Did Trump know what he was doing when he banned transgender troops?

Photo (cc) 2014 by Darren Johnson.

I think the key to understanding President Trump’s ban on transgender troops is contained within a much-discussed Politico story. According to the article, by Rachel Bade and Josh Dawsey, Trump was trying to appease right-wing House members who wanted Trump to rescind funding of transgender-related medical treatment for military personnel. In return, those House members would support funding for the wall that Mexico is not going to pay for.

Now, refusing to pay for medical care is bad enough. But Trump went much further than anyone expected by banning transgender people from the military altogether. Here is the key excerpt from Bade and Dawsey’s story:

“This is like someone told the White House to light a candle on the table and the WH set the whole table on fire,” a senior House Republican aide said in an email. The source said that although GOP leaders asked the White House for help on the taxpayer matter specifically, they weren’t expecting — and got no heads up on — Trump’s far-reaching directive.

So what happened? My guess is that Trump, raging at the world and lacking any understanding of the issues, didn’t realize that right-wingers for the most part were not asking him to ban trans troops. As you can see from this Washington Post analysis by James Hohmann, the most conservative Republicans from the most conservative parts of the country are speaking out against the ban. Trump literally didn’t know what he was doing.

And it wouldn’t be the first time. During the campaign, you may recall, Trump said that women who undergo abortion should face “some form of punishment,” as CNN reported. Leaders of the anti-abortion-rights movement freaked out, waving their arms frantically and insisting that they don’t say things like that anymore. Trump backed down. To use a word that is quickly becoming overused, Trump is strictly transactional. He made his comments not out of any deeply felt sense that abortion is always wrong but to cement his ties to the religious right. And he tweaked his position once he realized he was off-key.

So it is, I suspect, with the transgender ban. This was not deeply thought-out; by all accounts, it wasn’t thought-out at all. It was Trump on Twitter, doing what he does. He blundered into going much further than anyone other than Tony Perkins (New York Times article) was asking him to go, and now he — and all of us — have to live with it.

Let me close on a less what-does-it-mean-politically note. Wednesday turned out to be one of the worst days of the Trump presidency — perhaps the worst since he announced the first version of his ban on Muslims trying to enter the country. We should all feel sick and appalled at Trump’s casual cruelty and his willingness to indulge hatred if he thinks it will give him some momentary advantage.

Love your neighbor.

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