Just about a year ago, Donald Trump — the presidential candidate who received a draft deferment for bone spurs and called avoiding sexually transmitted diseases his “personal Vietnam” — mocked Gold Star parents who questioned what he knew about sacrifice.
So it’s no surprise that as president, Trump would feel free to attack Senator Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut for misrepresenting his military record. Compared with attacking the parents of an army captain killed in Iraq, that barely registers as outrageous. The news is that even Trump’s newly installed chief of staff, retired Marine General John Kelly, whose son was killed in Afghanistan, can’t keep the president from shamelessly lashing out on the topic of military service.
After Blumenthal told CNN he continues to support an investigation into alleged Russian meddling in the 2016 election, Trump unloaded with a tweet on Monday, calling Blumenthal “a phony Vietnam con artist.” He went on to say, “Never in US history has anyone lied or defrauded voters like Senator Richard Blumenthal. He told stories about his Vietnam battles and conquest, how brave he was and it was all a lie.” He also said Blumenthal “cried like a baby and begged for forgiveness like a child. Now he judges collusion?”
Trump was referring to a controversy over Blumenthal’s military service that dates back to 2010, when The New York Times reported that although Blumenthal made regular references to having served in Vietnam, he only served stateside in the Marine Reserve and only after receiving five military deferments. Blumenthal ultimately issued a statement of apology, saying, “I have made mistakes and I am sorry.” He won election despite the embarrassing disclosure and was re-elected in 2016.
So, yes, Blumenthal made false claims about his military service. But he had some, even if exaggerated and undertaken as a way to dodge Vietnam. As a young man, Trump was an athlete who played baseball, football, tennis, and squash. But, according to the Times, after graduating from college in 1968, he received five deferments, including one for bone spurs in the heel. Meanwhile, he continued to claim that a high draft number kept him out of Vietnam, even though he was medically exempted for more than a year when the draft lottery began, in December 1969. Because of that, his lottery number would be irrelevant, a spokesman for the Selective Service System told the Times during the 2016 campaign.
Trump’s lack of military service did not stop him from declaring that Senator John McCain, a prisoner of war during Vietnam, was “not a war hero” because “I like people who weren’t captured.” Nor did it stop Trump from attacking the Muslim American parents of a soldier who was killed in Iraq, after they appeared at the Democratic National Convention in July 2016. In an emotional speech, the father, Khizr Khan, offered to lend Trump his copy of the US Constitution and declared: “You have sacrificed nothing and no one.”
When asked about Khan’s convention speech, Trump told George Stephanopoulos, “I think I’ve made a lot of sacrifices. I work very, very hard. I’ve created thousands and thousands of jobs, tens of thousands of jobs, built great structures. I’ve had tremendous success. I think I’ve done a lot.”
The president is staying true to the presidential candidate. As his critics continue to note, there’s no grace or humility, just nonstop bullying and hypocrisy.
With his latest tweets, Trump displays even more disrespect and disregard for people who have actually served in the military and truly sacrificed. Trump can’t stop himself and no one can stop him. It’s not shocking any more, just depressing.Joan Vennochi can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @Joan_Vennochi.