The commander in chief is receiving pushback against his intent to ban transgender enlistment from one of his top subordinates.
Coast Guard Commandant Admiral Paul Zukunft announced Tuesday that he would not “break faith” with the transgender members of his service. The Coast Guard only has 13 trans service members, and it’s not entirely clear what will happen to them once the president’s order is implemented.
But it is very peculiar a high-profile figure like Admiral Zukunft would state he may refuse to follow an order from his commander in chief. (RELATED: Coast Guard Commandant Assures All 13 Transgender Members: ‘I Will Not Break Faith’ With You)
It may appear to be over a minor issue, and Zukunft wasn’t specific enough to definitively say he was disobeying the president. But it fits with the Pentagon’s general reception to Trump’s tweets by saying it doesn’t count as policy — a matter that is actually left to the president to decide.
That should give all Americans pause when leaders of our civilian-controlled military publicly say they may refuse to follow an order they disagree with.
In our present political climate, members of the military and intelligence services who openly speak out against the president are hailed as heroes. Leaking to harm the administration is considered a moral imperative. Mainstream figures have openly urged military commanders to disobey orders from the president.
Moreover, there is the celebration of unsupervised elements of the state subverting Trump’s presidency among members of the press and liberals. Segments of the intelligence community, in particular, appear to be working against the president they are sworn to serve through leaks and other acts of defiance.
So far, the military has avoided evoking this impression of resistance and seems to be following the directive of its civilian leadership without issue. The impending transgender policy may change this.
Liberals may think it is a great thing for generals and admirals to undermine civilian leaders they oppose, but it sets a terrible precedent for future administrations.
Other sectors of the government have been given the glowing seal of approval from urban elites to leak and subvert the president they’re supposed to serve. For some agencies, that’s only a minor problem. For an institution like the CIA, that becomes a major problem if its pursuing an agenda that undermines America’s civilian leaders — whether they’re senators or the president.
The military going down this path is the most troubling of all. The armed forces have the latest and meanest firepower. It’s the most trusted institution in the country besides churches. Generals and admirals command tens of thousands of men and women who are taught to follow orders.
The armed forces command tremendous power, respect and influence in our society — for good reason. And one of the great things about America’s military is the deference given to our civilian leaders. Throughout history, nations have struggled with the problem of armies interfering with politics.
Ancient Rome lived under the constant threat of military usurpation. Nearly every European nation in the not-so distant past had to contend with military dominance in politics, which many times resulted in ruinous wars and authoritarian regimes.
In our era, the Middle East has witnessed numerous examples of military intrusion in politics. Just take Egypt’s army toppling the government of Mohammed Morsi in 2013 or the failed coup in Turkey in 2016. These are not developments that indicate you live in a healthy democracy.
Fortunately, America has largely been immune from this kind of turmoil thanks to our tradition of civilian leadership and the military staying out of politics.
Left-leaning journalists and politicians may think it’s a good thing for military leaders to pushback against Trump on the transgender ban, but what if it was a different issue?
Liberals were (rightly) furious when General Stanley McChrystal excoriated then-President Obama’s leadership during an interview with Rolling Stone. Obama did the right thing in sacking his general following the interview’s publication. Generals feeling emboldened to disobey their commander is not good for America.
Admiral Zukunft’s statements were nowhere near as direct as McChrystal, and it still remains to be seen if his comments line up with the president’s decree. Still, one can imagine the precedent if the press cheered on military leaders openly fighting against Trump on the transgender ban.
Let’s say a Democratic president didn’t want to go to war, but the military thought America should. Generals begin calling the president a coward and un-patriotic to reporters. They leak anything damaging they can find on him. They swing their weight on amenable lawmakers to either start an impeachment process started or create pressure to force the president’s hand to agree to the war.
If our society says it’s OK to disobey and strong-arm the civilian leadership if it’s for a good cause (maybe the country we’ll go to war against doesn’t provide gender-neutral bathrooms, for instance), then you can get situations like the one described above.
Presidents and other politicians may pursue policies that may not work out the best for our armed forces. But they are held accountable by the American people for these decisions and they have to answer at the polls for their record.
The military, on the other hand, is supposed to be held accountable to the president. But if that relationship is weakened and the Pentagon only listens to its own voice, then our democratic experiment faces the greatest threat one could ever imagine.
Keep that in mind if HuffPost ever champions the active-duty general who “claps back” at Trump’s transgender ban.