It may be yet another diversion from the controversies closing in on the White House. It may be to appease House conservatives and an early appeal for the 2018 election.
Regardless, President Donald Trump’s declaration Wednesday that transgender Americans will not be allowed to serve in the military is a disgrace. The fair-minded in Congress should stop this from happening.
Civil rights groups and Democrats quickly blasted Trump for reinstating the ban, which was lifted by the Obama administration last year. Some Republicans also questioned Trump’s directive, including Sen. John McCain of Arizona, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, who, unlike Trump, actually fought for our country.
The president’s tweeted announcement also took the Pentagon by surprise. Retired Marine Gen. James Mattis, his defense secretary, was on vacation, had been planning to study the issue for six more months and reportedly refused to immediately reimpose the ban. The Pentagon could only say it will issue a new policy “in the near future” after consulting with the White House.
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McCain is right that at the very least, any policy change should wait until after the study is complete, and military leaders and Congress have time to review it. By again using Twitter to set policy, Trump caused confusion.
It’s not clear, for instance, whether his edict would kick out transgender soldiers already serving; new White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders was unable to say. According to one study, between 1,320 and 6,630 transgender individuals are on active duty, about 0.05 percent of the total military. Outside groups estimate the number is as high as 15,000.
And as is all too often the case, the president’s tweets were fact-challenged. “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,” Trump tweeted.
But a study commissioned by the military found that medical care for transgender transitions would total $8 million a year – compared to $84 million the military spends on Viagra and other erectile dysfunction drugs and a drop in the $600 billion bucket that is the Pentagon budget. The study last year by RAND Corp. also concluded that the impact on military readiness would be minimal; 18 other nations allow transgender people to serve.
We have an all-volunteer military. Fewer than 1 percent of Americans have served since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. The Army is having to triple its budget for enlistment bonuses to $380 million this year to fill the ranks.
It makes absolutely no sense to turn away anyone who is physically qualified and is patriotic enough to sign up. “This is backward, harmful and contrary to American values. It’s also bad for national security,” Paul Rieckhoff, CEO of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, said in a statement.
The ban “is blatant discrimination and plays on the kind of hate and bigotry that we saw during his campaign and throughout his presidency,” Rick Zbur, executive director of Equality California, said in a statement. Remember in February, Trump also rolled back a federal rule that public schools had to allow transgender students to use the bathrooms and locker rooms of their choice.
Our president is no student of history, so he probably had no idea that Wednesday marks the anniversary in 1948 of President Harry Truman desegregating the armed services.
The military represents the best of America and our diversity. It shouldn’t become another place for Trump to promote hate.