US president Donald Trump cited “medical costs and disruption” as his reasons for banning transgender people from the military on July 26.
Conservatives have been using the cost-and-disruption argument to oppose letting transgender people serve. (The US military was supposed to open its doors to trans personnel this month but has delayed that until January.) In a lengthy study last year, however, the RAND Corporation found there’s nothing to back up either of those claims. Other armies with trans soldiers—including those of Canada, Israel, and the UK—have seen “little or no impact on unit cohesion, operational effectiveness, or readiness,” it says. In fact, commanders in those armies have noted “benefits for all service members by creating a more inclusive and diverse force.”
Even clearer is that the medical costs are minimal. The report says gender transition-related health care—not just surgeries, but also ongoing care such as hormone treatment—sets the US military back between $2.4 and $8.4 million per year. That’s between 0.04% and 0.13% of its total medical budget.
By comparison, Trump’s vaunted trips to his Mar-a-Lago “winter White House” have been estimated at $3.6 million each. The leftist Center for American Progress think tank guesses his 11 total trips to Mar-a-Lago and Bedminster golf course since taking office have cost $29 million. (Politifact only rates this estimate “half true” as there are lots of variables to each trip’s costs. Even so, it writes, “It’s reasonable to assume that Trump’s multiple weekends at Mar-a-Lago cost taxpayers millions.”)
So, what are Trump’s real motives?
One administration official reportedly suggested that it’s part of a strategy for the 2018 midterm elections—a way of shoring up support from blue-collar voters, by boxing Democrats into taking a stance that will be unpopular in places like the midwest.
As MSNBC host Joy Ann Reid pointed out, that basically sounds a repeat of the playbook president George W. Bush used to return to the White House in 2004. Having won office as a “compassionate conservative,” his reelection campaign—masterminded by Karl Rove—took a “traditional values” platform including strident opposition to gay marriage. The result? Bush won the popular vote by about 3 million (pdf).