It came, of course, by tweet. And with the usual clumsy, abrasive style Americans have come to expect from President Trump’s policy-making via social media.
He proclaimed, abruptly, that transgender people would no longer be able to serve in the military in any way. Just like that. The decision, coming out of nowhere, smacked of the advice of Trump’s most hard-line, right-wing advisers such as Steve Bannon. And it seemed to catch everyone by surprise, including Trump’s respected Secretary of Defense James Mattis. Mattis had earlier planned to study and delay an order allowing transgender people to serve openly that had come after much study from the Obama administration.
But Trump’s claim that he had consulted with “my generals” seemed uncertain. And could it be his heavy-handed ruling was just another slap at President Obama, whose policies, most notably health care advancements, he loves to reject?
That’s of course possible, but it’s just as likely that Trump’s most loyal advisers, meaning his most extreme advisers, were trying to figure a way to get attention off the ham-handed handling of the Jeff Sessions matter. Trump’s made a mess of criticizing his own attorney general for recusing himself from the “Russia investigation” involving the Kremlin’s meddling in the 2016 election. He’s been blasting away on Twitter for days, now growing into weeks, and in the process has raised suspicions that the attacks on Sessions are intended to set the stage to force his ouster.
Then, this educated speculation goes, Trump would replace Sessions with someone willing to fire the respected Bob Mueller, who’s running the investigation of the Russia matter.
The transgender issue is a needless diversion. Transgender people, perhaps as many as 15,000, now serve in the military, and no less than Sen. John McCain, the Vietnam hero, has said such people can serve honorably.
One of Trump’s points had to do with the medical expense of having transgender people in the military, the implication being people would join the military to have expensive surgery to transition from one gender to the other covered by taxpayers. But there’s no evidence that is going on, and it seems improbable that anyone would risk life and limb in combat for such a reason. In addition, an independent study of the medical costs of having transgender people in the military found the costs “minimal.”
Raising the issue, as the debate goes along, seems more and more a political ploy – even some military officials seemed caught by surprise, including Mattis. This is little more than Trump being Trump – but he is needlessly hurting honorable people who now serve their country.