Zinke stands on principal before RNC, rolls over during

Commander Zinke addresses the RNC in front of an OS X Lion desktop.

Commander Zinke addresses the Republican convention before an OS X Lion desktop.

On Saturday, Rep. Ryan Zinke (R–MT) took the bravest stand of his political career. He resigned his position as a delegate to the Republican National Convention, citing his objection to a plank in the party platform that called for federal lands to be returned to the states. Commander Zinke feels strongly about federal land management, as befits an admirer of Teddy Roosevelt. It’s understandable that he kept his commitment to address the convention on Monday night, because pulling out 48 hours beforehand would be a dick move. Too bad the evening’s program turned out to be a parade of dicks, rubbing against each other until everyone was too sore and sticky to stand up any more, with Zinke coming in to mop up.

That’s an unpleasant metaphor, but it was a lot nicer than Monday night’s prime-time show. Zinke was scheduled to speak at 8:45pm EDT but didn’t take the stage until after 11:30. His openers included Rudolph Giuliani and the sheriff of Milwaukee County arguing that Black Lives Matter is racist, plus five different people whose relatives had been killed by illegal immigrants. The theme of the evening was “Make America safe again,” but the message was “black and brown people make America dangerous.” After his openers emptied the hall with hours of what Charles Pierce called weaponized grief, Zinke got up and did his SEAL schtick for six minutes, tacitly endorsing the craziness that came before.

It was disappointing to watch him do that after his courageous gesture last weekend. Why did Zinke stand on principle re: land management but not re: xenophobia, police brutality, or torture? That’s the question under inquiry in this week’s column in the Missoula Independent, which is a real criticism sandwich. I praise Zinke for taking a stand on our national parks. I praise him for being one of the few new Republicans with the biography to stand up to terror paranoia. But I criticize him for buying in, however passively. We’ll be back tomorrow with Friday links.

Tim Fox puts Montana back on the wrong side of history

Montana Attorney General Tim Fox and his little badge, which isn't like tucking your jeans into cowboy boots at all

Montana Attorney General Tim Fox and his little badge

It’s been a long time since Montana was on the wrong side of a civil rights debate. Since 2014, when Attorney General Tim Fox withdrew his appeal of a circuit court decision that declared our ban on same-sex marriage unconstitutional, you hardly ever see Montana in lists of states that begin “Alabama, Arkansas, Mississippi…” Fortunately, President Obama’s directive that transgender people be allowed to use the public bathrooms of their choice has given us a new civil rights issue to be wrong about.

Last week, Fox filed suit against the federal government over Obama’s directive, putting Montana in cahoots with a couple dozen other states whose governors and attorneys general are deeply concerned with staking out territory on meaningless social issues during an election year freedom. Obviously, this is an issue that affects all of us, in the sense that we all have opinions about it even though it affects a small number of people. National estimates of the number of trans people in America are famously hard to come by, and estimates of the Montana trans population don’t exist. Here’s the New York Times on what we can glean from Social Security Administration data:

Since the Social Security Administration started in 1936, 135,367 people have changed their name to one of the opposite gender, and 30,006 also changed their sex accordingly, the study found. Of Americans who participated in the 2010 census, 89,667 had changed their names and 21,833 had also changed their sex.

Ninety thousand is probably a low estimate, since many trans people presumably do not officially change their names or genders with Social Security. Still, these numbers put the lowball estimate of transgender Americans at about .03% of the population. If we work from that estimate and assume Montana’s trans population is improbably identical to the national ratio, we can expect to find about 300 transgender people in the whole state.

And how many of them attend K-12? Fox’s lawsuit focuses narrowly on how Obama’s directive affects public schools. He may have taken the historically bad bet of using his state office to sue the feds over a civil rights issue, but at least he’s chosen an issue that is extremely minor. I think trans people should use whatever bathrooms they like, and I don’t mean to suggest that their rights are unimportant. But the effect of their rights on non-trans people is unimportant. I submit that transgender bathroom use is a purely theoretical idea for cisgendered Americans, particularly in Montana.  You can read all about it in this week’s column for the Missoula Independent, in which I praise Fox for his bold action. It’s ironic. We’ll be back tomorrow with Friday links.

Religious groups seek exemption from anti-discrimination order



President Obama has not yet signed his executive order forbidding government contractors from discriminating against homosexuals, but a group of “major faith organizations” has asked to be exempted from it. Citing Hobby Lobby v. Burwell, representatives of Catholic Charities USA, Saddleback Ministries and the National Association of Evangelicals asked that the president provide a “robust religious exemption” from the federal government’s plan to stop doing business with homophobes. In a letter organized by Michael Wear, the former director of faith outreach during Obama’s 2012 campaign, the groups write, “we are asking that an extension of protection for one group not come at the expense of faith communities whose religious identity and beliefs motivate them to serve those in need.” That whooshing you hear is the sound of open floodgates.

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