Not since the Vietnam era has there been so much open disdain for America’s military. This time, however, it’s coming from our nation’s commander in chief.
Perhaps because President Trump refers to the armed forces as “my military,” as if they’re his employees, he feels entitled to ignore their service, shortchange their sacrifices, and treat them as political props.
Retired admiral William McRaven, who directed the 2011 raid that killed Osama bin Laden, is the latest target of Trump’s bilge. During a recent Fox News interview, Trump was asked about McRaven, who called the president’s attacks against the media “the greatest threat to democracy in my lifetime.”
Trump snapped that McRaven is “a Hillary Clinton fan” and “Obama backer,” but he didn’t stop there: “Wouldn’t it have been nice if we got Osama bin Laden a lot sooner than that, wouldn’t it have been nice?”
What this had to do with anything is anyone’s guess. Still, here was the president criticizing a former Navy SEAL and former commander of US Special Operations Command. When bin Laden was killed in Pakistan, even Obama’s most ardent critics had to give him a slow clap for a mission actually accomplished.
Since his outburst, Trump has been roundly criticized. Former defense secretary Leon Panetta said the president is “undermining his position as commander in chief, not only with those that conducted the operation, but with the entire military.”
True. Then again, Trump has long treated those who serve this country as unworthy of his time. And I’m not just talking about his five deferments, including a medical exemption for bone spurs in his heels, which kept him far away from Vietnam.
Nearly two years into his presidency, Trump has yet to visit troops in a war zone. By comparison, President Obama traveled to Iraq three months after his inauguration.
Trump claims his “unbelievably busy schedule” has kept him from visiting the troops, the same excuse he gave for skipping Veterans Day ceremonies at Arlington National Cemetery. (I imagine Trump’s “busy schedule” consists of binge-watching old episodes of “Fox & Friends.”) Plus, he said, “I was very much opposed to the war in Iraq. I think it was a tremendous mistake, should have never happened.” This would be a ludicrous excuse, even if it were true. It’s not.
It’s unlikely Trump will lift his self-imposed combat zone travel ban for Thanksgiving. Several past presidents have spent the holiday overseas having dinner with service members; Trump is expected to spend his second Thanksgiving as president the same way he spent his first — at his Florida resort, with family. You know who would love to be with their families? Thousands of troops Trump sent to the southern border as conservative catnip leading up to the midterm elections.
That’s what the military is to Trump — red meat for a base that wraps itself in the flag and ignores the values it represents. He evokes service members when he wants to demonize black athletes protesting racial injustice. Yet while in France to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the end of World War I, he ditched a ceremony honoring fallen American soldiers and marines, because it was raining.
I guess he likes people who weren’t captured — or killed.
Trump loves to say, “I don’t think anybody’s been more with the military than I have, as a president.” He likes the pomp of the armed services, and how it corresponds to his myopic ideas about power. That military parade he wanted was about fluffing his fragile ego; yet once he learned he could not have his pricey parade this year, he seemed to lose interest in Veterans Day.
Trump can’t comprehend a life of service. To a man whose personal goals begin and end with his own profit and gain, joining the military must look like a sucker’s bet. When a retired lieutenant colonel gave his Purple Heart to Trump in 2016, the then-future commander in chief said, “I always wanted to get the Purple Heart. This was much easier.” Easier, of course, than risking your life to serve your nation.
A commander in chief in name only, Trump is what Gold Star father Khizr Khan famously called him two years ago — a man who has “sacrificed nothing, and no one.” Under pressure, he’s vowing to make a war zone visit soon, but it’s just as likely he’ll keep concocting excuses, whether its scheduling conflicts or his delicate heels. Whatever he does, it won’t change the disregard with which he treats the sacrifices of men and women, both past and present, who put themselves in harm’s way.Renée Graham can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @reneeygraham.