In a rambling press conference ― one of two yesterday from his Bedminster, New Jersey golf club, during his vacation ― Donald Trump cavalierly and quite cruelly stated that he is “doing the military a great favor” by banning transgender people serving openly in the military. Unlike in his tweets from three weeks ago in which he called for the ban, Trump didn’t even give a solid reason for why he’s banning trans troops except that the issue is “confusing.”
But a statement he made just before this ugly, transphobic attack, responding to a question about the ban, should alarm everyone ― including every single Trump supporter who backed Trump because of promises he made to them.
“I have great respect for the [transgender] community,” Trump said. “I think I have support, or I’ve had great support, from that community. I got a lot of votes.”
After that, Trump meandered into incoherent yet very telling thoughts: “But the transgender in the military is working on it now. They’re doing the work. It’s been a very difficult situation. And I think I’m doing a lot of people a favor by just coming out and saying it.”
The “saying it” part is chilling because what Trump seems to mean is that he’s not being “politically correct” and is just saying what a lot of people believe (particularly among his white evangelical base, for whom this issue is paramount): that transgender people should be treated less than equal.
And by claiming just before that statement that he had “great” support and got “a lot of votes” from the transgender community, Trump is admitting in the most stark way that he will throw any group overboard, even a group that helped him win, if it means that it will help him to appease some other group whose support he needs currently.
Now, Trump is just flat-out delusional if he believes that transgender people supported him in any great way. Exit polls showed Trump received only 14 percent of the entire gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender electorate, while Hillary Clinton received 78 percent. This is more lopsided than any other Republican candidate since LGBT voters have been included in exit polls; most have been able to get 20 to 25 percent of the vote (Mitt Romney received 22 percent of LGBT voters in exit polls in 2012). Even if these numbers are off by a a little or even more substantially, it’s safe to say Trump didn’t get “great” support from transgender people.
Throughout the campaign, however, Trump promoted the same falsehood he is promoting now ― that he had support from LGBT people ― and made splashy but empty statements about standing up for and defending “LGBTQ” people without ever talking about specific rights. Meanwhile, he quietly made promises to evangelicals, a much more important constituency for him, under the radar at their events, or via Christian right media, to dismantle LGBTQ rights, including by appointing Supreme Court justices who would overturn the Obergefell marriage equality ruling.
Trump’s faux support for LGBTQ rights on the campaign trail wasn’t meant for LGBTQ voters, who of course were smarter than this, but rather for GOP moderates and independents, including suburban voters and women, who would be turned off by harsh attacks and hateful policy against LGBTQ people. The Christian right understood that in 2016 this was necessary ― as long as there was a wink-wink, nudge-nudge to them.
And those evangelical backers moved quickly to make sure Trump began to make good on his promises once in the White House ― with the help of his homophobic vice president, Mike Pence, and his anti-LGBTQ cabinet members, such as Jeff Sessions, Betsy Devos and Ben Carson.
Trump simply cannot afford to lose evangelicals, captive now to their every whim. As I pointed out last week, he’s brought evangelical leaders into the White House several times already, and is keeping them close as his approval numbers collapse and as even his base is starting to erode. Evangelicals are among the most loyal voters ― if promises to them are kept ― and Trump needs them now, so much so that after meeting a group of Christian right leaders in the White House a few weeks ago who urged the ban on trans people in the military he did what they wanted, via two tweets.
Trump’s political and military advisers, as well as White House lawyers, urged him not to do it. The cost of medical care for trans people in the military is estimated at between $2 and $8 million a year, while the cost of now ejecting them from the military is estimated to be $960 million in a report by the Naval Postgraduate School, using conservative figures. And Trump is quite likely to lose in court on this. But, according to reports, he nonetheless shocked his advisers by tweeting his decree to ban transgender people without giving notice to those in his administration, and Defense Secretary James Mattis reportedly was “appalled” (even though he must now carry out the order).
Every minority group ― and any group in the crosshairs of those Trump thinks he needs right now ― should be horrified by Trump’s ban on transgender people, and his statements yesterday, because they could easily be next.
But Trump supporters especially should take it as a warning. Already, Trump was ready to strip away the health care of millions of them with a bill that had the approval of just 12 percent of Americans, with many Trump supporters among those who disapproved. All Trump wanted ― and still wants, badgering Mitch McConnell to get repeal of Obamacare done or else perhaps quit as majority leader ― is a win, no matter what it costs or who is hurt.
Many of us who opposed Trump have said it for a long time: Trump cares nothing about those who voted for him, and only cares about himself. And Trump supporters have mostly been in denial about this, wrapped up in the cult of Trump. But with each action it becomes clearer that we’re right ― and the erosion in his base shows that ― and it jars a few more of them.
Trump’s statements on banning transgender people in the military ― something 68 percent of Americans oppose, presumably including a lot of Trump supporters, and which conservative GOP senators such as Joni Ernst of Iowa and John McCain of Arizona oppose ― are bold-faced admissions that he will sell out those who voted for him if he believes it will benefit him.
Whether or not trans people did vote for Trump in great numbers doesn’t matter. He claims they did, and then in the same breath he callously says he’s doing everyone “a favor” by throwing them out of their jobs, disrupting families, and destroying lives. It’s clear evidence there isn’t a group he won’t betray if Trump thinks it will help him in the moment.
Follow Michelangelo Signorile on Twitter: www.twitter.com/msignorile