When I post this column on Twitter today, I will see a number of tweets from Trumpers lavishing praise on the current occupant of the White House. While I have grown used to the delusional rantings of Trumpers on social media, I remain utterly fascinated by these so-called "patriots" lavishing praise on a president who is easily the least patriotic president in my lifetime. Trump has demonstrated repeatedly that he does not care about American values or the men and women who fight to protect those values.
Donald J. Trump became eligible for the draft during the Vietnam War. After running out of education deferments due to his having graduated from college, a doctor friend of the family wrote a letter saying
Cpt. John McCain upon being released as POW
Trump had "bone spurs," a medical diagnosis that let Trump avoid military service. Later, when asked about the medical diagnosis that kept him out of the Vietnam War, Trump could not identify which foot had the bone spurs.
In 2015, Trump attacked Sen. John McCain, a former Navy aviator who spent 5 1/2 years as a prisoner of war after being shot down over North Vietnam. As a prisoner of war, McCain spent 2 years in solitary confinement and was regularly tortured. Offered an early release undoubtedly to the fact his father and grandfather were Navy admirals, McCain refused, saying he would go home when the other POWs went home.
While people recall Trump's attack as being solely against McCain, Trump's statement actually attacked all POWs. In disparaging McCain, Trump said he preferred people who weren't captured, indicating that someone who is captured is, by definition, not a hero. Trump later tried to walk that statement back.
A year later Trump was at it again, attacking a Gold Star family who had committed the awful offense of criticizing him.
Although Trump never served in the military, he did have a son, Donald, Jr., who expressed an interest in volunteering for the service. Trump responded by threatening to disinherit him if he chose to serve his country.
Yesterday, the Atlantic published a story providing yet more evidence of Donald Trump's dismissive attitude toward military service:
When President Donald Trump canceled a visit to the Aisne-Marne American Cemetery near Paris in 2018, he blamed rain for the last-minute decision, saying that “the helicopter couldn’t fly” and that the Secret Service wouldn’t drive him there. Neither claim was true.
Trump rejected the idea of the visit because he feared his hair would become disheveled in the rain, and because he did not believe it important to honor American war dead, according to four people with firsthand knowledge of the discussion that day. In a conversation with senior staff members on the morning of the scheduled visit, Trump said, “Why should I go to that cemetery? It’s filled with losers.” In a separate conversation on the same trip, Trump referred to the more than 1,800 marines who lost their lives at Belleau Wood as “suckers” for getting killed.
Belleau Wood is a consequential battle in American history, and the ground on which it was fought is venerated by the Marine Corps. America and its allies stopped the German advance toward Paris there in the spring of 1918. But Trump, on that same trip, asked aides, “Who were the good guys in this war?” He also said that he didn’t understand why the United States would intervene on the side of the Allies.
There was no precedent in American politics for the expression of this sort of contempt, but the performatively patriotic Trump did no damage to his candidacy by attacking McCain in this manner. Nor did he set his campaign back by attacking the parents of Humayun Khan, an Army captain who was killed in Iraq in 2004
Trump’s understanding of heroism has not evolved since he became president. According to sources with knowledge of the president’s views, he seems to genuinely not understand why Americans treat former prisoners of war with respect. Nor does he understand why pilots who are shot down in combat are honored by the military. On at least two occasions since becoming president, according to three sources with direct knowledge of his views, Trump referred to former President George H. W. Bush as a “loser” for being shot down by the Japanese as a Navy pilot in World War II. (Bush escaped capture, but eight other men shot down during the same mission were caught, tortured, and executed by Japanese soldiers.)
On Memorial Day 2017, Trump visited Arlington National Cemetery, a short drive from the White House. He was accompanied on this visit by John Kelly, who was then the secretary of homeland security, and who would, a short time later, be named the White House chief of staff. The two men were set to visit Section 60, the 14-acre area of the cemetery that is the burial ground for those killed in America’s most recent wars. Kelly’s son Robert is buried in Section 60. A first lieutenant in the Marine Corps, Robert Kelly was killed in 2010 in Afghanistan. He was 29. Trump was meant, on this visit, to join John Kelly in paying respects at his son’s grave, and to comfort the families of other fallen service members. But according to sources with knowledge of this visit, Trump, while standing by Robert Kelly’s grave, turned directly to his father and said, “I don’t get it. What was in it for them?” Kelly (who declined to comment for this story) initially believed, people close to him said, that Trump was making a ham-handed reference to the selflessness of America’s all-volunteer force. But later he came to realize that Trump simply does not understand non-transactional life choices.
“He can’t fathom the idea of doing something for someone other than himself,” one of Kelly’s friends, a retired four-star general, told me. “He just thinks that anyone who does anything when there’s no direct personal gain to be had is a sucker. There’s no money in serving the nation.” Kelly’s friend went on to say, “Trump can’t imagine anyone else’s pain. That’s why he would say this to the father of a fallen marine on Memorial Day in the cemetery where he’s buried.”
When it comes to his view of military service, Trump is remarkably consistent. To Donald Trump, those who put their life on the line to serve their country are chumps.
OOP's short takes:
- The "Keen Observer of the Obvious" award goes to those warning of the possibility of an election "red mirage, " i.e. that Trump may have a temporary lead on election night due to in-person voting (which favors Republicans) and declare himself the winner before the mail-in votes (which lean Democratic) can be counted.