Brian Green is an employment discrimination attorney at Atlanta-based law firm Buckley Beal, LLP. He has represented transgender individuals, members of the military, and veterans in a wide range of matters in state and federal litigation.
At the most fundamental level, President Trump's sudden and capricious ban on transgender service in the military is proof of his willingness to use others for his own short-term political gain. The ban is patently motivated by pure political cynicism, an attempt to throw red meat to particular members of Trump's base to distract from his myriad administrative, legislative, and political troubles. In doing so, he disrespects the service of trans soldiers, whose patriotism and selflessness he is unable to comprehend.
He disrespects the military itself by disregarding its leaders and putting the Pentagon in an impossible legal and moral position. Finally, he demeans his own base by assuming that all of his voters care enough about enacting a bigoted policy to disregard Trump's failure to actually do anything to improve their lives.
Trump (who avoided service in Vietnam) has continuously exhibited a pattern of failing to respect the service and sacrifice of our military servicemen and women. He has repeatedly shown that he is willing to use those serving in the military for his own ends, yet feels no sense of loyalty in return.
Trump has been nothing if not consistent in this regard, whether he is attacking John McCain ("He's not a war hero. He was a war hero because he was captured. I like people who weren't captured"), questioning the faith of a Gold Star family ("maybe she wasn't allowed to have anything to say"), comparing his business success to the sacrifice of losing a son, glibly joking about receiving a purple heart, or lying about his donations to veterans until being called out. He does not comprehend service at all, much less the selflessness of military service.
His contempt for the military is evident in his tweet. While referring to "my Generals and experts" as though they serve him personally, Trump actually disregarded the advice of military leaders, including the Joint Chiefs of Staff, none of whom was in favor of a full ban. The Pentagon itself was taken by surprise, and could only refer questions about the tweet to the White House.
Secretary of Defense Ret. Gen. Mattis had only recently announced a 6-month delay to continue studying the impact of transgender recruits on preparedness and lethality, and had stated that the delay "does not presuppose the outcome of the review." Even since the announcement, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff has stated that the current rules will stay in place until the White House issues a formal rules change. Clearly, the military's actual perspective on the transgender ban was not his real concern.
Beyond evidencing his lack of regard for the military itself, Trump's twitter-spat ban is simply put...bad policy. It's both unclear (as his tweet does not specify whether the ban applies to current soldiers or only to recruits) and unsound (amounting to a return to the discredited "don't ask, don't tell" policy). Trump's pretextual concerns -- the purported "costs" and "disruptions" caused by transgender recruits -- are preposterous. There is no inherent reason why a transgender person cannot serve in the military as well as his or her gender-conforming fellow patriots. Those who claim that gender non-conformity is a mental disorder are simply wrong. The facts are facts: trans soldiers' gender identities do not impact their ability to serve, or the military's ability to carry out its mission.
Many transgender individuals have served and continue to serve in the military with distinction, and numerous military forces around the world have accepted transgender recruits with no adverse impact on readiness, effectiveness, or cohesion. The costs of gender-transition treatment are relatively low -- far lower, for instance, than the amount the military spends on Viagra. Trump's tweet itself has been far more disruptive than anything done by a transgender recruit.
Ultimately, the ban serves no purpose, other than to denigrate the valuable service of such individuals at a time when recruitment is down.
Moreover, as many experts have already pointed out, the ban is probably illegal and likely to lead to a proliferation of lawsuits. In United States v. Virginia, the Supreme Court ruled that "[s]tate actors controlling gates to opportunity...may not exclude qualified individuals based on 'fixed notions concerning the roles and abilities of males and females.'" Following this logic, Several Federal Courts of Appeals have ruled that the government may not discriminate based on gender non-conformity, which they have ruled is a form of sex discrimination.
Trump would have to articulate a strong reason for instituting the ban in order to exclude transgender individuals, and his tweet demonstrates that he would unlikely be able to do so. The ban is therefore not only an act of callousness, but one that disregards the law and will cause the military to have to spend valuable resources defending itself in court.
So if Trump is not actually concerned with military effectiveness or cohesion, or with "costs" -- what are his concerns? Desperation, distraction, disruption.
In a word, himself.
Impotent with regard to his legislative and policy agenda, he is desperate for something to stroke his ego and make him feel powerful. He also needs something to distract from his ineptitude as a leader, which is plainly visible in the buffoonish dysfunction of his White House. Unable to lead, he can only disrupt, throwing tantrums beneath the dignity of his office. Trump, the civilian Commander in Chief of the most organized and disciplined military force in history, lacks any discipline and sows only chaos.
Trump may believe that this ill-advised policy will garner him some support among his base, which was starting to flag. However, while the most callous of his supporters may cheer his policy, many others are likely to be turned off. Most of Trump's voters value military service and respect patriotism and sacrifice. . These voters will see this ban as what it is -- a weak attempt to distract from his leadership failures that does nothing to improve their lives.
As for those who do not support Trump, this decision will not win any converts. Trump's hypocrisy and cynicism with regard to both the military and the LGBTQ community have been plainly evident for years, and this ban will only reinforce those perceptions.
Ultimately, if enacted, Trump's ban will destroy the hopes and careers of transgender individuals serving in the military, changing their lives forever. The fact that he would subject these patriotic individuals to such treatment simply as a means of distracting from his failure to do his job or keep his promises is proof that, in the end, the only sacrifice Trump understands is sacrificing others in service to himself.
The opinions expressed in this op-ed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Military.com.
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