Trump’s assault on trans rights is predictable political theater
Trump's decision to reverse an Obama-era rule that would have allowed transgender people to serve openly in the military has provoked a predictable wave of comments, such as "The military isn't a place for social experiments," and "It would have been asking for sexual assault," and many others I need not repeat. Labels and buzzwords are tossed out like "politically correct," "social justice warrior," "regressive left," etc. None are particularly useful or meaningful—they merely reinforce tribalism—and appear to mostly represent people's discomfort with the inevitable upheaval of the status quo.
When I reflect on the increasingly toxic political climate of the last decade, it seems to me that a few issues have been at the root:
1. Advancement of lgbtq rights, particularly the legalization of gay marriage and repeal of DADT, the debate over transgender rights, the debate over "rape culture," and how these issues are perceived as an assault on heteronormativity.
2. Economic uncertainty, which is made worse by the perception that poor people and/or minorities are given generous government handouts, all while working class white people—who often rightly feel they've worked hard for what they have—are called "privileged" by liberals attempting to draw attention to social inequalities.
3. Ethnocentrism (i.e., backlash against immigrants, refugees, and religious minorities). The ethnocentrism is itself rooted in both economic uncertainty ("immigrants will steal jobs") and existential fear—that immigrants/refugees/minorities are out to undermine or destroy the predominant Christian culture, either through violence or an erosion of sociocultural norms.
The backlash against transgender people—in addition to Trump's tweets today, Texas state legislature advanced a bill to restrict trans people's use of bathrooms—I believe stems from insecurity over a cultural shift away from heteronormative values. Conservatives are resistant to the idea of gender as a social construct, and anecdotally I've seen many conservatives insist that biological sex is binary despite the fact that chromosomal abnormalities can result in intersex individuals who must largely choose which heteronormative gender they will adopt.
I believe this to be largely a relic of both Christian religion and the strict-father morality that characterizes conservative moral views. Trump's move today will be largely inconsequential—trans people currently serve in silence, just as gay people did until the repeal of DADT, and will likely continue to do so. And just as the repeal of DADT was derided by conservatives as a "social experiment," so too we are seeing conservatives object that trans people are mentally ill sexual predators who will adversely affect cohesion and thus combat readiness. But the abundance of research indicates that when trans people serve openly, as they do in many other Western nations, there is no significant cost or effect on readiness. The repeal of DADT turned out to be much ado about nothing, and when trans people are eventually allowed to serve openly—and they will, sooner or later—it will in time be viewed as similarly insignificant to the heteronormative majority.
Let's remember that Trump is almost certainly tweeting this to distract the media from the repeated failures of the republican congress, his crass and boorish behavior, as well as the mounting evidence of his and/or his associates' collusion with a hostile foreign government. One of Trump's longtime (and very effective) strategies when the kitchen gets hot is to say or do things to pander to his base—hence him holding what was essentially a campaign rally the earlier this week in addition to a rambling, lewd, and politically-charged speech at this year’s Boy Scouts Jamboree. He is his own worst enemy, though, and both his facade and his support will continue to unravel.