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Trump: I consulted the military about the transgender ban. Military: no, you didn’t.

President Trump Speaks To The American Legion Boys Nation And American Legion Auxiliary Girls Nation Photo by
(Mark Wilson/Getty Images)
Zack Beauchamp is a senior correspondent at Vox, where he covers ideology and challenges to democracy, both at home and abroad. Before coming to Vox in 2014, he edited TP Ideas, a section of Think Progress devoted to the ideas shaping our political world.

President Donald Trump said his decision to ban transgender people from serving in the military, announced via Twitter on Wednesday morning, came “after consultation with my generals and military experts.” It’s becoming clearer and clearer that he was lying.

Secretary of Defense James Mattis was on vacation when the decision was announced, and privately opposed the move. The Chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Marine Gen. James Dunford, said Thursday that the military wouldn’t implement the ban absent a formal, non-tweeted order from the commander in chief.

And then there were the remarkable remarks that Army Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Milley made during a luncheon at the National Press Club.

During the lunch, Milley told reporters that he found out about the ban "the same way everybody else did — on the news." At the time, he was holding a glass of wine:

It’s hard to imagine a better symbol of how much confusion Trump’s tweets are causing within the military than the Army’s highest-ranking officer saying he found about it through the press, all the while holding a glass of wine.

This would be funny if it weren’t so depressing

There is no rational basis for Trump’s policy.

A RAND Corporation study looked at 18 foreign militaries that allowed open trans service and found no negative impact on military readiness. The same study estimated that covering gender-affirming surgery and treatment would cost the military “between $2.4 million and $8.4 million annually, representing a 0.04- to 0.13-percent increase in active-component health care expenditures.” By point of comparison: The military spends about $84 million on erectile dysfunction treatments.

What’s more, it’s not even clear what the policy is. Would it bar openly trans people from joining the military going forward, or would it force the military to discharge trans people who are already serving? Would trans veterans — people who have already fought in wars — still be able to get health care through the VA?

These policy points are not details. Without answers to them, it’s literally impossible to figure out what Trump wants the military to do.

Consulting with the military in a meaningful sense might have cleared this up. It might even have helped convince the Trump team that the policy was unnecessary and, more importantly, cruel.

The administration didn’t do that. Instead, thousands of trans servicemembers have had their careers put at risk and their basic dignity insulted, without even the pretense of a fair and reasonable process. As my colleague Alex Ward reports, some Democratic senators are trying to reverse the Trump ban, but it’s far from clear they’ll succeed.

Milley’s wine announcement is pretty funny, to be sure. But it also exposes the moral rot at the heart of the Trump administration’s latest example of policymaking by tweet.