Sunday, November 13, 2016

The Role of the Selective Service System in Donald Trump's Win


The Selective Service System (SSS) is a small independent agency within the Executive Branch of the United States Government. One of its missions is "to be prepared to provide trained and untrained personnel to the DoD in the event of a national emergency." In other words, to run a draft of (so far only) young men to fill the ranks of the military.

So what is the relevance of the SSS to Trump's victory? The draft has not been used since 1973!

A bit of history: before December 1, 1969, during the height of the Vietnam War, which, from the American viewpoint, was fought by draftees, the system for determining eligibility for those 18 years old and above can best de defined in one word as "elitist." Individual draft boards in each locality were charged with drafting young men into the Armed Services. Each had different priorities and susceptibility to influence. 

American military involvement surged in 1965. The Johnson Administration decided to use the draft to fill the needs of the war effort. That meant that, until the lottery was instituted in 1969, boys in their 18th year became liable to be drafted. For each of the years 1965, 1966, 1967, 1968 and 1969, this is the year that they were born their age today (if they managed to survive), and the number of draftees each year:

Year Birth year Age today Number of draftees
1965 1947 69 230,991
1966 1948 68 382,010
1967 1949 67 228,263
1968 1950 66 296,406
1969 1951 65 283,586

There were three big bases for deferment: school attendance, the presence of dependent children, or physical problems. You could also avoid becoming a grunt in Vietnam by being accepted into a Reserve unit of any of the branches of the military. That's how George W. Bush got out of the draft and active military service. Donald J. Trump reportedly had an educational deferment for years and then, when drafted upon graduation, received a classification of I-Y (a physical deferment that was a "pass" unless there was a dire need) because of bone spurs on his feet. Before he graduated, Bill Clinton agreed to join the R.O.T.C. as a way of avoiding being drafted into service during the Vietnam War and later reneged on that promise when his draft-lottery number ensured that he would not be selected. (I was promptly drafted on my graduation from college in June 1968 and received a 1-Y classification because I had spondylolisthesisNo kidding. I wore a back brace from when I was 14 and, to this day, cannot lift more than 40 pounds without severe pain and ensuing inability to stand up straight.)

The long and the short: boys who didn't go to college, or those who didn't have or fake an illness, or those whose parents had no local influence or those who wanted to serve were drafted and sent to Vietnam and put out in the front lines, such as they were in this guerrilla war. 

This was grist for the cultural war that began with the Vietnam War and continues to this day. Yes, as the sixties turned into the seventies, kids from small towns smoked dope, listened to rock music, and, extremely rarely, demonstrated against the war. But mostly they soldiered on and watched their fathers' and mothers' secure world begin disappearing with the first gas lines in 1973. These are the sons of the original Reagan Democrats. They were screwed from 1965 to 1969 by an elitist (and, to the extent large numbers of blacks were also drafted, racist) Selective Service System. Their justifiable resentment of what they perceived (correctly) as privileged liberals can only be expected to have grown over the last 50 years. 

Is it not very likely that there is a direct connection between the old SSS system and today's late-60s Donald J. Trump voter? Not that there are not other reasons, but every cluster of attitudes has its roots in some actual, and not imagined, cause.

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