The rebellion of the conservative right continues. After throwing off the shackles of the GOP establishment, the traditional Republican base has placed its bets on Trump to fulfill the promises of the American Dream. This phenomenon has a contradictory character. On the one hand, joblessness and war drove millions to separate from the candidates of the established party. There should be no regrets or tears about this. However, the weak state of the US left has ensured that the rebellion maintains conservative characteristics. The racist, patriarchal, and thoroughly capitalist relations of the US empire live on in the era of Trump. Millions remain in a fog after waking up to the realities of the US system of exploitation.
These conditions compelled Trump to take contradictory positions during his campaign, such as the promise to increase military spending and simultaneously invest more public dollars in job creation. It also meant that his anti-regime change rhetoric was coupled with racism. These contradictions have not let up since coming into office. Trump’s Administration has put a stop to the TPP and the CIA’s covert support for “rebels” in Syria. At the same time, Trump has fought to pass a healthcare bill worse than Obamacare and announced the ban of transgender people from the military.
Trump’s scapegoating of trans people has sparked a fierce debate on all sides of the political spectrum. The debate shines a light on the backwards state of politics in the US during a period of decline. Trump and much of the right wing do not see trans people as people at all. The very fact that healthcare waste has been the cited reason for banning trans people is laughable in the face of the healthcare waste that goes on throughout US society, let alone the military. Some have argued that trans people entering the military is a civil rights issue. If the military can spend enormous amounts of tax payer money on Viagra, then it can provide basic healthcare needs for trans soldiers.
This is typical of liberal and conservative debates kept in the sphere of the elite. With the current condition of the US marked by crisis, what little division exists between conservative and liberal elites is contained in the social sphere. Marxists refer to this sphere as “democratic rights” or “bourgeois rights.” US imperialism possesses a vast network of private non-profits and NGOs that narrow the debate on the democratic rights of oppressed people. Billions of tax-deductible dollars are funneled into these NGOs to promote a sham fight for these rights, which often amounts to nothing more than imperialist meddling in the self-determination of sovereign nations or dead-end domestic reform that serve few others than the elites.
In a recent interview with Buzzfeed, Dean Spade exposes the elite patronage behind the debate over trans people’s participation in the military. While some radicals go so far as to delegitimize the issue of transgender military service on the grounds that such service is inherently imperialist, Spade takes a different direction. The long time trans activist and scholar centers the debate over trans military service squarely on billionaire-heir Jennifer Pritzker, a former Colonel of the US military. Her foundation is leading the fight for open trans military service. The Tawani foundation serves as a front group to deepen the bond between transgender politics and US militarism. Spade argues that military service has never been a top priority for the trans community, and that such service is not in the best interests of trans people as a whole.
Criticizing the US military, especially in the current political environment, is not an easy task. It is even more difficult to do so when genuine pieces of a broader class struggle become wrapped in the webbing of imperialism. The US military relies on civilian volunteers who see service as the only avenue to an education or a job. Shaming individuals who join the military for these purposes is unlikely to win them over to the struggle against imperialism. However, to argue that legal access to the privileges of the military is akin to a “civil rights struggle” is even more problematic.
African revolutionary Amilcar Cabral once said that “people are not fighting for ideas, for the things in anyone’s head. They are fighting to win material benefits, to live better and in peace, to see their lives go forward, to guarantee the future of their children.” This quote could be interpreted in a vulgar way to justify mounting a defense of trans people to join the military without reprisal. It should go without saying that trans people should be defended when it comes to any form of violence leveled on them. That is a basic task of class unity. However, the military is not a desirable job. High suicide rates and homelessness afflict former soldiers. These are problems that already disproportionately impact the trans community.
Furthermore, the US military is no ordinary employer. It does not merely exploit wage labor for the profits of banks and corporations. The US military is an organ of the state that has as its sole purpose the defense of imperialism worldwide. Millions have been killed in wars ignited by the US military over the course of history. Millions more in places like Yemen, Afghanistan, and Libya will be condemned to a life of death or poverty due to current US military operations abroad. And finally, the anti-trans character of the military extends far beyond the inability of US soldiers to publicly identify with their desired gender. The US military props up despotic regimes such as Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and Bahrain. These despotic US “allies” have extensive human rights violations in relationship to gender oppression. This makes any effort on the US military’s part to support the democratic rights of trans people nothing more than a public relations exercise.
Liberal and conservative elites make it a point to stifle the debate around issues of gender. They have no interest in allowing the poor and working class to come out of the fog of imperialist alienation and exploitation. The more divided we are, the easier we are to exploit. Transgender issues are linked to the class struggle. Trans people, especially Black trans people, are more likely to be unemployed, terrorized by the police, and homeless than any other group. Little discussion is had in the corporate media or billionaire-funded NGOS regarding these issues.
Spade urges us to focus our attention to class struggle demands that center the experience of trans people in the US. He states firmly that war and militarism are completely antithetical to the construction of a society where gender oppression ceases to exist. The debate regarding transgender military service becomes nothing more than an effort to legitimize the US military state when trapped in the narrow confines of the NGO liberal elites and their so-called right wing opposition. In the final analysis, both sides are gearing up to intensify the war on the poor and oppressed all over the planet. It is entirely possible to stand in solidarity with oppressed trans people and oppose the ruling class too, even if a section of ruling class poses as an ally. In fact, it is imperative.