In a series of three Tweets on Wednesday July 26th, President Trump announced that “transgender individuals” would no longer be allowed to serve “in any capacity” in the military. This ruling is clearly intended to garner support from much of his base, which voted for him because of his disregard for political correctness and media outrage. But each time that Trump makes a snap decision without following the proper procedures, he weakens our democratic system and makes it easier (and more likely) that future presidents will abuse their powers as well.
The quick chain of Tweets read as follows: “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 in the military would entail. Thank you.”
Trump set himself up for a huge beating by not fact checking his Tweets. Though the military unquestionably spends too much to accommodate its transgender troops (voluntary surgical or hormonal mutilation shouldn’t be a taxpayer liability), it spends five times more on Viagra. Trump citing cost as one of the main reasons to not employ transgenders in the military makes him seem like he’s grasping at straws.
What’s worse, he did not alert his military leaders that he was going to Tweet this message at all. The government has standard practices and chains of command, and it is imperative that a president live by these rules. If not, he threatens to stoke the flames of anger against himself, as well as create divides among other members of government. There are some rare instances in which it can be just for a president to ditch the standard practices (if an immediate decision is needed to save lives, for example), but choosing to expel self-proclaimed transgender people from the military is not one of them.
Trump regularly uses the media as his messenger. When Comey was fired, he found out through the news. And the same here: when Trump Tweeted that the US military would no longer employ transgender people, he had not yet informed the Joint Chiefs of Staff. This abysmal communication has led to a refusal on the part of the Pentagon to enact these changes. Because of Trump’s childish way of deciding and announcing policies, he has burned bridges with leaders, and this will ultimately make him ineffective.
Trump is known for these quick decisions, and it has hamstrung his presidency. He seems to have an entirely immature view of the role of the president. He is not concerned with a separation of power, with maintaining a proper chain of command, or even with communicating his thoughts to those who have a right to know. When Obama used his power to make unilateral decisions or skip due process, conservatives were rightly outraged. We should be no less outraged at this decision.
And this brings us to the most important consideration at this stage: we should unequivocally disavow the illegal actions of any leader. Before we can even discuss whether or not transgender people are fit for military service, or whether Trump’s decision was correct, we must sort through the mess that he has made by acting so foolishly.
Obama stepped repeatedly around due process, using his power to get what he thought was right. For example, as his presidency wound down, he made his infamous bathroom decision, threatening all public schools which did not allow students to use the restroom of their choice with removal of funding. He famously said, “We can’t wait for an increasingly dysfunctional Congress to do its job. Where they won’t act, I will.” This made it easier for Trump supporters to justify his unilateral actions; after all, hadn’t Obama overstepped his bounds and tried to act more like a king than a president many times? But now we’re sliding down a slippery slope, and too many conservatives believe that Obama’s treachery excuses Trump’s.
The danger is that the pendulum always swings back. If we, as conservatives, support Trump’s decision to bar transgender individuals from the military because we agree with him on that point, then we are overlooking the absolutely unjust way in which he reached that decision. Our imperative is to hold to justice (Hos 12:6), not to hold to partisan politics or adopt lawless practices to get our way. Before we can talk about whether or not so-called transgender people should be allowed to work in the military, we need to address the fact that the president has no right to make that decision on his own.