No One Disrespects the Troops More Than Donald Trump
Over Veterans Day weekend, the president’s conspicuous absence from pre-scheduled military tributes spoke volumes about what he truly believes. Mari Uyehara on Trump’s long history of invoking the troops when politically expedient.
Last year, during an Alabama rally for the ill-fated U.S. senator Luther Strange, Donald Trump turned to one of his favored cultural wars: attacking the NFL players protesting racial inequality and police brutality. “Wouldn’t you love to see one of these NFL owners, when somebody disrespects our flag, to say, ‘Get that son of a bitch off the field right now,'” he said to a roaring crowd. “Out! He’s fired. HE’S FIRED!'”
It didn’t make a lick of difference to Trump, of course, that Colin Kaepernick, the former San Francisco 49ers quarterback blackballed by the NFL for his activism, had reached out to retired Army Green Beret Nate Boyer to figure out a way to protest while, as Boyer put it, “also respecting the men and women who fought and died for what our flag is supposed to represent.” In a combustible political environment, where the wide-eyed often lament that those with differences no longer participate in dialogue, two men from divergent ideological perspectives met to honor one another’s values: kneeling, as opposed to sitting like Kaepernick had previously done, was their solution.
But compromise, dialogue, and workable solutions aren’t what Trump seeks; his power is in whipping up white rage. And the NFL, which is comprised of 70 percent black players and 94 percent white franchise owners, provided a ripe backdrop for exerting white will over black protests. Trump told Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones that he wouldn’t relent in his offensive on this particular display of free speech because it was a “winning, strong issue” for him. Indeed, it was. Just as 60 percent of Americans disapproved of Martin Luther King Jr’s civil rights march on Washington in 1963, 49 percent of Americans today believe that the peaceful NFL protests are “inappropriate.” Trump supporters, in particular, took to squawking that these non-violent protesters, kneeling in silence during the anthem, were somehow disrespecting the troops even as the players unequivocally rejected doing so.
These same patriots were remarkably silent over the long weekend.
Last Saturday morning, just before Veteran’s Day, Trump skipped out on a ceremony commemorating the 100th anniversary of the end of World War I. He was scheduled to lay a wreath at the Aisne-Marne American cemetery, where more than 1,800 Americans, who fought alongside the French to repel Germans, were buried. But he cancelled, citing “scheduling and logistical difficulties caused by the weather,” otherwise known as light rain. The sprinkling of water didn’t keep any of the other world leaders from attending scheduled events, nor WH chief of staff John Kelly and Gen. Joseph Dunford, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, from going to the cemetery in his stead. Back in DC on Monday, he blew off Veteran’s Day altogether, canceling another pre-scheduled visit, this time to Arlington Cemetery, a mere 12-minute drive from the White House.
Winston Churchill’s grandson called Trump “pathetic” in near disbelief that he “couldn’t even defy the weather to pay his respects to The Fallen.” Ben Rhodes, a foreign policy advisor to President Barack Obama, dismissed the lame bad-weather excuse out of hand, tweeting that “there is always a rain option. Always.” The MAGA crowd of course said nothing; they certainly won’t miss the next rally. Just as they have when Trump, who dodged the Vietnam war by claiming “bone spurs,” attacked three Gold Star families; called the late Senator John McCain (R-Ariz.) “no war hero;” and lied about donating $1 million to veterans’ nonprofits until media pressure forced him to make good on his pledge. Whether you ascribe to military heroism or not, it’s unequivocally true that no one disrespects the troops more than Trump. He famously once said that he could “stand in the middle of 5th Avenue and shoot someone” and “not lose any voters”—the same would hold true if the someone he shot was a decorated vet.
While the MAGA crowd’s flagrant hypocrisy is hardly surprising, manufacturing phony outrage has long played a crucial role in the GOP playbook. In 2014, the perpetual aggrievement machine kicked into high gear when Obama saluted marines with a coffee cup in his hand while disembarking Marine One; the National Republican Congressional committee tweeted, “Wait – did President Obama just salute the Marines with a LATTE in his hand?!” Today, the NRCC has been mum on Trump skipping veteran commemorations, here and abroad. Republicans have also engaged in outright slandering of veterans as in the infamous Swift Boating of John Kerry, who earned a Silver Star, a Bronze Star, and three Purple Hearts for his service during the Vietnam War, but was falsely attacked by GOP Super PACs, funded by Texas Republican donors, like billionaire Harold Simmons. For Trump, as well as the GOP establishment, “respecting the troops” has long been a cudgel to wield as a political bludgeon when convenient, but not one worth honoring when it stands in the way of smearing an opponent or winning elections.
Just Monday morning, Trump tweeted that “large numbers of new ballots showed up out of nowhere” and that the Florida vote count “must go with Election Night,” despite the fact that the state accepts overseas and military ballots through November 16 as long as they are postmarked by November 6. In other words, Trump would rather disenfranchise active troops than assent to election results in which all votes are counted. For Trump, the troops aren’t so much American citizens fighting for democratic values as political props whose worth is in demonstrating authoritarian might, as evidenced in his fantasies about staging Stalin-like military parade to the tune of $92 million. Unlike his predecessors, Trump hasn’t even bothered visiting the troops in overseas combat zones during his first two years in office. He did, however, deploy 5,600 soldiers to the southwest border, with no combat pay and little infrastructure, as part of his midterm election strategy of chest-thumping war bluster about an “invasion” of a migrant caravan of asylum-seeking Central Americans still hundreds of miles way. As soon at the elections passed, Trump dropped the fear-mongering hysterics over tired, poor, and hungry immigrants, but those deployed soldiers will still spend Thanksgiving needlessly away from their families because it served the president’s get-out-the-base stunt; it will also likely cost Americans upwards of $200 million by the year’s end.
The Trump administration has also taken to hacking away at protections of the military. They dismantled financial protections from predatory lenders who target military members; eliminated requirements for federal contractors to disclose past violations of labor laws protecting veterans; and expanded the privatization of VA healthcare—under the favored conservative pretense of “choice”—while also making it easier for insurers to deny mental health coverage to veterans. All the while, Trump has also been letting his looney rich Mar-a-Lago cronies run the VA in some shadow hierarchy circumventing Senate confirmation. When it comes to access to quality healthcare, financial protections, and even the ballot, Trump will screw those who serve so long as it serves his billionaire friends and his very own ego.
For many, the sight of black Americans exercising their First Amendment rights over civil rights will always arouse more outrage than a white president stripping away protections for those who have served. Their hollow indignation over symbolic gestures is largely absent when the president can’t be bothered to get his hair wet in the rain to honor those who gave their lives. That’s not patriotism; it is, indeed, pathetic.