Nearly a half century ago, young Donald Trump—a Wharton graduate, and an avid player of squash, football, and tennis—scored a 1-Y medical deferment. Hundreds of thousands of young men were being deployed to Vietnam. Trump had some bone spurs. He then limped happily into his father’s real-estate business without delay.
When Trump was interviewed by the Times about his deferment during the 2016 campaign, he admitted that the foot condition was “temporary” and “minor”—usually orthotics or stretching eased the pain.
On Wednesday morning, the Commander-in-Chief declared by tweet-fiat that, “after consultation with my Generals and military experts,” he had decided to reverse an Obama Administration decision and bar transgender individuals from serving in the military “in any capacity.” Trump tweeted further, “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.”
Let’s begin with the retrograde cruelty. There are thousands of transgender people already serving among the 1.3 million active-duty members of the military. These are people who have volunteered their service and have potentially put their lives on the line, and yet their President, who managed to come up with a flimsy doctor’s note back in the day, denies them their dignity, their equality. He will not “accept or allow” them in the military. Imagine the scale of this insult.
However, today’s outrage—they seem to come at least once daily—is not merely one that reflects on Trump’s low character. It also reveals yet another layer of his political cynicism, and his willingness to use any tactical means available to try to emerge whole from his current predicament.
It is implausible that Trump paid much attention to his highest-ranking generals, or to experts, generally; Secretary of Defense James Mattis has supported transgender individuals joining the military. And the hardly radical Rand Corporation has published an in-depth study refuting the idea that transgender soldiers are somehow expensive, or that they undermine the morale and cohesion of the military over all. Trump’s decision to bar transgender people from the military is pure politics, cheap and cruel politics, a naked attempt to divert attention from his woes, to hold on to support from his base—a base that he believes will cheer his latest attempt to do battle with the secular-humanist coastal élites who are so obsessed with identity politics. (One Administration official told Axios’s Jonathan Swan that the move was intended to force Democrats from Rust Belt states to take “complete ownership of this issue.”) In other words, it is a decision straight out of the Steve Bannon playbook. Cue the organs of the alt-right press. Read more via the New Yorker