When I first read about the president’s banning transgender troops from the military, I thought it a good thing. The Obama administration never should have forced this onto the military. But now that I’ve thought about it, and more has become clear, I fear that this will have been a consequential blunder on the part of the Commander in Chief, who did the right thing for the wrong reasons.
Politicians do the right thing for unprincipled reasons all the time, so that’s no big deal. The real problem here is that Trump made this radical decision without apparently consulting anybody, or giving them a heads-up. The Pentagon didn’t know this was coming. Nor did the Senate Armed Services Committee. Defense Secretary Mattis knew something like this was a possibility, but was out of town on vacation, and knew nothing o the timing. It was out of the blue.
Politico’s reporting suggests it might have been a knee-jerk move by Trump to get social conservatives off his back about Jeff Sessions. Trump also tweeted this morning, after the anti-trans tweets, more griping about Sessions. More:
The president’s directive, of course, took the House issue a step beyond paying for gender reassignment surgery and other medical treatment. House Republicans were never debating expelling all transgender troops from the military.
“This is like someone told the White House to light a candle on the table and the WH set the whole table on fire,” said one senior House Republican aide. The source said that while GOP leaders asked the White House for help, they weren’t expecting — and got no heads up on — Trump’s far-reaching directive.
While Democrats and centrist Republicans are already blasting the move, one White House official said the decision would be “seen as common-sense” by millions — though likely vociferously protested by others.
“It’s not the worst thing in the world to have this fight,” the administration official said.
Really? In one sense, I get this. The Congressional GOP, terrified of being called bigoted, has been largely AWOL on these issues, trying to avoid fights, even when we ought to be talking openly about these things. But the way Trump went about this is guaranteed to draw maximum ill will. David French, a military veteran, nails it:
As a general matter, I agree with the policy. The American military has a specific and violent purpose. It pushes human beings to the limits of their emotional, spiritual, and physical endurance to defeat our nation’s enemies. Successful combat operations require not just physical and emotional fitness but also an extraordinary amount of unit cohesion. Transgender Americans, though undoubtedly as patriotic as any other Americans, are disproportionately likely to suffer from mental illness, are more prone to attempt suicide, abuse alcohol and drugs at higher rates, and often require extensive medical care and comprehensive medical intervention during and after their “transitions.” An infantry soldier, for example, could be sidelined for weeks as he purports to transition from male to female — taking hormones that could make him physically weaker and undergoing painful, debilitating surgery that would prevent him from serving in the field and training with his unit for long periods of time. This is not a formula for successful military service, and while there are certainly extraordinary individuals who are able to serve effectively, that is no argument for opening service to a group that would collectively degrade military readiness.
But, says French, “he did it exactly the wrong way”:
Not only did he reportedly blindside members of the military (he tweeted while Secretary of Defense James Mattis was on vacation) with the timing and nature of his announcement, his typical inflammatory tweeting was guaranteed to ignite yet another round of public fury. He virtually guaranteed that the next Democratic president would immediately reverse his policy, and he made any congressional debate that much more challenging. Here’s what actual presidential leadership would look like. After permitting his respected secretary of defense to comprehensively study the issue of transgender service, he would draft a carefully written, factually supported statement describing in detail the military justifications for the policy. Then, with the full, prepared backing of the Pentagon, he’d approach a Republican-controlled Congress and write his policy into law — creating a far more permanent standard that couldn’t be quickly reversed by the next administration and wouldn’t jerk the military into a game of culture-war hot potato depending on whose party controls the White House.
But that’s hard work. It’s much easier just to tweet.
I think too that Josh Barro, who supports transgender troops, is correct to say that if Trump had handled this more intelligently as a political matter, he probably could have made it stick. But that’s not what happened:
By seeking to bar transgender people from the military, Trump makes the fight all about public policy. And he moves the public discussion of transgender people to some of the most unfavorable political ground possible for conservatives: Should people who wish to serve their country in a way Trump never did be allowed to do so?
Democrats shouldn’t worry they’ll get in trouble for saying yes.
This is probably right, but we’ll see. I would like to hear more from this guy, who lost an arm in Iraq combat, and who is against trans troops. Click this tweet to read the whole thread (but warning: a couple of F-bombs might make this NSFW):
I served in Iraq in 2006. For the first five months I was on a 12 man firebase out in the middle of nowhere in the desert.
— J.R. Salzman (@jrsalzman) July 26, 2017
And by the way, this trans troops thing should not earn Trump any respite from social conservatives whacking him on his treatment of Sessions. Read Ross Douthat unloading a B-52 bellyful on Trump. Excerpt:
This blame-Sessions perspective is warped, since it was Trump’s decision to fire James Comey (an earlier monumental folly) that was actually decisive in putting Robert Mueller on the case. But regardless of whether he has his facts straight, Trump’s logic is a straightforward admission that he wants to eject his attorney general because Sessions has not adequately protected him from legal scrutiny — an argument that at once reveals Trump’s usual contempt for laws and norms and also suggests (not for the first time) that he has something so substantial to hide that only omerta-style loyalty will do.
Which, of course — now we’ve reached the peak of the tower of folly — he probably will not get if Sessions goes, because no hatchet man will win easy confirmation, and until Sessions is replaced the acting attorney general will be Rod Rosenstein, the man who appointed Robert Mueller as special counsel in the first place!
So it’s basically madness all the way to the top: bad policy, bad strategy, bad politics, bad legal maneuvering, bad optics, a self-defeating venture carried out via deranged-as-usual tweets and public insults.
You can be as loyal as Jeff Sessions and still suffer the consequences of that plain and inescapable truth: This president should not be the president, and the sooner he is not, the better.
UPDATE: Reader Nomo makes sense. I wish he/she would not make so much sense:
Let’s recap what’s happened in the few hours since Trump tweeted about the ban:
– Democrats are uniformly opposed
– Moderate Republicans are opposed
– Even some conservative Republican senators are opposed
– The rest of the Republicans are silent.
– The Hartzler Amendment denying transgender troops medical treatment was voluntarily withdrawn and never brought up for a vote.
– Most of the major newspapers are carrying front-page interviews or full first-person editorials by transgender veterans. (Go read some of them – you’ll understand why this is huge.)
Now, every time someone tries to bring up transgender bathrooms, the standard Democratic line will be about respecting transgender veterans. About how all American blood is the same. That all are patriots. Instead of Caitlyn Jenner or Laverne Cox, we are going to mint new household names of transgender veterans with impressive service records. All it took was one tweet to completely change the tenor of the conversation. The Democrats could not have done it themselves without seeming self-serving. Now, because of Trump, it’s about veterans, not bathrooms.
Somewhere, I am very sure the LGBT activists are breaking out the champagne.
UPDATE.2: Reader Steve S.:
I was in the Army, combat arms, for five years. I’m going to assume the legitimacy of gender ideology for a moment and ask the military experts here in the comments, of which there seem to be many, their opinions regarding the following:
-What happens when a “genderfluid” person or “gender non-binary” person wants to enlist? This is, of course, a key part of the gender ideology, that gender is non-binary and totally based upon a person’s subjective experience. So what happens when someone wants to be a “sir” one month but feels like a “ma’am” the next month, and then wants to be “xer” (or whatever) at some point after that? Should the military come up with height/weight standards and PT standards for all 37 (or whatever) genders there are nowadays? Should soldiers receive training on new standards of military protocol to conform with the non-binary reality of gender? Would it be bigoted to still maintain a hard gender binary even if trans people, who conformed to that gender binary, were allowed to serve? In other words, is there any reasonable line that the military can draw that doesn’t conform 100% to gender ideology? Or would it be bigotry all the down? Serious question.
-Are you ok with mtf transgenders maxing out on the PT tests on the female grading scale, thus consistently earning more promotion points than cisgendered female soldiers? Does this seem fair to you? Are you a bigot if you sense something wrong with this?
-Do you think having soldiers receive hours of powerpoint presentations for transgender sensitivity training is time well-spent for an organization whose core mission is to close with and destroy our nation’s enemies on the battlefield? This “training” is happening. Would this time be better spent at a range or in a field training exercise? Or is our military readiness best served by making sure Private Bubba knows the latest pronoun protocols?
These are all serious questions. No trolling.