Trump, DeSantis and toxic masculinity

Article on Substack, 4.29.23

« Trump and DeSantis strive to put the 2024 presidential campaign under the sign of toxic masculinity ». New article on Substack, April 29, 2023.

Recently, in the United States, attacks on women’s rights have reached a new level after a federal judge in Texas attempted to ban the abortion pill. His ruling is based less on serious legal arguments than on misogynistic ideology, traditional among anti-choice advocates. In particular, he argued that women who resort to abortion lack free will and are highly likely to develop serious psychological troubles, anxiety, and to commit suicide because they regret having had an abortion.

Beyond the abuse of power that is reflected in his ruling (which is currently under review by the Court of Appeal and maybe one day by the Supreme Court), Kascmaryk has opened a Pandora’s box to force the highest court to rule on the right of women to have access to the abortion pill, including in states that have upheld the right to abortion. If the Supreme Court were to rule in favor of a nationwide ban, this would contradict the Dobbs decision of June 24, 2022, which de-constitutionalized the right to abortion and left it up to each of the 50 states to legislate on the issue. But everything can happen.

To speak, as Kascmaryk does, not of embryos or fetuses, but of « unborn babies » or « unborn persons » is not insignificant, since this rhetorical strategy is part of the dynamic carried by the most fanatical anti-choice: to criminalize abortion, to turn women who have recourse to it into murderers, deserving to be sentenced to death… in the name of a « right to life ». The issue is clear once again: it is all about punishing women.

Bypassing democracy

Using conspiracy theories insinuating that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is bribed and scientifically incompetent, the judge repeats verbatim the elements of the complaint filed with him by the anti-abortion organization Alliance Defending Freedom. Hatred of medicine and science defines obscurantism everywhere. According to these people, the FDA is playing against women’s safety: a perfectly despicable « argument » (in addition to being false) because women’s health and well-being are the least of the concerns of these fanatics who, by the way, claim to be more skilled than the highest drug authority in the country. Once again (and without minimizing the other reasons, all legitimate, for having an abortion, recognized as a fundamental right by the United Nations), the ignorance and denial of the medical reasons for which women have abortions are particularly shocking. Anti-choice people refuse to see that often terminating a pregnancy is necessary for medical reasons (the fetus is not viable) or simply to save the life of the women.

This is why due to local laws in states which triggered a series of abortion bans across the South and Midwest, thousands of women are being denied an abortion because the type of complications or miscarriage they are facing does not fit into the boxes provided by the law in question. Many also testify that they were simply denied gynecological care during the first weeks of their pregnancy.

Kacsmaryk, like all those who push the abortion ban as far as possible, knows well that the ban on the abortion pill will not be achieved through the democratic process, as two thirds of the American population support abortion rights, as confirmed by all the recent referendums and ballots (last Midterms, in particular). This is why the judge is twisting the arm of the law to get his measure passed by the Supreme Court. This is exactly the same tactic that has been used by anti-choice advocates since the 1980s to achieve the Dobbs decision of June 2022. Once again, we see that attacks on women’s rights are a powerful Trojan horse in the challenge to democratic values, norms and rules.

As journalist Mark Joseph Stern writes in Slate, « This is a moment of truth for the justices, like Kavanaugh and Barrett, who avowed that their opposition to Roe was rooted in constitutional principles rather than religious belief. If they do not put a stop to Kacsmaryk’s madness, they will show the country that their goal is not to leave abortion up to the democratic process, but to use every tool in their power to outlaw abortion in every state”.

Is DeSantis reluctant to take responsibility for his anti-abortion law?

Republicans are embarrassed because they see that drastic restrictions on abortion rights do not pay off electorally. And while the party is being lobbied by a fanatical base, it is sometimes resisting it. Thus, in two conservative states, South Carolina and Nebraska, Congresses have just voted against such laws, which the governors would undoubtedly have enacted if they had been approved: abortion remains, for the time being, widely available there.

Yet, hegemonic masculinity resists. It is at the heart of the law that Florida Governor Ron DeSantis signed on April 13, far from the cameras, almost in secret, banning abortion after six weeks of pregnancy. He thus renders null and void a law that he himself had promulgated last year, then in front of a large audience of supporters, which limited this delay to 15 weeks. While the latest text has yet to be confirmed by the Florida Supreme Court, it contains all the misogynistic clichés, such as the fact that a woman or teenager who is pregnant as a result of rape or incest will have to provide a document proving the veracity of the crime of which she was a victim before she can have an abortion. Florida would then cease to be a sanctuary state for women who are prohibited from having abortions in neighboring southern states.

The anti-abortion movement is definitely hypocritical because, in the United States as elsewhere, a very small part of women victims of rape file a complaint and among them, most see their complaint rejected. This reality has been brought to light by associations and social science research, and is therefore widely known. “Forcing survivors to provide ‘documents’ immediately after being raped to access abortion is policy that protects rapists”, tweeted the democratic representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, in reaction to the Florida law.

As Amy Schoenfeld Walker puts it in the New York Times, doctors and medical centers are afraid of prosecution because current laws are vague and unclear. The mention of exceptions for medical reasons or in cases of rape is only window dressing. Women are thus doubly “punished”: they cannot have an abortion and are not recognized as victims of a crime.

Trumpism and the instrumentalization of gender

Let’s move to another target of toxic masculinity: transgender people. They are more and more being stigmatized and besieged by obsessed right-wing politicians. On April 14, in Indianapolis, at the annual convention of the National Rifle Association (NRA), the main gun lobby, former president-candidate Donald Trump delivered a diatribe in favor of the free carrying of weapons. He singled out mental problems and « trans ideology » – described as potentially violent and dangerous to society, not only in terms of civilization, but in terms of crime – as the true causes of mass killings in the country. The 400 million firearms in circulation in the US would therefore have nothing to do with it.

Trump and several Republican Party leaders, not to mention far-right media, are pushing conspiracy theories that there has been an increase in violence and murders committed by transgender people in recent years. There is absolutely no evidence to support this claim. The massacre at a Nashville Christian school on March 27 by Audrey Hale (who, according to the police, used a male pronoun to define herself on a social network: should we conclude that she was trans?) was the starting point for this hate speech. That Audrey Hale was able to legally purchase seven guns, including semi-automatic rifles, and that her parents felt, according to the New York Times, their child should not have owned guns given that she suffered from mental disorder, is not addressed by pro-gunners. In Louisville, Kentucky, Connor Sturgeon, who killed five of his former co-workers at a bank on April 10 before being shot, has been singled out as trans by the far right, including Trump. What about it? We don’t know.

For the all-pervasive right-wing ideology of wokeness, trans advocacy leads to terrorism… Not only is this accusation « forgetting » that the FBI has defined the far right as the main terrorist threat on American soil, but it is also obscuring that LGBT people are mostly victims of violence, fanned by the hatred of such irresponsible politicians.

On the one hand, every opportunity is good to stigmatize LBGT people, as illustrated by the multiplication of discriminatory local measures and laws against them, in Florida, for example. On the other hand, while more than 95% of mass shootings in the United States (two shootings per day in 2022: at least 4 dead or wounded except the shooter) are committed by cis men, gender is NEVER questioned. Yet, this male violence should in itself be addressed by public policies. It is, as much as the free circulation of firearms, a structural problem, not a problem of « a few mentally ill individuals who take drugs » (Trump).