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A Quiet Existence


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Presidential counselor Kellyanne Conway, perhaps attempting to curry favor with this week's court favorite, Anthony Scaramucci (who -- stay with me here -- had just accused the president's chief of staff of a felony), popped up on "Fox and Friends" to suggest that it is "demoralizing" to fill out all the forms required for government service. She's worried that "paperwork" is keeping many qualified men and women from joining the administration.

Right. It's the paperwork. Scaramucci, Donald Trump's Mini-Me, who has barely had a chance to find the West Wing's bathroom, is angling to push Reince Priebus out the door, while President Trump does the same to his attorney general. You want to talk about demoralization, let's talk.

After days of heaping abuse on Jeff Sessions, and thereby alienating conservatives who admire Sessions along with anyone who believes in simple decency, President Trump dropped his little bomb about transgender troops.

Back on planet Earth, I'd be inclined to assess the merits of the question. The left's default mode for any vexing public policy matter is to claim "discrimination" or "hate" is the issue. Complex questions are shoehorned into a civil rights box, and once so designated, they are beyond debate. Those opposed to "transgender" rights (even if that term is completely misplaced) get Bull Connor or "hater" status.

The question of gender identity is caught up with our confusion about masculinity and femininity, and about the role of biology in our lives. The left's approach -- to declare trans people to be a persecuted minority rather than confused people in need of understanding and therapy -- inhibits reasonable debate.

But so does Donald Trump's cynical use of the question. After years of professing his attachment to LGBTQ concerns, offering that Caitlyn Jenner could use any bathroom he/she preferred in Trump Tower, telling crowds that he would be a "better friend" to LGBT people than Hillary Clinton and even thanking Republican convention-goers for cheering that gays should not be murdered, Trump now finds it useful to declare transgenders unwelcome in the U.S. military.

Never mind that even conservative Republican members of Congress had not asked for that much. They had opposed only forcing the military to pay for gender-reassignment surgery. And never mind that the military was in the midst of a thorough evaluation of its transgender policy. And never mind that the president failed to consult with or even to inform his military advisors before tweeting the new policy -- which has provoked an extraordinary response from the Joint Chiefs of Staff, clarifying that there will be "no modifications to the current policy until the President's direction has been received by the Secretary of Defense and the Secretary has issued implementation guidelines."

Trump doubtless expects conservatives to faithfully defend this performance. He has reason to. For months, they've been serving as his dancing bears, sacrificing their reputations for the sake of TV gigs that are now available to Trump defenders.

Consider the context. Having viciously attacked and humiliated his attorney general for acting ethically; hinting that he would abuse the pardon power for his family and himself; threatening Republican senators who voted against health care reform; and "joking" that he might fire his Health and Human Services secretary, Trump may have thought to toss some red meat to conservatives in the form of the transgender military ban.

It's impossible to defend a policy that Trump himself is using as misdirection. It's not that he doesn't believe in it himself. There is little evidence that he believes in anything outside of himself. It's that he pollutes everything he touches.

If Trump were truly concerned about the impact of transgender troops on military readiness, he would take the trouble to educate himself on the matter, review the military's assessments, convene meetings, hear from all sides and then propose legislation so that his policy could not easily be overridden by the next president.

Instead, he chose to troll the left by announcing a sweeping ban. Sure enough, they've played their part in the drama he is orchestrating. Stephen Colbert said the president had gone from "crazy to cruel." Vox quoted a service member to the effect that "what Trump did was strictly to serve his bigot followers and nothing else."

The next act is for conservative intellectuals and opinion leaders to defend Trump's ploy as a serious policy, and to scream that the left has "lost it."

No thanks. I'm demoralized.

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