Trump’s transgender ban for the military by Twitter confounds Pentagon, compromises America’s credibility in the face of North Korean threats

Two mornings before North Korea fired an apparently successful parabolic missile test of its longest range device to date, President Donald Trump announced a ban on transgender service members in the US military by a 3-part tweet, limited by the 140-character limit (until you embed).

Trump didn’t even “bother” to craft an Executive Order, maybe having been burned by the multiple travel bans.  Presumably he can do that, or he can give the Secretary of Defense Mattis direction to implement what he said in the tweet.

In fact, Mattis was apparently blindsided by the tweet, having expected to have until January 2018 to issue a report on the financial and practical issues about accepting transgender people into the military and possibly offering them sexual reassignment care during their military careers.  The Pentagon will take no action without formal action of some kind from the White House.

As a practical matter, it sounds, off hand, that the Pentagon could stop allowing people to enlist who say they are transgender, and could refuse to continue to pay for surgery.  But existing transgender personnel probably could stay in only if they did not start new treatment.  Even before Bill Clinton started the whole “don’t ask don’t tell” policy regarding gays in the military, there had been at least one case where a male-to-female enlisted person in Naval Intelligence had been honorably discharged, had surgery on her own, and (under Bush) been hired back into almost the same position as a civilian with the same security clearances.

There was no immediate talk that the measure indirectly threatened the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” for (cis-gender) gay men and lesbians in the military.  In fact, the talk even from most Republican members of Congress now was that LGBT people (cis and trans), including John McCain (who had resisted the repeal at the end of 2010) should continue to serve without discrimination.

Previously Missouri congresswoman Vicki Hartzler had introduced a rider to ban transgender troops, claiming that they cost too much money (KCMO, Politco).  Rand (which had authored a huge volume on gays in the military in 1993 which I had used writing my first DADT book) had estimated the annual cost to be something between $2.4 million and $9 million, very small.  Various pundits referred to earlier writings, even by Mattis, critical of social experimentation in the military. That made me wonder in the back of my mind about the 2011 DADT repeal.

Arguments about military readiness and unit cohesion, and the compromised privacy of servicemembers who don’t have the same opportunity for double lives as civilians, have shifted over time.  Generally the military has been less concerned about it during times of real need, as the Army even quietly dropped asking about sexual orientation at draft exams as earlier as 1966.  “Asking” returned after the draft ended (although Selective Service continues, male-only and based on birth gender, although recent bills to require registration of women complicate the debate).  Then we all know “The Strange History of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”.  Privacy and unit cohesion were touted as big issues in 1993 by Nunn and Moskos, but in actual practice (as the 1991 Persian Gulf War had already reinforced) these seemed to be non-issues for younger soldiers, and the same flexibility has included respect for transgender troops.  While in actual practice distraction of troops by diversity was minimal in an authoritarian command environment, socially conservative pundits have always made these “privacy” arguments, even for civilian fire departments back in the 1970s in response for proposals to end gay employment discrimination.

My own personal take is that one of the biggest reasons why discrimination by the military (outside of clear-cut fitness and medical issues and age) is a moral problem is that the rest of the world sometimes looks at all civilian citizens as potential combatants.  This goes back to my own experience with the military draft in the 1960s, when the ability to field a conventional ground force was possibly a strategic component of deterring nuclear war, part of the domino theory. Today the theory gets reinforced by the idea of asymmetric terrorism, as well as the fact that that Internet (and “online reputation” issues) have made double lives impossible.  But in historical perspective, it’s nothing new.  Consider the Battle of Britain, which followed Dunkirk (where civilians rescued soldiers) by a few weeks.

Transgender plastic surgeon Christine McGinn, who has experience as a Navy doctor, appeared on Smerconish today on CNN.

Did Trump simply play a cheap-shot to his base, which he has not been able to enlarge? In a less elite world, indeed there is a sense that gender conformity is needed to defend against external threats, as “common sense”, the way that phrase was used against me during my own Army Basic.  But in a modern world that can evolve into something new, it is not so simple.  Trump doesn’t want to move into the hypermodern world, and neither do a lot of other people, who would be left behind. Gay conservative Milo Yiannopoulos had some harsh comments about trans in the military and women in combat, as quoted in another Washington Post article.

I’ll add as of this writing Trump expressed glee at the idea of “watching” Obamacare implode after the GOP failed to pass the Skinny Repeal.  “Watch.  Deal”.  And there are reports he wants to cut off some subsidies now.

There are also reports that new chief of staff Kelly will try to force Trump to stop using his personal Twitter account altogether.  That raises new questions of how he could wage war on the media.  So far (contradicting my early fears) he hasn’t disturbed the standalone bloggers.

(Posted: Saturday, July 29, 2017 at 6:30 PM EDT)

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