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Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Social Justice Bard and the Tale of The Not Machiavellian Distraction

CN: Transphobia

I have complicated feelings about the U.S. military. I don't doubt that life would be very different if our military were purely defensive, and I'm sure not all of those differences would be good. Our military interventions are far from perfect, but many of those who would fill in the gaps were the U.S. absent from the theater have worse humanitarian records. And while colonialist capitalism is fifty kinds of bullshit, it is impossible to have conscientious value judgements that ignore our current geopolitical realities. It's complicated.

However, in our 239 year history, the United States has only not been at war for 17 of them, and many of those wars have been to secure the interests, particularly the economic interests, of a powerful few and at the expense of an oppressed many. Imperialism and colonialism (and the neo versions of each) have terrorized much of the world for the sake of exploitation.

And we also revere our troops. We elevate a single tour in the military to a higher pinnacle of social honor and acclaim than even a lifetime spent in civil service, beyond even those who also risk their lives.

Two things have always been true about the U.S. military. One is that it offers a means of social elevation, employment, and a ubiquitous perception of national virtue for many who join. It is seen as a great thing to serve. Along with this (and arguably because of this) the military always been a regressive body when it comes to social progress, clinging to phobias and isms until forced not to by an executive order.

[A friend worded this too perfectly for me to not quote. (Seriously, I would just be like a middle schooler, plagiarizing with some changed words if I tried to rewrite this now that this wording is in my head. It's just too perfectly expressed.):]

"Because of that fact [the "virtue" of serving], the United States military has been a battleground for the people who want to oppress and discriminate. One of the ways you marginalize a group of people is to say that [they] are incapable, unfit, or unwilling to fulfill their part of our social contract. Because military service, especially in combat, is treated as a loyal and laudable part of that social contract there has been a history of excluding people of color, women, and queer people from military service–especially in combat roles. They forbid those people from service and then use their (apparent, always only apparent and not actual) absence from service as a reason that they are lesser. They are blocked from doing what our culture says is a great act of community participation and then they are slandered as being unwilling or unfit to do it."      -Sasha Pixlee

Today Trump tweeted a message about meeting with (unnamed) generals and "military experts"–a meeting the Pentagon has no idea about–and decided that the government's policy towards military service by trans folks will immediately be changed to one of total non acceptance.

While it may be a hot moment before Trump can turn his morning Twitter ramblings into a thrust for official policy, he has telegraphed his intentions to harm vulnerable communities in similar ways and has carried such plans out–with fervor if not always effectively. In fact, his unswerving zeal in enacting overtly bigoted policies like his ban and his wall have eclipsed his interest in substantive policy issues like coming up with healthcare that 80% of the country doesn't hate or tackling the tax codes that he promised to do.

As was unerringly telegraphed over and over by Trump the Candidate in the primaries and even the general election (and despite what many chin-stroking, anti-establishment mostly white folks said they had "grave concerns about" but were willing to make a Faustian deal for because they just knew he was blustering and would actually focus on this other stuff), Trump has shown that he will be easily distracted from the day to day burdens of actually being a president by anything that advances the social hegemony of cis het white men via hurting another group.

The problem is, folks are still falling into the trap of this narrative of the guy who is a statesman and not just a bigot.

They think that somewhere Trump really cares about policy minutiae. That behind his tweets and appearance of nothing more than self-absorbed paranoia and naked bigotry there beats the heart of a sinister Machiavellian political animal whose guile distracted everyone while the "real" show (the healthcare debates) goes on. That he's really good at slight of hand distractions and his timing is all well considered.

Because, you know, it's impossible for a human to give a shit about more than one thing at a time.

Depending on the sources you use, somewhere between 2,500 and 4,000 people were just told they were about to lose their job. They were told that not only is their path to a commendable fulfillment of the U.S. social contract about to be eliminated, but their very existence within the military is a threat to national security and that with them, they couldn't win. That they are a disruption. Their life saving surgery is not worth performing by the nation they have offered their lives to protect.

This is not some minor slight of hand that doesn't really matter.

This can't even be rightly called a dog whistle. Even if such a policy were considered vital by the Pentagon (Narrator's voice: "It isn't."), to announce it in such a callous and injurious way belies the depth of vindictive malice. He is tossing bones and meat and blood out to the forces that dehumanize trans folk, and forcing the latter to argue for their own humanity and their own right to the path of civic virtue. Denying many not just their path to civic virtue, but for many their only outs from abuse or homelessness and access to an education. And of course reigniting within the country the sentiment that they are less than human. With three tweets–fewer than 420 characters–he stoked the stigma that trans folks face, and almost certainly placed some in danger. Like many things Trump does, this one was nasty and cruel.

Trump did this on the anniversary of Truman signing Executive Order 9981– an E.O. that banned racial discrimination within the military and allowed POC to advance on this path of civic virtue that had been blocked to them. If any quirk of timing could be said to have been on his mind, it was this one.

Fucking of COURSE he says some epic bullshit every time there's a major vote or policy issue. That's because he says some epic bullshit like every other day. Think of how often Trump hasn't been quagmired in a news cycle of his own titanic fuckery. This is like saying the sun knows when you are have an Algebra test because it rises in the east every single time you have one.

That is not a diversion. It's not a minor thing said with the intention of throwing us off our game.

There are lots of balls in the air because that's what life and politics are like, and some people have to triage what they can do. And of course you should keep hectoring your representatives about health care if you don't want to lose it. But if Trump announces a MAJOR policy decision which literally harms (and will encourage further marginalization of) trans folks, that's not a "distraction," and folks who are suggesting it IS nothing but a distraction should think really hard about who they're throwing under the bus to demand the focus stay on what they consider "important."


  1. one aspect that to me seemed missing when you discussed "One is that it offers a means of social elevation, employment, " its important to understand that joining the military has ALWAYS been a potential and valid means of escape for people whose home lives were horrific or who had already become extremely marginalised by civilian life.

    young lgbt adults who needed to escape their homes or the streets could find employment, housing, basic medical care, education, training, etc by joining up.

    so by deterring lgbt in the military, you not only weaken the military itself, you also cut off one of the single largest escape hatches low income LGBT people have to GTFO of wherever they are.

  2. Well said Chris. What's even more disengenuous is that he can't change policy this way. It's all smoke and mirrors done for the worst possible reasons.

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