I have a friend whose 14-year-old daughter told him, years ago now, that she identified as male. My friend immediately went to work finding the best medical help, which included counseling. He told me that, if they didn’t live in California and he had been restricted by law as to how to help his child, he didn’t know what he would have done. It was a long process, he said –  medications and eventually surgery, but all along the way they had people helping them, counseling them. “You want your child to be happy,” he said. “You want what’s best for them.” This happened before the cruelty of restricting the rights of transgender individuals became widespread across too many states (20 at this time.)

When a group of people is targeted, there is often a misconception that it will stay as only that. I’m not part of that group, one might think, so I’m not affected. But inequality is like a virus and, once it takes hold, it can spread to anyone for any reason. Those in power, those with the loudest voices, claim ideological prowess and an arrogant assertion that they know what’s best for everyone. 

 Cruelty does not arise from ideology. It comes from a warping of the heart, a shutting down of anything resembling compassion. Once established, it looks for companions to justify its existence. When it’s planted in political soil, it’s presented as patriotism, it becomes a rallying cry, and in short order, hard lines are drawn between human beings.

 Ron DeSantis and Donald Trump understand the mechanics of cruelty. They’ve each made it their brand, although the brand looks a bit different when you compare the two men. DeSantis uses legislation to silence and disenfranchise anyone who is gay or transgender, anyone who seeks to teach children the full history of America, or who believes that banning books is a tenet of autocracy that should never be allowed in America. Donald Trump, on the other hand, bellows and insults, threatens and incites, expecting others to march into battle for him while he sits back drinking a Diet Coke. 

 Both approaches follow the same playbook – what I tell you is right, you have to get out there and fight, and the people on the other side who don’t agree with us deserve to be ostracized and even punished. Let us please not forget that, long before January 6th, Donald Trump frequently told attendees at his rallies to go beat up someone who was holding up a Hillary Clinton sign or directed them to vent their wrath at the media who were in a roped-off area. Ron DeSantis has taken a more methodical and, in some ways, more menacing approach. Waving his ‘Don’t Say Gay’ flag as if it’s the new American flag, he has put into law measures that remove the freedoms and rights of LGBTQ individuals to live their most authentic lives. He has passed 4 bills limiting the rights of an entire community of people who are not strangers to prejudice and who now are subjected to institutionalized prejudice. He has taken special aim at children and adolescents. If someone identifies as gay, or non-binary, or wants to take the steps necessary to become transgender, that awareness sparks early. But in Florida and a few other states, those kids cannot seek medical help. If Ron DeSantis were president, America would become a wasteland to anyone who isn’t heterosexual. Pushing thousands of people onto one side of the line he has drawn means that entire families end up banished and limited, unable to help their own children. 

 Both Trump and DeSantis know this simple truth – power comes from tearing people apart, from demoting one group of citizens, depriving them of rights, of dignity. Historically, every autocrat has used this method. And if they use it effectively, for long enough, what sweeps across the land is apathy, which is when they know they’re winning. That’s what threatens America right now. We have gotten so used to cruelty, to bombastic threats, to demeaning comments from presidential candidates, that these things barely ruffle the news cycle. 

 On November 9th and 10th, 1938, in Germany, Jewish homes, businesses, and synagogues were violently destroyed in what has been called Kristallnacht, the night of broken glass. But more than glass was broken. A country was split in half, Jews on one side, Aryans on the other. It had been coming, but that night carved into history the belief of the Nazi government that Jews didn’t matter, they were dispensable. You don’t need a night of fires and broken glass to ostracize an entire group of people. You only need a few draconian laws and some hate-filled tweets.

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