Commentary: Tough guys picking fights with school children

By John Krull 

INDIANAPOLIS – The Trump administration says its decision to roll back rights for transgender Americans is based on principle.

President Donald Trump, Vice President Mike Pence and Attorney General Jeff Sessions say they are taking a stand for “states’ rights.”

John Krull, publisher,

Throughout American history, that’s generally what bigots have said when they want to use the power of government to oppress a minority. Slaveholders in the antebellum South and during the Civil War claimed they were fighting for states’ rights rather than their desire to subjugate other human beings. Segregationists asserted, loud and often, that they were standing for states’ rights when they wanted to deny black Americans equal access to the polling places, courts and education.

Now, people who want to deny Americans who happen to be gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender or questioning their full rights as citizens of this country have resurrected states’ rights arguments to cast a patina of intellectual respectability over their prejudice.

I know a fair bit of American history.

And I can’t think of a single instance in which someone advanced a states’ rights argument to extend a disenfranchised or dispossessed American’s claim to justice. People resort to invoking states’ rights when they want license to use government’s power to oppress rather than liberate.

So, let’s call this latest Trump decision what it is.


Plain, simple, cussed meanness.

It’s about making a small minority of Americans feel marginalized and outcast. It’s about trying to make decent people feel bad about who they are. It’s about giving free rein to cruelty.

Transgender Americans represent 0.6 percent of the American population – that’s right, less than 1 percent of Americans. In all ways that are anyone else’s business – and certainly government’s business – these fellow citizens are just like the rest of us.

They go to their jobs and do their work.

They pay their taxes.

They’re devoted to their friends.

They love their families.

They live their lives as best they can.

Or at least they try to — until small-minded men in positions of power who are obsessed with restrooms decide to try to make their lives more difficult than they need to be.

Only in Donald Trump’s America does it make sense to say that efforts by the Russian government to affect the outcome of our election and hack into our power grid do not constitute a threat to our national security, but that the possibility that a scared and confused child might want to go to the bathroom at school does.

The fact that these big, brave patriots have only enough nerve to stand up to children who are struggling to figure out who they are, but not to confront genuine threats to this nation, says an awful lot about their priorities.

And their character.

Our president and the crew around him like to boast about how “tough” and how “strong” he and they are. That’s the reason, they say, that they and they alone are the ones who can make America great again.

Their arguments would be easier to swallow if they didn’t spend their time picking fights with school children.

Tough guys fight in their own weight class. Bullies look for opportunities to punch down.

There was a time in this country when being an American meant that we stood with the oppressed and not the oppressors.

When we thought – when we shouted to the world – that “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” belonged to every human being.

When we took pride in the fact that, however imperfect our record as a country regarding slavery and other human rights might be, the long arc of our national history bent toward extending the blessings and dignity of liberty to every human being.

In fact, we and our ancestors fought and bled and sacrificed in the service of that cherished goal.

We need to be that America once more.

That is how we will make this country great once and for all time.

Not by picking on frightened school children.

John Krull is director of Franklin College’s Pulliam School of Journalism, host of “No Limits” WFYI 90.1 Indianapolis and publisher of, a news website powered by Franklin College journalism students.

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