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.
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