His Repugnancy has had a very busy week — behaving as if the Boy Scouts were wearing Trump Youth armbands, harassing his attorney general like a middle-school bully flicking spitballs at a boy in class — but his totalitarian attack on transgender American soldiers surely tops ’em all.
I’m tempted to reduce his latest farce to a tweet: Trump decrees that transgender people who want to fight for their country cannot — but when he was young and All Man, he would not.
Alas, there’s a lot more to say. It’s a veritable waste of time to quote Trump’s campaign promises, because, as we learned long ago, promises mean nothing to a guy who’s hollow at the core, a guy guided solely by the ideology of Self, a guy whose impulses mirror those of a child. Nevertheless, his sudden decree that transgender people shall no longer serve in the military trashes a ’16 promise (“People are people to me, and everyone should be protected”) and throws thousands of currently serving transgender people into limbo. What a patriot.
And he did what he did because … wait for it … he’s trying to get money to build his Mexican border wall. I know, you’re saying “Huh?” I’ll try to explain: House Republicans are trying to pass a big spending bill that would include wall money, but some conservatives say they won’t vote Yes unless the bill bars the Pentagon from spending money on sex-reassignment operations. Conservatives reportedly asked Trump to support their tiny ban. Trump replied by tweeting a blanket ban on all transgender people. As a House Republican aide lamented in an email, “This is like someone told the White House to light a candle on the table, and the WH set the whole table on fire.”
In other words, politically speaking, Trump is a dolt. He blindsided Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin, and the entire military. (Blindsiding the people serving beneath him has become an art form). According to one news report, “Mr. Mattis, who was on vacation, was silent on the new policy. People close to the defense secretary said he was appalled that Mr. Trump chose to unveil his decision in tweets, in part because of the message they sent to transgender active-duty service members, including those deployed overseas, that they were suddenly no longer welcome.”
Indeed, Trump’s rash act is wildly out of sync with the tolerant sentiments of most Americans 17 years into the 21st century. One Trump official, the pitiable soul, claimed yesterday that Trump’s tweeted decree “forces Democrats in Rust Belt states like Ohio, Michigan, and Wisconsin to take complete ownership of this issue. How will the blue-collar voters in these states respond when senators up for re-election in 2018 like [Michigan Sen.] Debbie Stabenow are forced to make their opposition to this a key plank of their campaigns?”
This is a preposterous misreading of the cultural climate. We’re no longer living in 2004, when the Bush re-election team successfully stoked hostility to gay marriage. The nation has since moved on. You can track the cultural shift just by reading Stars and Stripes, the military newspaper which ran a story yesterday praising transgender soldiers and headlined it, “Fired by tweet.” You can track the shift it by simply flagging the Republican reaction on Capitol Hill.
Senator Dan Sullivan, who served in the Marines, said: “I’m all about training standards. High, high standards for whoever joins the military. But if you can meet those standards, we shouldn’t care who you are. So, meet the standards, and you should be able to join the military.”
Sen. Thom Tillis, whose state, North Carolina, is studded with military installations, voiced “significant objections to any proposal that calls for a specific group of American patriots currently serving in uniform to be removed from the military.”
Sen. Richard Shelby, an Alabaman who oversees the Pentagon budget, said: “You ought to treat everybody fairly and give everybody a chance to serve. The current policy is a big tent for people who want to serve.”
Sen. Orrin Hatch, who’s facing re-election in ruby-red Utah, said: “I don’t think we should be discriminating against anyone. Transgender people are people, and deserve the best we can do for them.” In 2017, even a Utah politician sees no downside to supporting transgender people.
Naturally, the result of all this is that the alleged president has once again made a fine mess of things, sowing yet another concentric circle of chaos, alienating members of his own party, disrespecting high officials in his own administration, and forcing his minions to scramble in the dark — most notably, flack Sarah Huckabee Sanders, who couldn’t substantively answer a single question about the transgender ban and threatened to walk out if the questions persisted. Meanwhile, roughly 2,500 soldiers (though the number could be far higher), who volunteered to put their lives on the line, have been left twisting in the wind.
Maybe Trump should’ve heeded the words of Barry Goldwater, the late conservative icon, who once said, “You don’t need to be ‘straight’ to fight and die for your country. You just need to shoot straight.”
Hat tip to my summer research assistant, Dominic Casciato.
If you’re in my town tonight, and looking for a quality evening, come to the Philadelphia Free Library to hear Lawrence Wright, the great journalistic chronicler of the war on terror and scientology. His latest book, a collection of his war-on-terror New Yorker pieces, is a master class in reporting.
At the event, he and I will be “in conversation,” with time for audience Q&A. And free admission!