The first motivation is that the U.S. military has long struggled with hate groups—and specifically white supremacists—in its ranks. White supremacist groups and their sympathizers were especially present in the ranks of the U.S. Army’s combat arms units and the U.S. Marine Corps in the 1980s and 1990s.
In 1986, an exasperated Secretary of Defense, Caspar Weinberger, ordered the military to crack down on these groups, and another purge was ordered after U.S. Army veteran Timothy McVeigh planted a bomb that almost leveled the Oklahoma City federal building in 1995, killing 168 people. 1995 was the same year a paratrooper from the Army’s 82d Airborne Division murdered a black couple outside Fort Bragg.
When I arrived in my first infantry unit in 2000, I remember encountering non-commissioned officers who were by then quite adept at interpreting the tattoos on the young white men arriving to the unit fresh from basic infantry training. By that point, though, recruiters were already weeding out most of the men who showed up with any sign of affiliations with white supremacist groups.
By the time I arrived at the elite 75th Ranger Regiment in 2002, meanwhile, the command sergeant major—the senior enlisted man in the regiment—was black, a regimental first. He had the respect of the entire regiment for two reasons: his rank, naturally, but also the toughness he displayed while rising through the ranks at a time when, in the 1980s, African Americans were decidedly unwelcome in certain quarters of the special operations community.
The military’s service chiefs are among the last men in the U.S. military who still remember those bad old days in the 1980s and 1990s. They are proud of the way they have largely purged the ranks of extremists and want to keep it that way. It was no surprise that the commandant of the Marine Corps was the first service chief to say something, as his service has arguably struggled with white supremacist groups—and diversity more broadly—more than the other services. Besides, when the service chiefs made their statements this week, they were merely affirming—for the nation and for the men and women in their ranks—existing policy.
The second motivation behind the statements from the service chiefs is the same motivation that led so many corporate leaders to abandon the president this week. As The Wall Street Journal correctly noted, “business leaders are risk-averse. They prioritize stability and the status quo. What has changed is the definition of the status quo.”
The modern U.S. corporation is far ahead of Trump’s base when it comes to progressive social values. All of these corporations actively promote an environment of multicultural liberalism. They have to. If corporations want to attract the best and brightest young American workers, they need to be seen as being friendly toward gays, lesbians, and transgender people. They need to be seen as welcoming toward religious and ethnic minorities. Why? Because this is the expectation of the younger Americans entering the workforce, regardless of their own personal ethnic or gender identity.