Should bathrooms be gender-neutral? In recent months this question has been the subject of countless articles, television discussions and national magazine covers. The people at the Broadway show Kinky Boots have even produced a video featuring their take on the argument.

This is an issue that warrants thought and discussion. But the problem here is that the press and the public have dedicated a significant amount of energy to one issue that impacts a relatively small minority of people while other crucial, pressing threats to everyone’s freedom remain buried.

Why have gender-neutral bathrooms become such a high profile issue?

Because this is a partisan topic. No matter which side you’re on, the clear-cut bad guys are the people on the other end of the political spectrum. You’re either discriminating against a marginalized portion of the population, or you’re forcing people to accept an uncomfortable and potentially dangerous situation. It makes us angry—those idiots on the other side are never going to see the light, and it’s important to dismiss their silly concerns.

Narrow, defining issues are good for political parties. It keeps the party base faithful. Preoccupation with divisive issues is good for candidates. It allows them to avoid addressing more complicated subjects for which both parties share the blame. The press runs with the frenzy: promoting our differences makes great stories.

Another currently hot topic is abortion. Like gender-neutral bathrooms, this is not a subject to be belittled. I have a strong opinion on the matter. But my main concern is that there are many voters who choose a candidate based primarily on this one particular issue when the freedom of all Americans is in jeopardy in so many dangerous ways.

There’s plenty of common ground to be found when defending our rights and our liberty. Where are the headlines, cover stories and campaign speeches about issues that would unify conservatives and progressives rather than divide them?

When winning elections is the objective, the most important goal is making the other party look bad. It isn’t expedient for politicians or political groups to point out problems their party helped create. This is why important issues are ignored.  When the people are mired in partisan battles, they have less interest in unifying to tackle issues that have been caused by both parties. This has led us to overlook new laws and policies that jeopardize the very fiber of our American freedom.

We know about countries where police break down doors and haul people to prison because they’ve spoken out against a tyrannical ruler. It’s not something we worry about here. In the United States, we’ve been able to rely on laws to protect us from government oppression. We may not like the next president, or the one who gets elected after that, but we don’t worry that we’ll be locked up for criticizing them. Or that someone we love will disappear for speaking their mind. This gives us the ability to put our political focus on other matters, such as solving moral ills or improving our general quality of life in specific ways.

But while we’ve been concentrating on very specific partisan issues, laws have been passed by both parties that jeopardize the very foundation of our American way of life. These laws have evaded the spotlight because neither party is willing to address them.  

  • Government spying

In the name of security, the Bush Administration passed the Patriot Act in October 2001, allowing the National Security Agency to spy on Americans without warrant and without our knowledge. During the Obama Administration, the power of the NSA was strengthened, allowing law enforcement agencies to monitor, collect, and share our phone calls, emails, and private records without even the accusation of criminal activity. This clearly disregards our Fourth Amendment right against searches without probable cause. This power will pass into the hands of Trump, Clinton, or whoever is next elected president.

  • Indefinite detention

Signed into law in 2011 by President Obama, and with bipartisan support of Congress, our government has now granted itself the ability to detain American citizens indefinitely. Not only without a trial, but without providing any grounds at all. In other words, with only the vague and broad accusation of “terrorism,” our next president has the power to arrest any critic he or she deems to be a “threat” and lock them up forever. And said critic would have no legal recourse.

  • Asset forfeiture

Last year law enforcement seized more from Americans than robbers did. Asset forfeiture laws, created in the 1980’s, allow property to be seized if someone is simply suspected of a crime, and property does not have to be returned even once innocence is proven. Police confiscation has become a lucrative source of income for state governments. Through federal civil forfeiture laws, the IRS has seized millions of dollars from thousands of Americans’ bank accounts without proof of wrongdoing. The IRS has already been caught targeting political enemies at the behest of presidential administrations.  

  • Restricted political choices

Don’t like your choices for president? If neither the Democrats nor Republicans will solve our problems, maybe it’s time for an alternative. Well, it’s not that easy.  Election rules written by the two political parties effectively silence all other voices. For example, presidential candidate Gary Johnson is a former two-term Republican governor running under the Libertarian ticket. He is expected to be the only other candidate to appear on the ballots of all 50 states. But his free market/socially liberal stance is difficult to categorize. As most of the media leans either left or right, he is typically ignored by the press and their political polls. This will guarantee that he’ll be unable to reach the 15% poll rating required by the “Commission on Presidential Debates,” a private organization jointly run by the Democratic and Republican parties to maintain their control of debates. The debates will remain strictly between the Democrats and Republicans as usual. Though the majority of Americans say a third party is needed, most Americans will never know other candidates like Gary Johnson exist or ever hear what they have to say.

Once our government can make us unable or afraid to speak out, then every one of our freedoms are at risk of being swept away, abortion and gay rights among them. Laws are already in place that, in the wrong hands, could silence any criticism of the government by stripping us of our assets or locking us up indefinitely.

Why aren’t these issues getting the attention they deserve?

Because politicians aren’t willing to bring up topics that detract from their message that the other party is the bad guy. The main priority of all candidates is to ensure that their party stays firmly in power and any opposing voices are disregarded. Partisan groups prefer to pursue divisive issues that put the other side at fault than to tackle problems that expose mutual responsibility.

If our goal is to guarantee that Americans have the freedom to speak their minds, make their own choices and safeguard their civil rights, it’s time to stop getting sidetracked by relatively minor partisan topics that keep us fighting among ourselves. Politicians won’t volunteer to retract the policies outlined here without an outcry from the public.

No matter what our political leanings, we must ensure that we devote our time and energy to issues that are vital to the future of our nation.  Let’s work together and speak up while we still can.

Beth Ballentine is a freelance political writer and "equal opportunity political critic." When not writing political commentary, she teaches middle school drama and has authored many plays for children and young adults. Her Free to Think series appears here: