Against Transphobia AND Militarism

Chelsea Manning
Former United States Army intelligence officer, whistleblower, and trans activist, Chelsea Manning.

Or, Walking and Chewing Gum While Marxist

Donald Trump’s recent ban (via Twitter) on transgender people serving in the military has put leftists in something of a double-bind. Condemn the abrupt rule change as bigoted and discriminatory (which it absolutely is), and you run the risk of tacitly supporting the military and U.S. imperialism.

If you argue, on the other hand, that nobody—transgender or otherwise—should want to join the military in the first place, you overlook the fact that the military has, for decades, relied on a so-called “economic draft” to fill its ranks with a steady supply of working-class enlistees. Then you risk coming off as a “class-reductionist,” arguing the oppression of LGBT people is a “secondary” concern to the “more important” matters of militarism and capitalism.

So, what’s an LGBT-supporting, anti-war socialist to do…?

Thankfully, we need not pick one cause or the other in this scenario. It is, in fact, quite possible to oppose Trump’s bigoted ban and U.S. militarism at the same time. Or, as the International Socialist Organization’s (ISO) Sherry Wolf put it in a recent tweet, “Walking and chewing gum while Marxist.”

First off, the ban itself is little more than a decree (from a would-be king  who sits atop a golden toilet, at that). Tweets are neither laws nor legal policy. If Trump is serious about the rule change, he will need to issue an executive order.

Second, the U.S. military has no immediate plans to comply with the ban, according to Gen. Joseph Dunford, America’s top military officer. In response to the president’s tweet, Dunford released a memo to all military personnel saying “there will be no modifications” to the military’s policy regarding transgender service members, for now. Trans service members can continue to serve openly, Dunford indicated, until Trump formally informs Secretary of Defense James Mattis, of the rule change.

Finally, Trump’s baseless claim that the Pentagon “cannot be burdened with the tremendous medical costs” associated with transgender-related health care is downright laughable. Contrary to what the Sunday morning talking-heads claim, the Pentagon is not broke.

The annual military-spending budget is nearly $600 billion, representing 54 percent of all federal discretionary spending. (“Discretionary” means it is money the state is not obligated to spend. It is optional.)

The Pentagon spends $91.1 million on one (1) F-35 fighter jet, alone. In February, the military signed a deal to purchase 90 F-35s from WMD-manufacturer, Lockheed-Martin. So I am pretty confident the Pentagon can cough up a few extra dollars to cover its transgender service members’ medical costs.

Clearly, this has nothing to do with money and everything to do with a renewed right-wing assault on LGBT rights.

Just hours after issuing his trans-ban, Trump’s Justice Department informed a federal appeals court the worker-protection law, Title VII, which prohibits employers from discriminating on the basis of sexual orientation, does not apply to gay workers. It seems Trump is desperately trying to change the topic from “Russiagate,” the increased tensions among his cabinet, or the fact that the Republican Party is apparently only capable of passing symbolic, non-binding votes repealing Obamacare—not the real thing.

This latest escalation of attacks on LGBT people is meant to whip up support from Trump’s Evangelical base.

“Trump’s ban is an attack on equality,” Fainan Lakha writes in Socialist Worker, “that serves to legitimate violence and discrimination against trans people inside and outside the military.”

There are approximately 15,500 transgender men and women currently serving on active duty in the armed forces, according to a study by the Rand Corporation. Another 134,000 trans people are military veterans. These Americans risk losing their incomes, pensions, and health care if they are to suddenly be discharged.

Indeed, much as I cringe every time a politician from either capitalist party justifies obscene military spending on the basis that it will “create jobs,” the fact is that for many transgender and working-class people the U.S. Army is often one of the few job opportunities available to them.

This is particularly true here in Maine (especially the northern, more rural half of the state), where the job opportunities in some towns are virtually nonexistent. (So much for Republican Gov. Paul LePage’s claim that Maine is “Open for business”…)

In fact, 18-24 year-olds from Maine, Florida, and Georgia are “twice as likely to join the armed forces,” than those from other states, according a 2014 story from Business Insider.

Additionally, only 20 states currently have laws protecting trans people from discrimination at the workplace.

Should Trump’s ban become an official policy, it would have devastating effects on thousands of trans Americans in the here-and-now.

That said, we need to acknowledge that not every working-class trans person who joins the military is an unwilling participant. The fact is many trans Americans proudly enlist. They genuinely believe they are fighting to “defend the country,” or to spread “freedom” and “democracy” throughout the globe.

And the lack of a visible, cohesive anti-war movement means these bourgeois ideas about the supposed “nobility” of military service go unchallenged.

Indeed, in the last decade the left has all but abandoned anti-war activism. Barack Obama expanded the ill-conceived “war on terror,” ramped-up the never-ending war in Afghanistan, pioneered the use of unmanned predator drones in the place of conventional warfare, and claimed for himself the unilateral right to assassinate anybody deemed a “terrorist”—including U.S. citizens.

Yet the anti-war left was AWOL throughout Obama’s eight years in office.

Even Bernie Sanders’ otherwise inspiring presidential campaign was notably silent on issues of foreign policy. (This is, I suspect, largely because Sanders’ supporters are to the left of him on foreign policy issues—especially on the Israel-Palestine conflict, where Sanders’ Zionist views do little to distinguish him from any other U.S. senator.)

This is unfortunate, because Sanders missed a prime opportunity to make the connection between the robust, New Deal-style domestic programs he championed, and the bloated, wasteful military-spending budget. Whenever a reporter pushed Sanders on how he would fund all this “free stuff,” rather than logically pointing to the proverbial elephant-in-the-room—the Pentagon budget—he instead hemmed and hawed about some sort of Wall Street transaction tax … or something…

Only a mass, organized left can revive the anti-war movement, and fight for decent-paying jobs beyond military service. And we must not succumb to the narrow limits of the politics of representation. In opposing Trump’s bigotry, we must not fall into the trap of celebrating U.S. imperialism–or implying that transgender liberation is only possible through military service.

As trans scholar and activist, Dean Spade wrote on Facebook:

The liberation we are working toward requires [that] we fight for vets and everyone else who gets exploited and abandoned for U.S. military imperialism, but not that we participate in rhetoric that celebrates the U.S. military as an employer or ties trans well-being to military service.

Rather, we must understand that full equality for LGBT people is intimately tied to working class liberation for all. So, let’s protest Trump’s transphobia right now, but also continue to organize and struggle for a more just, peaceful world where war is not the only form of employment for working-class people.

Recently freed U.S. Army whistleblower, Chelsea Manning took to the New York Times Op-Ed pages last week, to voice her opposition to Trump’s ban. Manning, who is a trans-woman, called the ban “a devastating blow to our livelihoods, our basic humanity, our survival.”

“It is also a devastating blow,” Manning adds, “to the entire credibility of the United States military for years go come.”

… But we will move forward. We will make sure that all trans people in the military, and all people outside the military after serving, receive the medical care they need. We will not back down. Our progress will continue. Our organizing and activism will grow stronger.

We are neither disruptive nor expensive. We are human beings, and we will not be erased or ignored.

Editor’s note: Red Flag does not support or endorse any WordPress-sponsored advertisements that may appear on readers’ screens. This is another reason why workers, including writers, need to own the means of production–or in this case, the Internet.

If you like this essay feel free to share it widely (Facebook, Twitter, all that stuff…). Adam Marletta can be reached at adamd.marletta@gmail.com.

Thanks for reading!

 

The Rage of the Dispossessed

Manchester Memorial
Mourners gather in Manchester’s St. Ann’s Square to pay respects to the 22 people killed when a suicide bomber detonated an explosive device outside an Ariana Grande concert, on May 22, in Manchester, England.

Pop-star, Ariana Grande is correct:

There are, simply, no words—of comfort, consolation or condolence—to offer the families of the young victims following the horrific explosion outside Grande’s concert in Manchester, England last week. The fact that the 22 people killed were mostly children and teenage girls makes the terrorist attack especially heinous.

Concerts should be a place for leisurely escapism from the mind-numbing monotony of work and school—if not even a more meaningful form of musical transcendence. (I suspect Grande embodies more of the former.) They should not be a venue of fear and repulsive violence.

Following an attack such as the one in Manchester, politicians inevitably single out the Muslim community, calling for the moderate Muslims to “isolate” and “report on” their more radical counterparts, in the hope of preventing similar terrorist attacks. (“If you see something, say something!”)

This was the crux of Donald Trump’s lecturing (and completely unoriginal) speech in Saudi Arabia. “A better future [for the Middle East] is only possible if your nations drive out the terrorists and extremists, Trump said. “Drive. Them. Out.”

Trump went on:

“Drive them out of your places of worship. Drive them out of your communities. Drive them out of your holy land. And drive them out of this earth.”

Yet, in the 16-years that the U.S. and its allies have waged the so-called “war on terror,” when has a similar call ever been made to Christian communities? When have politicians or world leaders exhorted “moderate” Christians to “isolate” and “weed out” the radical members in their ranks? Nor has any effort been made to curb the growing influence of Zionist, pro-Israeli Jews–particularly those who falsely mischaracterize the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) movement as “anti-Semitic.”

Indeed, by all assessments Americans face a far greater threat from right-wing, nationalist and Christian extremist groups than from what Trump insists on calling “radical Islam.” This home-grown, quasi-fascist threat has grown exponentially since Trump’s election. And the discrepancy in rhetoric proves the utter hollowness of presidents’ assurances—from George W. Bush to Barack Obama to Trump—that the U.S. is not “at war with Islam.”

No doubt, our decades-long war on Islam is almost certainly what motivated the Libyan-born suicide bomber, Salman Abedi to commit this heinous act. Abedi targeted the wrong people, to be certain. His victims were innocent and completely undeserving of having their young lives cut so short in such a brutal fashion.

But the inchoate rage and hostility Abedi felt toward England and the West in general is legitimate. Our nations must understand this if we are to have any hope of truly ridding the world of terrorism.

“We have engineered the rage of the dispossessed,” author and Truthdig columnist, Chris Hedges, wrote in the wake of the 2015 Paris attack on the satirical newspaper, Charlie Hebdo.

The evil of predatory global capitalism and empire has spawned the evil of terrorism. And rather than understand the roots of that rage and attempt to ameliorate it, we have built sophisticated mechanisms of security and surveillance, passed laws that permit the targeted assassinations and torture of the weak, and amassed modern armies and the machines of industrial warfare to dominate the world by force.

Libya was a thriving and affluent country before the U.S.-NATO military campaign deposed Col. Muammar Gaddafi and decimated the nation. Then-Secretary of State Hillary “Queen of Chaos” Clinton oversaw the bombing, which left more than 30,000 Libyan civilians dead, and over 50,000 injured in the ensuing civil war.

Clinton later gloated over Gaddafi’s death on CBS News, laughing that, “We came. We saw. He died.”

Thus it is perfectly rationale that someone like Abedi, after witnessing the destruction of his home-country, might have some animosity toward the global West.

And Libya is just one example. The scope of the ill-conceived “war on terror” (a nebulous conflict which, by design, can never end) has expanded tenfold under President Obama. The U.S. is currently engaged in military strikes in Iraq, Pakistan, Yemen, Syria, Somalia, and Afghanistan, in addition to Libya. Indeed, the war in Afghanistan is now the longest war in U.S. history.

And make no mistake about it: These bombing campaigns—what investigative journalist, Jeremy Scahill calls “dirty wars”—would have continued, likely with greater efficiency and professional expertise, had Clinton prevailed in last year’s presidential election.

The left must revive the beleaguered anti-war movement which has been largely dormant for the last eight years. While the recent opposition to Trump’s racist travel ban (the so-called “airport protests”) was certainly encouraging, I lament the left’s failure to connect the refugee crisis to the larger issue of war and imperialism.

As it is, those airport protests have largely subsided—along with much of the initial activism that greeted the first days of Trump’s presidency. Liberals seem content to merely sit back and trust that the courts will, again, strike down Trump’s revised travel ban. But as The Guardian‘s Rob Hunter points out, investing our hopes in the bourgeois legal system, without the necessary pressure of protests in the streets, would be a grave mistake.

Likewise, the thousands of voters who were understandably inspired by Bernie Sanders’ social-democratic presidential campaign failed to truly challenge the Vermont U.S. Senator on his hawkish foreign policy positions. When I attempted to point out Sanders’ “blind spot” on foreign policy—including his Zionist, pro-Israel record—I was promptly dismissed as a rigid “ultra-leftist.”

This, again, speaks to the contemporary left’s overall detachment from matters of war and peace. Attend an anti-war protest today, and you are unlikely to find anybody under the age of 50. And many of these Baby Boomer protesters formed their anti-war politics after having served (whether they were drafted or voluntarily enlisted) in combat themselves.

But I fear that, for millennials my age, war is very much an abstraction.

This is not to suggest young people on the left do not care about militarism. Quite the reverse, in fact. Merely, that most working-class millennials’ lack of direct experience in military combat makes it less of a priority (behind more immediately pressing issues like student debt, affordable housing, health care, and free college education) in activist struggle.

But none of these domestic concerns can ever be addressed (let alone, funded) if we continue to ignore the Pentagon’s giant “pot of gold,” as longtime anti-war activist and blogger, Bruce Gagnon calls it. Fifty-seven percent of our federal income tax dollars go to the bloated, wasteful military-spending budget. And the GOP’s baseless mantra that Obama “depleted” the military of funding should be roundly dismissed as the phony propaganda it is.

Thus, the U.S. war-machine is not a “secondary” issue as many Sanders supporters argued. It is the issue.

“These terrorist attacks are not confined to Europe,” Tariq Ali said on a recent appearance of Democracy Now! “They take place every single day in Iraq, in Syria, in Afghanistan, in Pakistan, and Yemen, Bahrain.”

… We all deplore the loss of lives of innocent people. … Everyone does. But we can’t have double standards, in which we say that someone killed in Europe, their lives are more valuable than the lives being taken in large parts of the Muslim world. And unless the West understands that these double standards provoke and anger more people, it will carry on.

Editor’s note: Red Flag does not support or endorse any WordPress-sponsored advertisements that may appear on readers’ screens. This is another reason why workers, including writers, need to own the means of production–or in this case, the Internet.

If you like this essay feel free to share it widely (Facebook, Twitter, all that stuff…). Adam Marletta can be reached at adamd.marletta@gmail.com.

Thanks for reading!