In the pantheon of Donald Trump tweets, his three-part missive Wednesday morning declaring that transgender people would not be allowed in the military was not his most rude, mindless or irrational. But it is deeply troubling nevertheless. He essentially called for a step backward in time that goes counter to all the slow but necessary progress the United States has made in recent years in its treatment of transgender people.
"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," Trump tweeted. "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."
Policy statements made on Twitter don't generally include much thoughtful argument. But in this case, Trump offers two separate justifications that just don't stand up. The "tremendous medical costs" for gender-transition-related healthcare are, in fact, negligibly small — an increase of between $2.4 million and $8.4 million. The military spends some $50 billion each year on healthcare, according to a Rand Corp. study.
(By way of comparison, the newspaper Military Times reported in 2015 that the Department of Defense spent $41.6 million on Viagra.)
And Trump's assertion that transgender troops "disrupt" the military is equally specious, reminiscent of fallacious arguments made in earlier years about women, gays and lesbians. There are already 18 allied militaries around the world that allow transgender individuals to serve openly; of the four studied closely by Rand, none reported a negative impact on the operational readiness, operational effectiveness or force cohesion.
President Obama's former Defense Secretary Ashton Carter lifted the ban on transgender troops in 2016, but current Defense Secretary James N. Mattis announced last month that he was delaying the implementation of the final piece of the new policy until more research could be done. That study was to be completed by December.
The 2016 Rand study estimates that there are some 2,450 transgender people in active service (though it acknowledges that the figure is difficult to pin down). Will Trump make them all leave? Will they be required to hide in the shadows, as in the days of the military's "don't ask, don't tell" policy?
Many questions remain, and the military doesn't have answers, judging from the fact that it referred all press inquiries to the White House. Nevertheless, a Pentagon statement said the Department of Defense would work with the White House "to address the new guidance provided by the Commander-in-Chief."
Shamefully, Trump made his toxic policy pronouncement on the anniversary of the day that President Truman ordered the military desegregated. What an ignoble way to mark that anniversary.
At the very least, the Defense Department should be allowed to finish its review. Trump should rescind his comments in tomorrow morning's tweet storm.