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September 22nd, 2017

Insight

Compulsion isn't Compassion

Laura Hollis

By Laura Hollis

Published June 2, 2016

Democrats like to characterize themselves as the party of compassion, and it is standard fare during election years (and pretty much the rest of the time) for liberals and progressives to demonize Republican candidates and conservative voters generally as lacking compassion.

But do progressives' pet policies actually display — or promote — compassion? A Google search produces the following definition of the word: "sympathetic pity and concern for the sufferings or misfortunes of others." Synonyms include empathy, fellow feeling, care, concern, solicitude, sensitivity, warmth, love, tenderness, mercy, leniency, tolerance, kindness, charity and humanity.

These are individual traits, not institutional ones. (When was the last time you heard any branch of government described as displaying "warmth," "tenderness" or "sensitivity"?) And yet progressives' go-to response is a call for government intervention for every conceivable human problem. That often means using a sledgehammer when a finer tool would produce a far better result.

The most recent example is the diktat issued by President Obama via the Department of Education and the Justice Department, ordering all public schools to allow students to use the bathrooms and locker rooms for the gender with which they identify - whether or not they have undertaken any medical gender reassignment efforts. The implicit threat in this missive from the Obama administration is comply or lose your federal funding.

It is hard to overstate what a stupid blunder this is. And how totally typical.

For starters, it is premature. While individual families have certainly dealt with transgender members, (some openly, some quietly) the country as a whole is just now coming to terms with the existence of gender-confused and gender-nonconforming individuals. Chastity/Chaz Bono, Laverne Cox and Bruce/Caitlyn Jenner have brought the issue into the public conversation, but many questions remain: What causes gender-nonconformity? Are there gradations of feelings of gender dysphoria? Do some gender-nonconforming youth come to embrace or accept their birth gender? If so, in what numbers? What is considered a "cure" or appropriate treatment? Is gender reassignment surgery the best option? The only option? Not a preferred option within the transgender community? Politicizing the issue precludes in-depth scientific contributions, closes off necessary discussion, and creates confusion, resentment and bad public policy.

Second, it arguably usurps the powers of state governments, bogging us down in lawsuits about separation of powers, taking time, money and other resources that could be better spent dealing with the actual issues.

Third, the Obama bathroom mandate is overkill. How many trans people are there in the U.S.? As reported last summer in the New York Times, recent studies are not completely reliable, but suggest that perhaps 0.3 percent of the American population (among those old enough to so identify) is transgender. With approximately 300 million people over the age of 5 in this country, that would be about 900,000 people.

These numbers, while not insignificant, are modest enough that individual schools, school districts, city governments, or businesses could very easily adopt policies that protect everyone's safety, comfort and concerns.

But oh, no. Here comes President Obama with his executive orders, his unaccountable administrative regulations, and his threats.

The irony is that this approach actually deprives people of the opportunity to be compassionate.

Top-down federal regulation interferes with (if not outright prohibits) local approaches. That is manifestly unfortunate, as it removes the personal connections which are vital to a sense of shared commitment and community buy-in. It is far easier to make a compelling argument in favor of a friend, a relative, a neighbor, or a neighbor's child.

Obama's love of the federal government bludgeon changes people's focus from the ability to be kind to their neighbors to having to defend their own rights. It pits Americans against one another. It is chief among the reasons why the climate in the country has become so acrimonious.

It's much the same with immigration. Remember those buses filled with illegal immigrants that irate townspeople refused to let stop in Murrieta, California two years ago? It wasn't really the immigrants that citizens were infuriated with; it was a government that refuses to listen, disregards our laws, our rights and our safety, and then accuses its citizens of being "uncompassionate" when they express legitimate concerns about illness, healthcare and welfare expenditures or crime.

What is missing in the progressive approach is a belief in the power of persuasion. But this would require a belief in the fundamental goodness and rationality of most human beings — something which is sorely lacking among the Left, at least as evidenced by their views of anyone who does not think as they do. Theirs is a remarkably cynical view of humanity. (It is also hypocritical in a population that professes to ooze compassion, and ahistorical, in that it assumes that government is more compassionate than private citizens. History has ample examples that rebut any belief in the inherently "compassionate" characteristics of any form of government.)

The best solution to the problem of accommodating gender-nonconforming individuals is for people to be able to have conversations in a climate where all parties' voices can be heard without fear of oppressive repercussions. This not only permits people to be legitimately compassionate, it also enables the development and implementation of local, individually tailored solutions that communities decide best fit their needs. And it avoids the knee-jerk reactions and backlash that do nothing but cause pain and obscure the real issues.

Government may well be involved. But it will be local, municipal, or county or even state government. That's as it should be.

Leave the federal behemoth out of it.

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Laura Hirschfeld Hollis is on the faculty at the University of Notre Dame, where she teaches courses in business law and entrepreneurship. She has received numerous awards for her teaching, research, community service and contributions to entrepreneurship education.

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