I have a background in rhetoric, so I know how ideologues go about framing arguments to win their own points. Talk radio—of all stripes, but particularly the conservative variety—has employed the technique for years. And I take talk radio, with its hours of inane reinforcement, the same way I take infomercials: if you need three hours to sell me on an idea, odds are I didn’t want to buy it in the first place.
It’s all about creating a context where whatever is being talked about is somehow logical and also then something to become hopping mad about.
Rush Limbaugh is a master at this. I’ve been forced to listen to his show on occasion, and it makes my ears bleed just from the rhetorical dishonesty. It’s painful. It’s painful to me that people fall for it.
The latest bit? Check out this quote from a recent show (via Dispatches from the Culture Wars):
If you want to use — I’m assume you’re 35, 40, just doesn’t matter, and you’re on a playground somewhere and you see a 5 year old girl and you want to take her to the bathroom, we’re not supposed to say a word about that today. Because you’re exercising your freedom of choice, you’re presenting and feeling like a woman that day, so that’s none of our business. And we’re not supposed to say anything. So states said this is outrageous, this is ridiculous, and they have written legislation to stop it. And lo and behold, major institutions in corporate America are now promising and threatening boycotts to pull out of these states, and the people writing this legislation are being called bigots and sexists and racists. How in the hell did this happen? When things like this happen, we’re not in the middle of culture war. This is the sign we have lost it. We are losing it.
Do you see the context where this started? It starts with the conflation of child predators and those with non-typical gender identities. It’s a common tactic, the kind of thing that deservedly got Curt Schilling fired from ESPN.
What that first step does is make anyone who opposes these bathroom bills suddenly on the side of child predators. It’s a scare tactic, worst-case-scenario thing that doesn’t even come close to resembling reality. It’s also a disgusting bit of othering.
States didn’t write legislation to stop a made-up scenario. Remember, number of trans people who have been guilty of sexual misconduct in public bathrooms: 0. The number of Republican politicians? 3.
No, this is the pivot the right made once they lost Obergefell and marriage actually became more equal. It’s the same pivot they pulled in 2008, with the astroturf-clad Tea Party suddenly irate about government spending now that they didn’t occupy the White House. Change the conversation to the next outrage and fire up the base.
What Limbaugh and his pathetic ilk are doing is inventing a scenario that doesn’t exist, then hammering on it for hours as another way the world is going to hell.
Well guess what: people want to use the bathroom and then leave it. Anyone who is hanging out in any bathroom is going to get unwanted attention, and believe it or not, sexual assault is already a crime.
I mean, just think: there are millions of places already around this country where people of all gender identities share bathrooms. They’re called our homes. And no made-up epidemic being used to equate those of us with other gender identities with child predators will change that.
This is why cable news is poison. And it’s why talk radio is poison. You’re being toyed with, played with, rhetorically tricked.
You’re the ones being preyed upon.