President Donald Trump, who went to a private military academy and avoided service in Vietnam while heroes like Sen. John McCain languished in North Vietnamese prison camps, has made one of the most appallingly cynical calculations of his appalling cynical presidency.
In a series of Tweets, and apparently without apprising the Pentagon, Trump announced Wednesday that he was banning transgender Americans from serving in the military, possibly expelling thousands who are already serving.
“After consultation with my generals and military experts, please be advised that the United States Government will not accept or allow transgender individuals to serve in any capacity in the U.S. military,” Trump wrote. “Our military must be focused on decisive and overwhelming victory and cannot be burdened with the tremendous medical costs and disruption that transgender in the military would entail.”
It rapidly became apparent, however, that when Trump talks about “overwhelming victory,” what he actually means is shoring up his base in the Rust Belt states he won or narrowly won in 2016 (including my home state of Pennsylvania).
Speaking to the online news service Axios, an “administration official” quickly laid bare this dysfunctional White House’s true motivations for the ban:
“This forces Democrats in Rust Belt states like Ohio, Michigan and Wisconsin to take complete ownership of this issue,” the unnamed official told White House reporter Jonathan Swan. “How will blue-collar voters in these states respond when senators up for re-election in 2018 like [Sen.] Debbie Stabenow [of Michigan] are forced to make their opposition to this a key plank of their campaigns?”
Even by the odious standards of this administration, that’s a politically disgusting calculus and a morally repugnant argument to make.
As The Washington Post’s Greg Sargent reports, citing a RAND Corp. study, about 4,000 transgender Americans now serve in the military. Their blood, one assumes, is just as red as any other soldier’s. And they serve, one presumes, just as proudly as any other soldier. The only difference being one of gender identity.
Trump’s about-face (surely, he remembers the term from his years at New York Military Academy) reverses an Obama administration policy.
Defense Secretary James Mattis, who supports trans service, and who, as Slate reports, “vigorously lobbied” against a narrowly defeated amendment barring the military from providing transition-related medical services to trans soldiers, was conducting his own review of the policy.
That review was supposed to be completed in December, as The Post reported. And it’s not clear why Trump put it on the fast track. Nor is it clear, as Slate notes, which “generals and military experts” were pushing for a ban on trans service.
As Slate reported, the trans policy formulated by former Defense Secretary Ash Carter enjoyed “broad”support,” particularly in the wake of the successful lifting of the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy that barred gay and lesbians from serving openly.
In June, Mattis imposed a six-month delay, citing, per Slate, the “views of the military leadership and of the senior civilian officials now arriving” in the Defense Department.
Trump was also facing external pressure from conservative activists, such as the Family Research Center, to undo the Obama-era policy.
Still, there is no evidence to suggest, as Trump claims, that transgender service imposes unreasonable costs on the military. A 2014 journal article indicates that the opposite is true. Nor is there any deleterious effect on unit morale or cohesion — which was the same ridiculous argument made to keep women out of certain military roles.
The only answer, sadly, is naked politics. And that’s an insult to every service member who has pledged to defend the Constitution that protects all Americans, including the transgender ones whom Trump so cruelly targeted with his heartless announcement.
An award-winning political journalist, Micek is the Opinion Editor and Political Columnist for PennLive/The Patriot-News in Harrisburg, Pa. Readers may follow him on Twitter @ByJohnLMicek and email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.