After one of President Biden’s recent executive orders provided encouraging news for trans athletes, backlash was sadly inevitable. After all, he’s a new president and as we’ve discussed numerous times, transgender athletes have become a lightning rod in America’s endless and tiresome culture wars.

So it’s not surprising that during the confirmation hearing for prospective Secretary of Education Dr. Miguel Cardona, a few ambitious politicians would take the opportunity to announce that their number one academic priority was to throw a marginalized group under the bus.

Enter U.S. Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky.

The first words out of his mouth tipped off everyone where he was going and it wasn’t anywhere pleasant…

“The Office of Civil Rights sent a letter to Connecticut saying that boys can’t compete with girls in sports or shouldn’t be forced to allow boys to compete in girls’ sports [sic]. If you’re confirmed, will you enforce that Office of Civil Rights opinion?”

To review, a duly elected U.S. Senator couldn’t make it through one sentence (and that’s being very generous with the term) without misgendering an entire community twice. It is a credit to Cardona’s sense of restraint that he responded with an answer other than “Grownups are talking. Why don’t you go color?”

Instead, Cardona asserted that his job as Secretary of Education would be to “make sure we’re following civil rights of all students.” He later expounded, “I think it’s critically important that education systems and educators respect the rights of all students, including students who are transgender, and that they are afforded the opportunities that every other student has to participate in extracurricular activities.”

That sound you just heard was one of Betsy DeVos’s yachts exploding.

Background: Rand Paul speaks about trans athletes. Foreground: How it feels to listen to him.

At that point, Paul began playing the greatest hits of Martina and the TERFs, spouting out talking points like “destroy girls’ athletics,” “they don’t get college scholarships,” and “hulking six-foot-four guys wrestling against girls.” The proceedings transformed into less of a Senate hearing and more of a jukebox of bullshit.

Listening to his line of questioning, it was worth remembering that Paul considers himself a Libertarian. And if there’s one singular piece of philosophy at the core of Ayn Rand’s canon, it’s that whenever people are left to freely pursue excellence in their chosen field, the government should step in to stop them as forcefully as possible. While calling John Galt a woman.

If trans athletes are such a threat to the core of Paul’s world, maybe he can form his own barnstorming team called The Parasites.

That wasn’t all. Later in the hearing, Sen. Mitt Romney of Utah took the floor. In the past year, Romney has marched with Black Lives Matter demonstrators and was part of the “Group of Ten” Republicans who met with President Biden to give the appearance of being willing to negotiate with Democrats.

But when it came to trans athletes, Romney was almost enthusiastic in his support for Paul’s demagoguery:

Before Romney talks about sports, he should consult at least one binder full of trans women.

“I want to associate myself with a number of the things that were said by Senator Paul. That’s not something I say very frequently! But he made a very, very good point. I’ve got pictures of my eight granddaughters… they shouldn’t be competing with people who are physiologically in an entirely different category. And I think boys should be competing with boys and girls should be competing with [girls] on the athletic field.”

Epic sigh.

I understand that confirmation hearings are all about trying to generate soundbites, especially when the nominee already has the votes clinched. Furthermore, I also know there are many out LGBTQ Republicans and conservatives who align with Paul and Romney on many issues.

But this is a story of two extremely powerful leaders cynically singling out members of our community to score cheap points. They also serve to turn people who haven’t researched this issue against a group that is already marginalized, othered and attacked way too frequently as it is.

This sorry episode isn’t about politics or ideological disagreements. These are two of the most powerful men in the country going all-in on punching down. It’s one bit of political theater that should have closed during previews.