It’s the sheer cruelty that is the most noticeable thing about President Donald Trump’s tweets this morning banning trans servicepeople from serving in the military. It’s a familiar cruelty if you are LGB, and now in recent years particularly, T.
Today’s tweets are not about "disruption" and military effectiveness, because LGBT servicemembers serve alongside their heterosexual comrades as professionally as one would expect. The tweets are not about cost, because the cost of trans-related surgeries is estimated between $2.4 million to $8.4 million—a fraction of a total military health budget, estimated to be around $49.3 billion.
This morning’s tweets were about stoking prejudice, enshrining discrimination, appealing to the Religious Right, and winning votes from people whose support you desire who agree with all those things.
This is a very old and familiar politics to LGBT people: find a vulnerable minority and demonize them, and all to shore up your own power particularly when you are feeling threatened.
Trans people are currently the right wing’s social group target of choice: a minority within a minority, who despite a growing media presence and the impact of celebrities like Laverne Cox and Caitlyn Jenner, remain ripe for suspicion, cultural misapprehension, and persecution.
In Trump’s tweetstorm today, and in Texas where there is a highly publicized battle over a bathroom bill in that state’s senate, there appears to be little consideration given to something else LGBT people know: that when you indulge in this kind of well-broadcast prejudice, it gives license to others to say and practice it—so a bunch of cynically motivated tweets give license for more legislative discrimination with a handsome side order of limitless physical and psychological harm.
It is one thing to deny equality to all in order to play to your gallery, it is quite another to blithely imperil the safety and well-being of a group of already marginalized people. It is the very opposite of leadership. It is the very opposite of the example one should set when it comes to fostering basic human decency and respect for one’s fellows.
Trans people are that scapegoat, with Trump and his cadre relying on general public suspicion and discomfort with trans people as a supportive bedrock. That lack of understanding and hostility is waning. Businesses reject it. Young people reject it. Mainstream religious groups reject it. Prejudice as a vote-winner is now only an extremist’s game.
However, it would also be wrong to fall into the trap of being too jaded and knowing when it comes to Trump’s targeting of trans people today. It may well be pandering. I’m sure we will read, yet again, that Trump has no particular animus against LGBT people, and that he is paying his dues to the Religious Right and to his much more ideologically driven vice president, Mike Pence.
All of that may be true, and a subject of much-rationalized chin-stroking on the part of Washington observers as they read the runes and deconstruct the tweet-storm.
But just to be clear and to read the words for what they say, without parsing anything: President Trump just declared war on trans equality, and by extension the wider LGBT community. When he held the rainbow flag upside down that time it wasn’t just a telling moment of ignorance, it turned out to be a statement of intent.
These tweets say to trans people very blatantly: You don’t belong. You are not part of this society. You are not normal. We do not value you. They are the sentiments that LGBT people have heard from hostile family members, from total strangers, and from people about to beat them up.
These are the sentiments of someone who believes that transgender people are less-than, which is ironic as they are focused on a group of an estimated 1,320 to 6,630 people who bravely serve their country, while their Commander-in-Chief has never done so. His military record, as many critics noted today, can be summed as five dodged drafts.
The bravery of trans people serving in the military is on a different level to the cowardly bullying by tweet that President Trump indulges in.
As Kristin Beck, the trans, now-retired Navy SEAL with 20 years service behind her told Business Insider today, "Being transgender doesn't affect anyone else. We are liberty's light. If you can't defend that for everyone that's an American citizen, that's not right. I was defending individual liberty. I defended for Republicans. I defended for Democrats. I defended for everyone.”
The president's tweets also make a mockery of anyone who ever thought Trump was sincere when he said that he supported LGBT people, and LGBT equality.
The president is, at the end of a very long day of gaslighting and hot air, like any other politician who has calculatedly used diatribes and policies aimed against LGBT people to shore up support from their base—a word, in this context, with an appositely double meaning.
As a White House official explained to Axios today, this morning’s tweets are rooted in a power-play in states like Ohio, Michigan, and Wisconsin. Big boys and their toys.
In response to today’s stream of 140-character bigotry, trans supporters rallied. Former Vice President Joe Biden, former Defense Secretary Ash Carter, Ellen DeGeneres, Seth Rogen and the ACLU and others voiced their support for transgender service members.
Already how this ban will be practically enforced is swirled in confusion. Is Trump referring to serving trans people, or those wishing to serve—or both? Any expulsion of trans military personnel may lead to legal challenges, as well as opposition from within the Armed Forces themselves, with servicemembers gathering to support their unjustly persecuted colleagues.
The gamble for Trump and his supporters is that stoking prejudice pays off and wins votes. But, as has been seen in the discussions around the Texas bathroom bills, the public mood even in deep-red states is changing. People know LGBT people in their families and friendship groups. They work with them. As families and communities know more and more trans people, and voice their care and concern for them, the kind of prejudice belching forth from the White House this morning will come to be seen as the true aberration.