Warning: This article contains descriptions of violence against a transgender woman, which may be upsetting to some readers.
Trump’s dangerous rhetoric physically sickens me. Listening to him speak is like consuming a dish someone poorly prepared in the kitchen with no cookbook. I have no faith in the United States, which has surrendered itself to a simmering heat of desensitization and anger. This hatred is not new, and he did not create it — but he encouraged white cisgender Americans to voice their frustration. As Sen. Kamala Harris said in the debates, “Trump didn’t pull the trigger — but he tweeted out the ammunition.”
As a writer, words mean everything to me — language is at the core of how I live. When his oppressive language fills meaningless, uninformed tweets and the news covers it more than anything we’ve ever seen, I wonder how we’ve allowed ourselves to give so much attention to this bigoted leader.
We could write several books dedicated to how rhetoric inspires violence in different communities. Recently, a transgender woman was found burned beyond recognition in Florida, officials say, according to the Human Rights Campaign. Bee Love Slater was the 18th transgender person in the U.S. killed this year. Fatal, anti-transgender violence in the U.S. is on the rise, but it’s also important to recognize that the statistics might not even account for all the underreported deaths or ones unidentified as transgender. Black transgender women are disproportionately affected.
I receive the New York Times Daily Briefing, and this article didn’t even make one of their emailed “top headlines.” The transgender community needs more attention, with Trump trying to take away their hard-earned rights. When the media doesn’t call out the consequences of this rhetoric, we’re not holding Trump accountable.
I am not a transgender individual, and will not pretend I can ever understand a lifetime of trying to be comfortable with identity, politics, exhaustion, pronouns and discrimination. My mom, who sent me the New York Times article on the recent murder, works for KESHET, a non-profit that works for the full equality and inclusion of LGBTQIAP+ Jews in Jewish life.
Reflecting on the Trump administration’s discriminatory policies — including but not limited to his banning transgender individuals from serving in the US armed forces, telling the Supreme Court it is legal to fire transgender workers and advocating for state-sanctioned anti-transgender discrimination in homeless shelters — it is clear there is work to be done by American citizens who must make up for the lack of presidential efforts toward securing safety for the transgender community. We must recognize the effects that our leaders’ rhetoric have on America’s inclination towards violence and hatred. It is only until we recognize the painful realities of Trump’s words that we can address the consequences of transgender discrimination.
Some people may argue that Trump’s rhetoric doesn’t matter, and people should be allowed to say what they want to say. However, while the right to free speech is important, we elevate some people’s words more than others. Thus, someone who is expected to fill presidential shoes is immensely obligated to be sensitive in their language — especially toward the trans community — as well as be professional in their rhetoric.
The media must hold itself accountable for how it is complicit in transgender violence. We often spend hours analyzing Trump’s tweets, yet fail to be critical of the violent acts against the transgender community and other populations that go unnoticed. Transgender communities experience this daily, and the media isn’t giving the actual reporting of violence more weight than tweets.
We are in dire need of a presidential candidate who takes rhetoric seriously. There may be hope for a leader that values words, specifically pronouns — Elizabeth Warren recently added her preferred gender pronouns to her presidential campaign’s official Twitter account. This may seem like a small thing, but it helped to normalize pronoun use. Even for cisgender people, using pronouns is more inclusive of transgender individuals.
But as the Trump presidency has shown, we need a systemic, institutionalized commitment to inclusivity and justice for long-lasting social change. As Harris alluded to, we may not have control currently over the presidential ammunition — but America is the one pulling the trigger.
Maddie Solomon is an undeclared sophomore. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.