“Men on board ship live in particularly close association; in their messes, one man sits beside another; their hammocks or bunks are close together; in their common tasks they work side by side; . . . they form a closely knit highly coordinated team. How many white men would choose, of their own accord, that their closest associates in sleeping quarters, at mess, and in a gun’s crew should be of another race?”
- Report from the chairman of the general board to the secretary of the Navy, “Subject: Enlistment of men of colored race in other than messman branch,” Jan. 16, 1942.
I cited that passage in a column that I wrote more than 25 years ago criticizing a Dec. 9, 1991, ruling by U.S. District Judge Oliver Gasch upholding the Navy’s right to expel a gay midshipman from the U.S. Naval Academy.
The spirit of that 1942 Navy report and a Jan. 28, 1982, Defense Department directive declaring, “Homosexuality is incompatible with military service,” guided Gasch’s decision.
The Defense Department’s ban on gays in the military simply adopted the earlier, discredited rationale for a racially segregated armed services. Read the 1982 directive: “The presence of such members adversely affects the ability of the Military Services to maintain discipline, good order, and morale . . . among . . . servicemembers who frequently must live and work under close conditions affording minimal privacy.”
The biases and fears against gays in the military rested upon the same kind of stereotyping and myths used against black service members decades earlier.
Today, the country officially recognizes that the military was wrong to cater to prejudice against Americans based upon skin color or sexual orientation.
America agrees that the opportunity to perform as soldiers, sailors, Marines or Air Force members should rest upon qualifications and ability, not invidious distinctions based on race or sexual identity.
This week, however, brought fresh evidence that the respect for basic humanity explicit in U.S. policies on military service has been lost on President Donald Trump.
Trump fully embraced the rancid prejudice that in the past turned away men and women ready to put their lives on the line for the United States. Without warning to Congress, the public or rank-and-file members of the military, the president resorted to Twitter to announce that he is banning transgender people from serving in the military in any capacity. He not only is turning away transgender people from the armed services. Trump is opening up the possibility of thousands of openly transgender members being expelled from service, and he has created the likelihood of many more having to conceal their identity and return to the closet.
Just like that, in a social media tweetstorm, Trump wiped out federal policy welcoming transgender Americans to serve openly in the military (although the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, apparently blindsided, said sensibly Thursday there would be “no modification” to current policy unless the White House turns the president’s tweets into a formal directive that is conveyed to the armed forces by the secretary of defense). And he resorted to some of the same bogus “military readiness” excuses that once barred a racially desegregated military and the presence of gay men and lesbians in uniform. A 2016 Rand Corp. study found that allowing transgender service members to serve openly would not be a drawback to military readiness. “The number [of members] would likely be a small fraction of the total force and have minimal impact on readiness and health care costs,” the report said.
Yes, there are moves afoot among far-right conservatives in Congress to stop the Pentagon from paying for gender reassignment surgery and medical treatment plans for transgender troops. And the military was reviewing its medical standards to accommodate transgender service members. But Trump precipitously nixed all that.
He said kick them out and don’t let others in.
Does he even know, does he even care about what he has done?
The president is subordinating Americans solely on the basis of their gender identity. His outrageous action has given a green light to subjecting transgender people to contemptible treatment and exclusion in other aspects of American life.
That ought to offend every American. Trump’s attack on transgender service members joins the growing list of ignorant, irrational and morally offensive decisions he has made since Inauguration Day.
The Trump White House is in a perpetual state of discord. But even by its standards, this week was remarkable.
Just to recap, the week included:
Republicans failing — apparently for good — to deliver on a long-standing GOP and Donald Trump promise to repeal Obamacare, thanks to a statement vote from none other than Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., whose war hero status Trump poo-pooed as a candidate.
Trump announcing a ban on transgender members of the military that was apparently news to both the military and Congress and still isn’t sorted out, with several GOP senators opposing it and the Joint Chiefs of Staff issuing a statement that the military would continue to work with transgender employees.
Trump delivering a highly political speech to Boy Scouts in West Virginia that had the organization’s leaders distancing themselves from his remarks and making assurances that the Boy Scouts don’t take political sides.
Trump’s new communications director, Anthony Scaramucci, talking about killing leakers and deriding Trump’s other two top White House advisers, Reince Priebus and Stephen Bannon, in graphic and vulgar terms.
Priebus resigning, becoming the fourth high-ranking White House staffer to exit within a little more than six months, alongside Michael Flynn, Michael Dubke and Sean Spicer.
The head of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, telling Trump that the committee would not take up a replacement for Attorney General Jeff Sessions this year if Sessions is relieved of his duties, after Trump continually undermined Sessions on Twitter and in interviews.
Rebukes from Grassley’s fellow Republican Sens. Lindsey Graham, S.C. and Ben Sasse, Neb., who said Trump’s potential firings of Sessions and Russia investigation special counsel Robert Mueller would be beyond the pale.
More rebukes from police organizations—including the International Association of Chief of Police and the police department where Trump spoke in Suffolk County, New York, on Friday—for suggesting that police shouldn’t be so nice to suspected criminals being taken into custody.
Trump seems to thrive on drama, and this week was chock-full of it. He even seemed to approve of Scaramucci’s very public effort to bring the White House’s internal dissension into public view. To the extent Trump wants his presidency and his White House to resemble a reality TV show, mission accomplished.
But if this is a strategy, it continues to look like a broken one. A president who promised so much winning that his supporters would become tired of winning is still creating much, much more drama than progress or legislation.
And even if he can’t see it, those around him apparently can. Check out this brutal quote from an anonymous White House adviser in The Washington Post’s story on Priebus: “I think any observer — including one that did not speak English and knew nothing about politics and came from another planet and solar system — could, after observing the situation in the White House, realize the White House is failing. And when the White House is failing, you can’t replace the president.”
At some point, those supporters have to wonder what the end game of all of this is, apart from keeping us all entertained and fomenting a narrative that a media who documents this chaos is out to get the president. As this week showed, even those who should be allied with Trump are having trouble defending his methods.
WASHINGTON — Transparency, thy name is Trump, Donald Trump. No filter, no governor, no editor lies between his impulses and his public actions. He tweets, therefore he is.
Ronald Reagan was so self-contained and impenetrable that his official biographer was practically driven mad trying to figure him out. Donald Trump is penetrable, hourly.
Never more so than during his ongoing war on his own attorney general, Jeff Sessions. Trump has been privately blaming Sessions for the Russia cloud. But rather than calling him in to either work it out or demand his resignation, Trump has engaged in a series of deliberate public humiliations.
Day by day, he taunts Sessions, attacking him for everything from not firing the acting FBI director (which Trump could do himself in an instant) to not pursuing criminal charges against Hillary Clinton.
What makes the spectacle so excruciating is that the wounded Sessions plods on, refusing the obvious invitation to resign his dream job, the capstone of his career.
Trump relishes such a cat-and-mouse game and, by playing it so openly, reveals a deeply repellent vindictiveness in the service of a pathological need to display dominance.
Dominance is his game. Doesn’t matter if you backed him, as did Chris Christie, cast out months ago. Or if you opposed him, as did Mitt Romney, before whom Trump ostentatiously dangled the State Department, only to snatch it away, leaving Romney looking the foolish supplicant.
Yet the Sessions affair is more than just a study in character. It carries political implications. It has caused the first crack in Trump’s base. Not yet a split, mind you. The base is simply too solid for that. But amid his 35 to 40 percent core support, some are peeling off, both in Congress and in the pro-Trump commentariat.
The issue is less characterological than philosophical. As Stephen Hayes of The Weekly Standard put it, Sessions was the original Trumpist — before Trump. Sessions championed hard-line trade, law enforcement and immigration policy long before Trump rode these ideas to the White House.
For many conservatives, Sessions’ early endorsement of Trump served as an ideological touchstone. And Sessions has remained stalwart in carrying out Trumpist policies at Justice. That Trump could, out of personal pique, treat him so rudely now suggests to those conservatives how cynically expedient was Trump’s adoption of Sessions’ ideas in the first place.
But beyond character and beyond ideology lies the most appalling aspect of the Sessions affair — reviving the idea of prosecuting Clinton.
In the 2016 campaign, there was nothing more disturbing than crowds chanting “lock her up,” often encouraged by Trump and his surrogates. After the election, however, Trump reconsidered, saying he would not pursue Clinton who “went through a lot and suffered greatly.”
Now under siege, Trump has jettisoned magnanimity. Maybe she should be locked up after all.
This is pure misdirection. Even if every charge against Clinton were true and she got 20 years in the clink, it would change not one iota of the truth — or falsity — of the charges of collusion being made against the Trump campaign.
Moreover, in America we don’t lock up political adversaries. They do that in Turkey. They do it (and worse) in Russia. Part of American greatness is that we don’t criminalize our politics.
Last week, Trump spoke at the commissioning of the USS Gerald R. Ford aircraft carrier. Ford was no giant. Nor did he leave a great policy legacy. But he is justly revered for his decency and honor. His great gesture was pardoning Richard Nixon, an act for which he was excoriated at the time and which cost him the 1976 election.
It was an act of political self-sacrifice, done for precisely the right reason. Nixon might indeed have committed crimes. But the spectacle of an ex-president on trial and perhaps even in jail was something Ford would not allow the country to go through.
In doing so, he vindicated the very purpose of the presidential pardon. On its face, it’s perverse. It allows one person to overturn equal justice. But the Founders understood that there are times, rare but vital, when social peace and national reconciliation require contravening ordinary justice. Ulysses S. Grant amnestied (technically: paroled) Confederate soldiers and officers at Appomattox, even allowing them to keep a horse for the planting.
In Trump World, the better angels are not in evidence.
To be sure, Trump is indeed examining the pardon power. For himself and his cronies.