Brian Dickerson: Collateral Damage in Trump's reign of chaos

7/27/17 - If you were sampling the TV news shows Wednesday morning — and who even imagines that our distractable president was engaged in anything more taxing? —  it could hardly have escaped your notice that the most ridiculed man on the planet was facing yet another tsunami of bipartisan outrage.

Whether he braved the whining buzz saws on CNN and MSNBC, clicked through legacy broadcasts like "Today" and "Good Morning America,"  or sought refuge in the usually sympathetic company of "Fox & Friends," Donald Trump found critics assailing his competence, his judgment and even his sanity from observation posts  across the political spectrum.

Besides the steady small-arms fire laid down by Democrats, there were Republican committees subpoenaing the president's family and friends and Republican committee chairmen promising that any move against special prosecutor Robert Mueller would prove futile as well as politically disastrous. Graphics highlighting the administration's contacts with Kremlin apparatchiks competed with video highlight's of Trump's bizarre, stream-of-consciousness soliloquy before the bewildered Boy Scouts of America.

Of particular concern was the chorus of condemnation from hard-core conservatives incensed by Trump's relentless trolling of Attorney General Jeff Sessions, or by the administration's inability to rally a GOP majority around health care reform.

Clearly, the channel-surfer-in-chief needed to change the subject.

That he would choose to do via Twitter, in a burst of impulsive hyperbole, and by announcing a significant policy shift he had neglected to vet with those responsible for its implementation was preordained. This has been standard operating procedure since the earliest days of his administration, when he conjured chaos in airports across the globe by announcing a Muslim travel ban that surprised even Trump's top national security advisers.

So the only surprise Trump had up his sleeve Wednesday was the instrument of distraction he chose to rally his base and rile his critics — an impetuous decision to declare that transgender Americans would henceforth be banished from their country's armed forces.

Nearly every fact the president asserted to support his initiative — that it was critical to shore up combat readiness; that it would relieve the Pentagon of "tremendous costs and disruption";  and that it had been deployed only after careful consultation with "my generals and military experts" — was transparently false.

The results of a federal study to assess the impact of trangender troops are not due until the end of this year, and a comprehensive analysis conducted by the Rand Corporation last year concluded that the integration of transgender personnel would have a negligible impact on costs or force readiness. 

The Rand study projected that costs for transgender medical services would top out at $8.4 million a year. (By comparison, the Military Times recently reported, the Pentagon spent $41 million in 2014 on Viagra.) 

But to belabor the hollow policy arguments for the transgender ban would be to promote the dubious notion that those arguments played any role in the president's decision. In reality, the transgender ban is designed to address Trump's problems, not the Pentagon's; its purpose — to placate conservatives unnerved by Trump's persecution of Sessions, and to provoke his liberal critics — is political, not logistical.

Like Syrian refugees, Iraqi immigrants, federal judges and the incumbent attorney general before them, the transgender citizens the president slandered this week are merely collateral damage in his never-ending battle to distract his constituents from the dysfunction and indecency hobbling the executive branch.

Like previous stratagems, it is doomed to succeed only in the short run — but at an outrageous cost to yet another group of vulnerable Americans who deserve better from the purported leader of the free world.

print this article print    Email A Friend email    Share with Facebook   Share with Twitter   Share with Linked In  

Brian Dickerson: Collateral Damage in Trump's reign of chaos 7/27/2017
 ↑ back to top