One of my favorite snippets of self-help philosophy, one that has proven useful to me in real life, particularly in my capacity as a journalist, is derived from the Alcoholics Anonymous recovery program's 10th step:
“Continued to take a personal inventory and when we were wrong promptly admitted it.”
To take a personal inventory is to sift through the wreckage of the past and recognize where one has done both right and wrong. Having completed personal inventories on several occasions, I understand one of my greatest character flaws is self-righteousness. Admitting I'm wrong doesn't come easy to me.
But thanks to practicing the 10th step, I've learned over the years to promptly admit when I'm wrong. Even to this day, to this very moment, it isn't always easy, but contrary to what my feelings might tell me, it's the path of least resistance. So here it goes.
I was wrong about Donald Trump. I thought he had the intellectual and emotional capacity to serve as president of the United States. After his actions during the past two weeks, it's abundantly clear he does not.
Little more than a month ago, I was praising Trump's proficiency at 4D chess, citing his Twitter war with CNN as the latest example. Although I had ceased being a fervent supporter, I thought Trump, who is fighting detractors from all sides, had turned the corner, and might even become an effective president.
During Trump's improbable rise to power, I'd developed this conception of him as a sort of autistic genius who manages to put all the pieces of the puzzle called America together while simultaneously offending everyone in the process, who nevertheless will applaud unanimously once the puzzle is completed.
But I didn't count on the autistic kid throwing away pieces of the puzzle before it was finished. That's exactly what Trump did last week with a series of early morning tweets that tossed every transgender person currently serving in the U.S. military under the bus. Here are the tweets condensed to a single paragraph:
“After consultation with my Generals and military experts, please be advised that the United States Government will not accept or allow ... Transgender individuals to serve in any capacity in the U.S. Military. Our military must be focused on decisive and overwhelming … victory and cannot be burdened with the tremendous medical costs and disruption that transgender in the military would entail. Thank you.”
To say I was astonished when greeted with these tweets first thing in the morning would be an understatement. The night before on social media, I had actually posted something to the effect that Trump had at least attempted to foster good relations with the LGBT community. He invited Caitlyn Jenner to use the ladies room at Trump Tower, which she did. He pledged the Republican party would become a “friend.” We now know he meant the kind of friend who sticks a knife in your back the first chance he gets.
The fact that Trump's tweets have been almost universally derided by mainstream media, Democrats and more than a few Republicans is good news for the LGBT community. We may get in awkward arguments about pronouns and bathroom signage, and more serious discussions about the appropriate age to begin psychological, medical and surgical treatments for gender identity issues, but as society as a whole, we are growing in our ability to accept people as they are.
The first poll taken since Trump's remarks verifies this. Reuters found that 58 percent of Americans believe transgender people should be allowed to serve in the military. Just 27 percent said they shouldn't. The rest didn't know. Broken down by party, even 32 percent of Republicans agree transgender people should be allowed to serve.
One reason I think a majority support transgender people being allowed to serve is Americans, and I'm talking about the people, not the government or the military, have a sense of fair play. We bet on the underdog and against the bully. We can see that the LGBT community, even with all those other letters thrown in, is relatively small, less than 10 percent of the population. The number of transgender individuals is estimated at less than 1 percent. When we see a more powerful group, such as right wing evangelicals, persecute this smaller group, it offends our sense of fair play.
With Trump's transgender tweets, we have a situation that amplifies the equation. The most powerful person on the planet, the president of the United States, has just attacked what might be America's smallest minority group, on Twitter for God's sake.
Of all the estimates about the number of transgender people serving in the military and the associated medical costs that have been publicized since Trump's tweets, the one number that stood out to me was 250. That's the number of transgender service members who've formally applied for transgender status since former Secretary of Defense Ash Carter, at President Barack Obama's direction, lifted the ban on openly serving last year. Trump claims these these 250 people, out of 1.4 million active duty personnel, are harming our military's readiness.
All this may be pleasing the evangelicals, the Alt-Right and Tea Party members of Trump's base, but that base isn't big enough to win national elections. Moderates such as myself, who in the past have excused Trump's grotesque behavior, will be hard-pressed to call this anything but what it is: the naked scapegoating of a minority group to score political points.
But it's much worse than that. By casting his tweets in pseudo-military bureaucratese and granting them the veneer of his authority as Commander in Chief, Trump has profoundly disrespected the military's chain of command, and every one currently serving from the generals at the top to the grunts digging latrines at the bottom knows it.
Trump, a serial draft-dodger during the Vietnam War era, claimed he consulted with his generals before tweeting. Anyone who's in or has been in the military knows that isn't true, because if Trump had consulted the generals, the generals would have passed the information down to the troops through normal channels, not blurt it out from the very top on a public social media platform to billions of people worldwide in the hopes that everybody gets the message and nobody gets the wrong idea.
You may think everyone serving in the military is a homophobic redneck, but those 250 service men and women openly serving as transgender have friends and colleagues, and they're all fighting on the same team, whether it be in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Coast Guard or Marines. They don't live in our world, where the constitution prevails. They live under the Uniform Code of Military Justice, which actually requires you to not follow unlawful orders.
I believe that's exactly how Trump's tweets will be perceived by most service members, as an unlawful order, because that's what they essentially constitute. The Joint Chiefs of Staff were clearly not consulted by Trump and have been in full damage control mode since the tweets. As stoic as military higher-ups can be, you can sense they're pissed, and that's going to trickle downhill.
Trump has objectively done more harm to military readiness than any imaginable transgression by transgenders. Disrupting the news cycle with an errant tweet is one thing. But disrupting the chain of command of what still remains the world's most formidable fighting force goes light years beyond that. It is behavior not befitting a Commander in Chief. It demonstrates a profound disregard for both the gravity and responsibility his office entails.
It has also forced me to the realization the so-called God-Emperor is no grand master at all. Maybe he was playing 4D chess in the beginning, perhaps that's how he duped just enough people to eek out an electoral college victory.
In fact, according to an ongoing analysis of the 2016 presidential election by University of Minnesota law professor Francis Shen and Boston University political science teacher Douglas Kriner, it may be antiwar rubes just like me (but living in key swing states) who bought into Trump's promise of peace and prosperity and propelled him into the oval office. Perhaps you didn't hear that message, but I did.
What can I say? I overestimated the man. I thought he was as tough as his talk. It's true that he's been under attack by the entire political establishment since the moment he announced his candidacy, but it appeared he could dish it out as well as he could take it. As it turns out, he doesn't have the emotional stamina for the job. As much as he chides Democrats for being sore losers, this is a man who hates losing. After six months on the job, he's losing badly, and now he's flailing out.
He's not attacking transgender people per se, they're just collateral damage. After pondering Trump's actions in office during the past six months, particularly the more irrational ones, I began to pick up on a pattern.
It's not very complicated. Ultimately, there is but one target of his wrath. He's not playing 4D chess. He's playing 1D chess. That one dimension is his burning hatred for his predecessor, President Barack Obama.
After all, who was it in the first place that encouraged the policy that transgender individuals be allowed to serve openly in the military, as they have quietly for many generations?
Who orchestrated the Iran deal Trump railed about on the campaign trail but was forced to ratify two weeks ago, because it's a crafty bit of statesmanship and Iran is honoring the deal?
Who created the health care system that despite its flaws has provided coverage to tens of millions of previously uninsured people, and continues to defy Republican efforts to repeal, let alone replace it?
Is it just a coincidence that Trump's tranny tweet storm came between his forced ratification of the Iran deal and the latest failed Republican attempt to repeal Obamacare? Is that why Trump attempted to elicit boos for Obama from 40,000 Boy Scouts at their annual jamboree in West Virginia last week?
Because Obama's still winning?
I think it's a reasonable explanation. It can be applied to more complicated events, such as Trump's decision to launch a cruise missile attack on Syria last April. According to investigative journalist Seymour Hersch, Syrian rebels staged a false flag chemical attack to goad the United States into entering the Syrian civil war, just as they did in 2013, while Obama was president.
When Obama was presented with intelligence that indicated it was most likely not a chemical attack, he called the bombing off, much to the displeasure of war hawks on both sides of the aisle. Although the evidence against a chemical attack presented to Trump was even stronger, he let the missiles fly almost as an afterthought, as an aperitif while dining on the “most beautiful piece of chocolate cake you've ever seen” with the president of China at Mar-a-Lago. Approximately 20 Syrians, half of them civilians, were killed by the strike, which by definition was an act of war.
Some observers have claimed Trump's Syrian missile strike was an attempt to deflect the media's attention away from the Russian collusion scandal that has dogged his administration since he won the election. A wagging of the dog, if you will. If that's the case, it didn't last long. I think a more likely explanation is the dimension of Trump's hatred for Obama is so deep, he'll do the opposite of what Obama did, just to spite the former president's legacy, no matter what the consequences.
It's like he's never gotten over the public shaming Obama laid on him at the 2011 White House correspondents dinner, with all the members of what would eventually become the hated “fake news media” in attendance. He may be now slowly coming to the realization that Obama is the better man, and always will be. He's not built to handle such information.
I know what some of you are thinking. I should have seen this coming a long way off. Perhaps I should have. In my defense, I'm not the first voter who's fallen for the phony peace and prosperity routine and I no doubt won't be the last. But fall for it I did.
I realize that's small consolation for the fact that the man sitting atop the world's most lethal nuclear arsenal issues military commands on Twitter.
As I was finishing up this story, Trump's White House staff was in total disarray. Chief of staff Reince Priebus has resigned, replaced by one of Trump's generals, John Kelly. Incoming White House communications director Anthony Scaramucci has threatened to fire the entire communications staff for leaking to the press. Who's watching the boss while all this is going on? Steve Bannon?
What if the world ends not with a bang or a whimper, but a tweet?