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.

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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.

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Ignore the GOP’s Lies: The Pentagon is Not Broke

Fighter Jet

During a recent interview on NBC’s Meet the Press,  Maine Republican Senator Susan Collins reiterated one of the biggest lies about Barack Obama’s presidency.

When host, Chuck Todd asked Collins if there is “any part of [President Donald Trump’s] budget you support?” she responded:

“Yes. I do think that we need an increase [in spending] for our veterans and an increase in military spending because readiness has really suffered.”

For context, the majority of Collins’ six-and-a-half minute interview was devoted to the president’s proposed health care bill which, as of this writing, is DOA. These remarks were her sole reference to military-spending.

Yet, the statement, minor though it may be, is extremely significant.

The notion that military readiness has “really suffered” due to Obama’s budgetary policies has been widely repeated by congressional Republicans, Trump, and the corporate media. The GOP maintain Obama “depleted” military funding, leaving the U.S. woefully under-prepared—if not, in fact, completely unprepared—to adequately respond to a foreign attack.

Trump alluded to this notion of a “weakened” military during his March 1 address to Congress.

“I am sending Congress a budget that rebuilds the military, eliminates the defense sequester and calls for one of the largest increases in national defense spending in American history,” Trump said of his proposed $54 billion military-spending budget.

This oft-repeated talking point that the military suffers from a lack of “readiness,” corresponds with the equally false narrative that Obama was “weak” on matters of foreign policy—too eager to engage in “wimpy diplomacy,” and “negotiations,” rather than military force.

But this baseless narrative ignores the fact that both military spending and the use of military force increased under Obama. Indeed, Obama—who received the Nobel Peace Prize less than a year into his presidency—proved to be more of a warmonger than George “I’m a War president!” Bush.

Under Obama, the U.S. escalated the war in Afghanistan, down-scaled—but did not end, entirely—the U.S. military occupation of Iraq, and engaged in covert drone bombing campaigns in Yemen, Pakistan, Somalia, Libya, and Syria. Perhaps most unnerving was the Obama administration’s penchant for relying on unmanned predator drones which can be controlled from thousands of miles away, and its codification into law of extrajudicial targeted assassinations.

The latter tactic claimed the lives of at least two U.S. citizens: Anwar al-Awlaki and his 16-year-old son, Abulrahman al-Awlaki.

Obama even maintained a not-so-secret “kill list” of suspected terrorists targeted for death, for Christ’s sake! Perhaps Republicans are just jealous a black man got to engage in all the really deranged, ultra-violent stuff, while Cheney and Rumsfeld had to settle for merely waterboarding people.

The fact is Obama was hardly the peacenik Republicans—along with their subservient echo-chamber in the corporate media–constantly portray him as. Likewise, the claim that Obama “depleted” the military of funding, leaving it in a “weakened” state, is downright laughable.

Contrary to the GOP’s rhetoric, the United States still maintains the largest, strongest, most expensive military force in the world.

As Branko Marcetic writes in a March 6 piece for Jacobin titled, “The Lie of ‘Rebuilding’ the Military”:

The US military has a vastly larger airforce, navy, and number of aircraft carriers than any of its closest rivals. While it commands less manpower than China and India, its nuclear stockpile—a mind-boggling 6,970 warheads—is second only to Russia. The massive three hundred held by France in third place looks piddling by comparison. According to a 2015 Credit Suisse report, all of this and more means the United States far outmatches any other country in terms of military strength.

As Marcetic notes, maintaining an absurdly massive military of this size does not come cheap. The Pentagon ate up $622 billion of the federal budget in 2016, alone. Fifty-four percent of our federal tax dollars go to military spending. And much of this money is wasted on outdated, Cold War-era weapons and fighter jets the Pentagon has no need for—a fact that, curiously, goes unnoticed by “fiscally conservative” Republicans who constantly harp about the need for the government to “get its fiscal house in order.”

(And while we are on the topic, can we mention the hypocrisy of claiming to want to “shrink the size of government,” while lavishing the military–which, last time I checked, is part of the executive branch of the federal government–with billions of dollars?)

Contrary to what the talking heads on “liberal” NPR insist, the largest portion of the federal budget is devoted to the misleadingly-titled category, “Defense”—not so-called “entitlement” programs like Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid.

But military-spending is so sacrosanct among both political parties it is almost never brought up in budgetary debates. Instead, we are told immigrants, refugees, public school teachers and their “cadillac-style” retirement benefits, and the earned-income programs won through hard-fought working-class struggle are to blame for our nation’s budgetary woes.

This is the perverse genius of the so-called “austerity” policies the global capitalist elites have pushed in Europe and the U.S. since the Great Recession: Socialize the costs and privatize the profits. And during Obama’s presidency those profits continued to soar for weapons manufacturers like Lockheed-Martin, Raytheon, and General Dynamics, which owns Bath Iron Works, one of the largest employers in Maine.

The Trump administration, meanwhile, is eyeing deep cuts to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), which is now headed by climate change denier, Scott Pruitt. Also on the chopping block is funding for the National Endowment for the Arts, the State Department, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, and most federal regulatory industries.

Turns out Americans should have heeded President Dwight Eisenhower’s outgoing warning about the dangers of the “military-industrial complex,” after all.

“As millions of Americans struggle with inadequate health care, low wages, deteriorating public services and uncertainty about their futures as the wage gap between the wealthy elite and the working poor widens,” famed consumer advocate and ertswhile independent presidential candidate, Ralph Nader wrote back in 2013, “billions upon billions of taxpayer dollars are pouring into the coffers of the Department of Defense ever year.”

All of this makes clear the left’s urgent need to revive the beleaguered anti-war movement, which largely remained dormant during Obama’s presidency. As Maine anti-war activist, blogger, and professional organizer, Bruce Gagnon told me in a 2015 interview, “Liberal Democrats are reluctant to challenge the president when he’s ‘their guy.'”

“It’s a real hypocrisy,” Gagnon added. “And it’s a real problem for maintaining an active anti-war movement.”

Perhaps the fact that it is now a Republican carrying out these disastrous wars will reinvigorate the anti-war left. The mass opposition to Trump’s racist campaigns against Muslims and immigrants is certainly an encouraging sign. Socialists must tap into this growing movement, while also making the broader connections between the global refugee crisis and U.S. imperialism.

But our first task must be to offer a forceful rebuke to the bourgeois falsehood that the military needs “rebuilding.” Quite the reverse, we should be investing less money in killing people, and more on infrastructure, good-paying jobs, renewable energy programs, health care, and our public schools.

“Monopolies, oligarchy, the striving for domination and not for freedom, the exploitation of an increasing number of small or weak nations by a handful of the richest or most powerful nations,” Vladimir Lenin wrote in his 1917 essay, Imperialism: The Highest Stage of Capitalism, “… all these have given birth to those distinctive characteristics of imperialism which compel us to define it as parasitic or decaying capitalism.”

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Don’t Be Fooled: Donald Trump is Still a Bourgeois Scumbag

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If Donald Trump has succeeded at anything, it is in considerably lowering the bar for what is considered “presidential.” That is the establishment media’s takeaway, at least, from Trump’s first address to Congress last week.

The prepared speech—which the president dutifully read from a teleprompter, despite his vocal criticism of Barack Obama’s use of the same practice—did not deviate from the president’s major policy proposals.

Trump still intends to pursue mass deportation of immigrants. He is still pledging to build a wall on the Mexican border. He is still demonizing Muslims and so-called “Radical Islam”–though he has precious little to say about the far more pervasive threat posed by Radical Christianity.

He wants to nearly quadruple the already bloated military-spending budget, vowing to “strengthen our military,” which has never ceased being the most powerful and belligerent force of violence on the planet.

And Trump is still targeting society’s most vulnerable, marginalized populations including people of color, immigrants, the LGBT community, and women.

Trump’s speech, in other words, was a veritable “greatest hits” package of the same themes and promises he has been harping on since he first launched his presidential campaign in June of 2015. (That was the now infamous campaign kickoff speech in which Trump referred to Mexicans as criminals, drug-dealers and “rapists.”)

And it was just as devoid of substance, specific policy proposals, and factual information grounded in reality as anything else that has come out of the president’s mouth.

Yet, the “liberal” media nearly unanimously praised Trump’s toned-down demeanor and noticeably more restrained performance.

The New York Times—which Trump has repeatedly singled-out as the worst of the supposed perpetuators of “fake news”—called the address the “most presidential speech” Trump has “ever given.” CNN regular correspondent, Van Jones agreed, claiming with this speech Donald Trump “became president of the United States.”

Like I said, the bar is really low. What is that expression about putting lipstick on a pig, again…?

During one particularly nauseating point of the speech, Trump trotted out the newly-widowed wife of Navy SEAL, William “Ryan” Owens, who was killed in a botched raid in Yemen on Jan. 29. Owens is the first U.S. soldier to die under Trump’s presidency, and his administration continues to callously insist the failed raid was a “success.” At least 20 Yemeni women and children were also killed in the attack.

Owens’ widow, Carryn Owens, received a standing ovation from both Republicans and Democrats, thus proving the two warmongering parties’ alleged “irreconcilable differences” run only so deep.

But Politico’s John Bresnahan lauded this cynical exploitation of Owens’ death—which Trump caused. “That was a Reaganesque moment for Trump,” Bresnahan wrote. He is correct. Only a cold-hearted shill like Ronald Reagan would have stooped to Trump’s vile level of pandering to Americans’ blind military worship and mandatory troop exaltation to score political points.

Not only is the media’s praise of Trump unwarranted, it also threatens to distract Americans from the Predator in Chief’s actual policies.

As Adam Johnson writes in a blog post for the media watchdog group, Fairness and Accuracy In Reporting (FAIR), “The praise from the media for his speech was so overwhelming, Trump is reportedly delaying the roll out of his new ‘travel ban’ (his new attempt to legalize a Muslim ban) so he can soak in all the goodwill.”

Some “opposition party.”

All of this is to point out what is perhaps obvious to many readers, but nonetheless bears repeating: Leftists cannot rely on either the media, or the Democratic Party to oppose Donald Trump in any meaningful way. We must, through mass protests, demonstrations, mobilizations, and even strikes, oppose him ourselves.

As Elizabeth Schulte writes in the Socialist Worker:

For all the threats it made during the election about why we had to stop Trump by any means necessary, the Democratic Party establishment’s idea of “opposition” is so far from what’s necessary to push back the Republicans’ agenda, it’s laughable–especially when you consider the opposition that ordinary people are showing at town hall meetings and at protests that skewer their elected officials for failing to represent them.

But there is an additional element to Trump’s “presidential” speech the corporate media are overlooking. As Schulte points out, Trump’s alleged change in tone may have had more to do with assuaging the fears of congressional Republicans, who still have a rather tenuous relationship with this president.

Not only have the various scandals that have plagued Trump’s administration a mere six weeks into his presidency detracted from the Republican Congress’ actual work (note, for instance, Republicans’ failure to make good on their signature pledge to repeal Obamacare–a vow which has now turned into “repeal and replace,” though replace with what, precisely, remains unclear), but the capitalist elite maintain deep ideological disagreements with key aspects of Trump’s agenda, particularly his isolationist, “America First” and anti-free-trade positions.

Likewise, the president’s nearly singular focus on implementing draconian immigration laws is at odds with capital’s need for cheap, super-exploitable labor from abroad. And Trump’s plan to create “millions” of manufacturing jobs is exactly the sort of “Big Government” program the GOP is adamantly opposed to.

Indeed, Trump’s blatant opposition to the major pillars of so-called “late-stage” capitalism (free-trade, globalization, and access to cheap labor from abroad) is precisely why neoliberal stalwart Hillary Clinton–not Trump–was the capitalist bourgeoisie’s preferred choice for president. How deep and protracted capital’s fight with Trump becomes–and the lengths the so-called “deep state” goes to keep President Trump in line–remains to be seen.

But for now, Trump is merely trying to assure the Establishment everything will be alright. That is, alright for them, anyway. For the working class, not so much…

“Went to war with the Devil and Shaytan,” says Killer Mike, on the rap duo, Run the Jewels’ excellent new self-titled album, Run the Jewels 3, in an overt reference to Trump. “He wore a bad toupee and a spray tan.” (“Shaytan” is Arabic for “Satan.”)

Nearly two months after his swearing-in, Trump may finally be getting the hang of acting the part of president–at least in the same way that Richard Nixon eventually learned how to appear “presidential” for the TV cameras. But he has not altered his xenophobic, racist, anti-worker views one bit.

Trump and his advisers live in their own warped reality, devoid of facts, science, and historical accuracy. They cite phony terrorist attacks that never occurred as justification for their discriminatory policies. Trump by his own admission, does not read. And his equally anti-intellectual supporters have a perverse contempt for those who do.

The media should not be so easily fooled, and neither should we.

Trump is a con artist–and a highly transparent one, at that. The great–if not, indeed, the tragic–irony of Trump’s election is how he managed to convince enough struggling, working-class Americans that he actually cares one iota about them and their plight. And that if they just work hard enough, or sufficiently desire strongly enough, they too can be rich and famous like him.

“If politics is like show business,” Neil Postman warned in 1985’s Amusing Ourselves to Death, “then the idea is not to pursue excellence, clarity or honesty but to appear as if you are, which is another matter altogether. And what the other matter is can be expressed in one word: advertising.”

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.

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