Remember the days of yore, when FDR would give his weekly radio address? Families would sit around their fireplace mantles and listen to the President discuss their plans for the nation. Today, the 45th President chooses to address the American people in a very different way.
This week, Trump announced the decision to roll back yet another progressive Obama-era policy via social media. With a series of tweets, he announced the following:
“After consultation with my Generals and military experts, please be advised that the United States Government will not accept or allow Transgender individuals to serve in any capacity in the U.S. Military. Our military must be focused on decisive and overwhelming victory and cannot be burdened with the tremendous medical costs and disruption that transgender to the military would entail. Thank you.”
As a reminder, President Barack Obama repealed the divisive “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy in 2011 (originated by 42nd President Bill Clinton in the Nineties) which should have prevented military commanders from prying into the personal lives of the men and women serving under them, but only left the issue of homosexuality and bisexuality even more clouded in shame. And then in July of 2015, Defense Secretary Ashton Carter announced that the Pentagon would begin action to allow transgender people to serve openly in the U.S. military, a policy initially supported by his predecessor, Chuck Hagel.
At the time, Carter was quick to point out that “We have transgender soldiers, sailors, airmen, and Marines – real, patriotic Americans – who I know are being hurt by an outdated, confusing, inconsistent approach that’s contrary to our value of service and individual merit.”
That October, Vice President Biden spoke before the Human Rights Campaign, defending the idea that transgender people should be allowed to serve in the armed forces and protect the nation that they love. He also called the LGBTQ movement “the civil rights movement of our time.” Soon, the President was also pledging his support.
In May 2016 the Pentagon (working with the RAND Corporation) commissioned a study which determined that a policy that allowed transgender people to serve openly would “cost little and have no significant impact on unit readiness.” The study highlighted that approximately 2500 active-duty military members were transgender and another 65 would likely transition each of the coming years. The health care costs to the Pentagon for those gender reassignment surgeries and procedures would cost between $2.9 and $4.2 million annually.
Well, citing those health care numbers, Obama’s successor has today announced that the ban on transgender people serving openly in the military would be reinstated.
Bans are great ideas, right? Let’s look at some of the most well-known bans in history:
1. “The Satanic Verses” by author Salman Rushdie. Books have long been at risk of bans (ideas are often the first to be suppressed in societies that wish to keep their citizens afraid and in the dark). This book (which was about the light and dark sides of Islam and considered blasphemous by some Islamic clerics) resulted in a ban across much of the Arab world and a fatwa, or call for death, against the author by the Ayatollah of Iran. This only resulted in the artistic community around the world and here in America rallying in support of freedom of speech issues. Ayatollah: 0. Rushdie: Millions of books sold.
2. Immigration Bans. At various times in history, the U.S. has banned the immigration of citizens from China (1882) and Iran (1980, signed by Democratic President Jimmy Carter, following the Iran Hostage Crisis). Additionally, the U.S. turned many Jews away during World War II claiming their “quota” had been reached (some of those turned away, such as the 1939 passengers of the ocean liner the St. Louis, which was forced to turn back to Europe where approximately 25% of the passengers later died in concentration camps). We also turned away Communists, Anarchists, and people infected with HIV/AIDS at certain times. Today America has many Chinese, Iranian and Jewish citizens, along with those who are HIV-positive and who may hold Communist-supporting or Anarchist viewpoints. Today we have the so-called “Muslim Bans” which seeks to prevent travel into the U.S. from citizens of seven majority Muslim nations and which has turned into a virtual see-saw between the Trump Administration and the United States judiciary. Outcome? Who knows. Who the hell knows…
3. Absinthe. The mysterious drink of the Victorian era, loved by persons as varied as Oscar Wilde, Ernest Hemingway and Telegraph co-inventor Charles Cros, Absinthe (known as “The Green Fairy”) is an anise-flavored spirit distilled from various herbs and leaves. One of those, wormwood, is thought to cause hallucinatory property and those who drank absinthe were often ridiculed as being fanciful, deranged and able to brainwash others. Today, we know that the chemical thujone (found in wormwood) isn’t hallucinatory and absinthe was permitted in the U.S. again in the 1960s. Today people like Marilyn Manson drink absinthe, which only demonstrates its alarming potential of, at worst, creating bad music and ridiculous fashion statements. A ban on absinthe? As passé as an Edwardian puffy shirt.
I think that it’s safe to say that the ever-changing tides of American culture and the whiplashing between Democratic and Republican power structures in Washington will continue to mean that from administration to administration, decade to decade – we never know what is going to be put on the hot seat and regarded as suspect. But the decision to reverse a policy is one that caused a fair amount of blowback this week.
Thankfully, the week ended on a high note when Marine General Joe Dunford issued an internal communication that read, “I know there are questions about yesterday’s announcement on the transgender policy by the President. There will be no modifications to the current policy until the President’s direction has been received by the Secretary of Defense and the Secretary has issued implementation guidance.”
This was followed a statement from the chief spokeswoman of Defense Secretary Jim Mattis. “The Department will continue to focus on our mission of defending our nation and ongoing operations against our foes while ensuring all service members are treated with respect.”
Secretary Mattis was reported to be “appalled” by the President’s tweets, by the way. Mattis is well regarded on both the right and the left. Hopefully, he might be in a position to talk the Commander in Chief down. After all, the military not only provides gender reassignment treatments to its active duty members. It also provides Viagra, at the cost of up to $84 million annually – or nearly 20 times greater than the cost of gender reassignment surgeries.