006, Mitt Romney signed a bill requiring Massachusetts residents to buy health insurance. Robert Moffit, a health care analyst for the right-wing Heritage Foundation, attended the signing and praised the bill. In a 2012 piece attempting to argue that “Romneycare” and “Obamacare” were radically different, Ann Coulter revealingly admitted, “Until ObamaCare, mandatory private health insurance — as Romney pushed — was considered the free market alternative to the Democrats’ piecemeal socialization of the entire medical industry.” Nonetheless, even if many conservatives supported individual mandates in the past and oppose it now because Obama supported it, that does not mean that individual mandates are a good policy.

The basic problem with the ACA’s individual mandate is that it is inconsistent with individual freedom. In a free society, consumers ought to have the right to choose whether or not to purchase goods and services without the State making the choice for them. And part of living in a free society is that sometimes, consumers will have the knowledge and financial means to make the right choice and still make the wrong one. Sometimes, adults buy houses on a fault line. Sometimes, adults smoke cigarettes. And they should be allowed to do so, provided that they are made aware of potential consequences. The same principle applies to buying insurance. Should people who otherwise cannot afford to buy insurance be provided with tax credits and vouchers to be able to buy it? Absolutely. Should parents be required to buy insurance for their children? Again, absolutely. But adults also should have the right to choose not to buy insurance if they think that they are wealthy or healthy enough not to need it. It is certainly foolish for someone who can afford insurance not to purchase it, but as stated above, people a right to make foolish decisions as long as they are not directly hurting anyone else. To reiterate, there are many , many, many problems with the American Health Care Act. But the proposed legislation actually does make good attempts to incentivize people to voluntarily buy insurance while removing the individual mandate and avoiding the problem of some people driving up costs by waiting to buy insurance until after getting sick. The AHCA would allow insurers to charge people extra if they go more than 63 days without having insurance, then attempt to buy it. This provision is problematic given that the AHCA will make it more difficult for some people to buy insurance, especially if they are between jobs. In fact, I would be unwilling to vote for the AHCA as currently written. But allowing people to chose not to buy insurance while charging them extra if they try to buy it at a later time is, in and of itself, a good policy.

There is a common argument in favor of individual insurance mandates that must be addressed. Some people, including Newt Gingrich, have likened it to mandatory car insurance. This comparison, however, fails to hold water, because car accidents are very likely to seriously impact other drivers. And there is no way to prevent this from happening short of entirely eliminating car accidents. Thus, car insurance is required, not for the welfare of the person who crashes their car, but for the welfare of other innocent drivers who may be impacted by said crash. On the other hand, if someone suffers a heart attack, it is unlikely to directly impact anyone else in the same way that a car accident is. An uninsured person seeking medical care may drive up costs for everyone else, but as mentioned earlier, there are ways of addressing that cost without mandatory insurance. Freedom from nonessential government coercion and access to affordable, quality health care should never be treated as mutually exclusive or pitted against each other in a zero sum game.

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