People are understandably upset about Donald Trump’s announcement that transgender folks will no longer be allowed to serve in the military. Though I am inclined to agree with them, I think the arguments being made against this policy can be improved.
Most responses I’ve seen center around a claim that service in the military is a “right”, which is being taken from transgender folks. That simply isn’t true, as there is no guarantee of one’s admission into the military. People are barred from service for myriad reasons – physical, mental, emotional, behavioral, and otherwise. We can argue against particular reasons for disqualification (like gender), but claiming that military service is a right only gives the opposition an easy out because you start out from a false position.
In philosophy you learn to argue against the premises and structure of an argument, not against its conclusion. So, we need to look at the argument Trump offered through the traditional, distinguished platform for White House communications: Twitter.
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
In this series of messages, he lays out a very clear argument that boils down to this:
Premise 1: Allowing transgender individuals into the military is expensive and disruptive
Premise 2: Groups that are expensive and disruptive are not allowed in the military.
Conclusion: Therefore, transgender individuals are not allowed in the military.
To ignore the premises – the reasoning – and only respond with “Yes, they should be allowed”, will not be very effective against those who agree with Trump’s argument. You have to convince them that one of the two premises is not true, thus breaking apart the argument. This is a valid argument (in logic, valid means if the premises are true, the conclusion has to be true.), so you have to show that one or both of the premises are false.
So if you are going to speak out against this policy, and are interested in convincing supporters of Mr. Trump’s reasoning to switch sides, the best way to do so is to clearly show that either (1) transgender military recruits are not disruptive, and their medical care is not expensive, or that (2) disruption and medical care expense do not or should not disqualify someone from military service.