On January 14, whistleblower Chelsea Manning officially announced her candidacy for the U.S. Senate in Maryland. Manning, a transgender woman, is challenging incumbent Ben Cardin in the Democratic primary. She is running a proudly radical campaign rooted in her opposition to bigotry, corruption, and inaction.
Manning, who fearlessly leaked military documents revealing American war crimes and corruption only to face cruel and inhumane imprisonment in a men’s facility that drove her to attempt suicide twice, was always going to be a controversial candidate. An unabashed leftist opponent of the police state, advocate for queer liberation, and former prisoner, she is a Senate candidate like no other. Her candidacy is all the more divisive given that she is challenging a solidly liberal member of the Democratic establishment who has served in elected office for half a century.
While Manning’s campaign is just beginning, I am very excited to see where it goes and believe that she will bring a fresh perspective to what would otherwise be a stale race. The fact that we are seeing a formerly incarcerated transgender woman, a national hero who risked her life to reveal evils the government tried to hide from the American people, run for the U.S. Senate should be an inspiration to us all.
Unfortunately, that’s not how everyone sees it.
Conservatives, of course, were never going to like a Chelsea Manning Senate campaign. As nationalists, they have always hated her for exposing American war crimes and corruption, accusing her of being a traitor. As transphobes, they have always hated for being a transgender woman, referring to her as “mentally diseased,” misgendering her, and slurring her as an “it.” While this is disgusting and hateful, it’s par for the course for the right.
What I did not quite expect was the overwhelmingly transphobic and nationalistic response to Manning’s Senate campaign from liberals. The left has a long history of transphobia, one even more insidious than that of the right, but the Democratic Party has in recent years tried to characterize itself as pro-LGBTQ as support for LGBTQ equality has risen among the general American population. In November, we saw a Democratic wave usher in a slate of diverse candidates, many of them members of the LGBTQ community. The Democratic Party was quick to capitalize on their grassroots success, touting them as evidence of the party’s diverse coalition. But now, when it comes to actually supporting a high-profile transgender woman running for the upper chamber of Congress, Democrats have little more than scorn and bigotry.
Democrats: "ELECT LGBT WOMEN."
🙋🏼♀️ Chelsea Manning: "Present."
Democrats: "NOT THAT ONE. VOTE FOR THE OLD WHITE GUY!"
— safari disco cub (@disco_socialist) January 16, 2018
According to the very same Democrats who chastise the right for using anti-transgender sentiments for political capital, Chelsea Manning is an opportunist whose candidacy is based solely on her transgender identity. Some even argue that she’s a Russian plant, a stunning new peak for liberal paranoia that trivializes the gravity of Russian interference in our electoral system. It takes little more than a scroll through Twitter to reveal that the Democratic Party does not truly care about transgender Americans. Even the supposedly unbiased reporting on her reveals how liberals do not view her gender as valid, as The Washington Post and other transphobic liberal media outlets felt the need to use her deadname, a horrific act of disrespect and violence.
Additionally, Manning’s campaign has revealed the disturbing nationalism lurking on the left, with liberals joining the right in referring to Manning as a “traitor” and a “criminal.” Democrats may mock Republicans for their mindless admiration of the abusive military state, but it’s clear that Democrats will just as easily hop on the nationalist train when it’s convenient – i.e. when it can be used to tear down a transgender woman.
We should be honest about the reasons Democratc loyalists don't like Chelsea Manning: she implicated them in the unsavory aspects of the American war machine they prefer to associate with Republicans. (Also, transphobia.)
— Ben Geier (@ben_geier) January 16, 2018
Some argue that Manning is simply too divisive a figure for a Senate race, and that her candidacy will imperil a safe Democratic seat. This reflects the terrifying devotion some liberals have developed to the Democratic Party in the Trump era. These liberals seem to believe that the Democratic Party is our savior, and therefore any threat to Democratic power, such as challenges to incumbents, is a threat to democracy.
Nonsense. Primary battles are healthy for our democracy, and voters should have options. Ben Cardin has served in elected for office for 50 years, and has faced little scrutiny over his record in Congress. Though Cardin is a solidly liberal senator, he is also a foreign policy and national security hawk who has attempted to further criminalize whistleblowing and authored an anti-BDS bill that would have criminalized protests of the Israeli government, a clear violation of the First Amendment. His positions on these issues stand in stark contrast with those of Chelsea Manning, who bravely violated unjust laws to expose the very corruption and war crimes Cardin would apparently prefer kept secret. Manning also wants to “disarm, defund, dismantle, and abolish [ICE] and [CBP] as an unchecked national police force,” something unheard of for a high-profile Senate candidate.
I firmly believe that Chelsea Manning is an American hero. She risked everything to expose the crimes of the most powerful instrument of imperialism on earth, and nearly died for her bravery. As a transgender woman, I also consider her a personal hero, a shining symbol of perseverance and strength. She endured in her imprisonment the constant invalidation of her gender, pushing her to suicide, a phenomenon not uncommon in the transgender community. But she survived and is now thriving as a proud transgender woman, even as she faces invalidation left and right. Her Senate run only further demonstrates her fearlessness, and serves as a big middle finger to the Democratic establishment that cares for nothing but power.
As a radical transgender woman who supports police abolition and whistleblowing, I know that I have never fit in the Democratic Party and likely never will. To this day, the party refuses to steadfastly condemn anti-queerness, supporting anti-LGBTQ Democrats like Dan Lipinski and treating anti-queerness as just an opinion rather than an affront to the lives of the queer Americans who have little choice but to support Democrats over Republicans. But it is nonetheless deeply disheartening to see just how quickly liberals revealed their transphobia after Manning’s announcement. It is ignorant to use her deadname. It is hateful to reduce her to her gender and claim that she only has support because she is transgender. These are things I wish that Democrats were above.
But alas, liberals have yet again shown that their interest in our community begins and ends with our votes.