The president’s announcement on not allowing transgender Americans to serve in the military is the latest example of how he sabotages his own policies.
As time goes by, it’s increasingly clear that there’s something limiting and false about the “just call balls and strikes” approach to analyzing the Trump presidency. Yes, you can praise Trump when he does right and critique him when he does wrong, but at some level that small-ball approach to evaluating Trump simply fails. He does good things, and he does bad things, but he does all things against a backdrop of impulsiveness, chaos, and divisiveness that undermines sound polices even as it does immense damage to the body politic.
I had travel-ban flashbacks this morning as I read Trump’s series of tweets announcing that transgender Americans may not serve “in any capacity” in the military. As a general matter, I agree with the policy. The American military has a specific and violent purpose. It pushes human beings to the limits of their emotional, spiritual, and physical endurance to defeat our nation’s enemies. Successful combat operations require not just physical and emotional fitness but also an extraordinary amount of unit cohesion.
Opening the military to transgender service members would repeat the terrible, social-justice-driven mistake of putting women in ground combat. Despite copious evidence that mixed-gender units are less effective in basic military tasks than single-gender all-male combat units — including in vital tasks such as marksmanship and evacuating casualties — the Obama administration powered through anyway. It imposed new, social-justice-based requirements on a military that will face enemies who don’t care about diversity but instead ruthlessly exploit weaknesses. Trump was right to step back from this new transgender brink.
But he did it exactly the wrong way. Not only did he reportedly blindside members of the military (he tweeted while Secretary of Defense James Mattis was on vacation) with the timing and nature of his announcement, his typical inflammatory tweeting was guaranteed to ignite yet another round of public fury. He virtually guaranteed that the next Democratic president would immediately reverse his policy, and he made any congressional debate that much more challenging.
Here’s what actual presidential leadership would look like. After permitting his respected secretary of defense to comprehensively study the issue of transgender service, he would draft a carefully written, factually supported statement describing in detail the military justifications for the policy. Then, with the full, prepared backing of the Pentagon, he’d approach a Republican-controlled Congress and write his policy into law — creating a far more permanent standard that couldn’t be quickly reversed by the next administration and wouldn’t jerk the military into a game of culture-war hot potato depending on whose party controls the White House.
But that’s hard work. It’s much easier just to tweet.
Military readiness and military culture are matters of vital national importance. Transgender issues are among the most volatile and contentious matters in modern American politics. By badly handling the controversy, Trump can turn a short-term “victory” (if you can even call his tweets a “win”) into far more permanent defeat, one that ultimately renders the American military far more vulnerable to social engineering. President Obama subordinated readiness to a warped vision of social justice. Trump is subordinating effectiveness to impulse and convenience. Our military, and our nation, deserve better.
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