This week Military Times came out with a poll of active-duty military finding that 50 percent of them have an unfavorable view of the president (42 percent strongly disapprove) and only 38 percent have a favorable view. They support Joe Biden over President Trump by four percentage points — an extraordinary edge for a Democrat. In a 2016 poll using the same methodology, Trump led Hillary Clinton by nearly 2 to 1. Sixty percent of veterans voted for Trump in the election.
But the military’s rejection of Trump goes much deeper. In another section of the poll just published, those serving on active duty in the military:
- Support renaming military bases — their military bases — now named for Confederate generals.
- Believe, overwhelmingly, in the banning of the Confederate flag and similar symbols from military bases.
- Do not see immigration, civil disobedience and the protest movement as major dangers to U.S. security, as Trump does. They rank those threats well below cyberterrorism, the Islamic State, al-Qaeda — and white nationalism.
If the worst happens, and Trump loses the election but tries to keep power by force, it’s clear that the U.S. military will not help him.
The poll of 1,018, conducted with Syracuse University, is somewhat limited because respondents, from Military Times’s readership, skew older and tend to be career-military types. But they were more than twice as likely to identify themselves as Republicans than Democrats — reflective of the military’s traditional conservatism.
Still, more than 59 percent of officers said they have a dim view of the president, with more than half saying they strongly disapprove. Among enlisted respondents, 47 percent said they have an unfavorable view, and under 39 percent have a favorable view.
Officers tended to be more disapproving of Trump, and more opposed to Confederate symbolism, than enlisted personnel. But the opinions were fairly uniform. Among the near-majority who favored renaming Confederate-named bases (49.2 percent to 36.8 percent, with 14 percent expressing no opinion), pluralities of all groups — women, men, White, non-White, officer, enlisted — favored renaming. Same among the 69.3 percent (to 22.2 percent) who favor the ban on Confederate flags.
The troops also have a realistic view of threats to U.S. security. China (86.5 percent think it a significant threat) and Iran (57.7) topped the list of most dangerous countries, followed by North Korea and Saudi Arabia. As for other threats, 85.9 percent thought cyberterrorism significant, followed by the Islamic State, al-Qaeda and other foreign Islamist terrorists (48.1 percent), white nationalists (47.6 percent), domestic terrorists with no connection to Islam (47.3 percent) and Islam-connected domestic terrorists (45.8). Lower down were racial unrest (42), the protest movements (33.1), civil disobedience (25.9) and immigration (21.4).
What has brought us to this place?
Maybe it’s his protection of accused or convicted war criminals from military justice. Maybe it’s his abandonment of allies in Syria (sorry, Kurds) and Germany or his friendships with Vladimir Putin (what Russian bounties on U.S. troops?), Kim Jong Un or Mohammed bin Salman. Maybe it’s his disparagement of John McCain and Gold Star families. Maybe it’s his use of the military for parades and spectacles the way dictators do. Maybe it’s his siphoning of military funds for pet projects such as the border wall. Maybe it’s his attempt to extend racial conflict to military bases through his support of Confederate icons.
Veteran Jon Soltz, who runs the left-leaning group VoteVets, says Trump “completely misread” racial views in the military, which is multicultural and not tied to base names assigned during Jim Crow. “The thing he misses is the blue uniform our military wears today is the same as the Union army,” he said.
Jim Mattis, the revered retired general and former Trump defense secretary, issued blistering criticism when the president used the military against racial-justice demonstrators. Likewise, former Joint Chiefs chairman and George W. Bush’s secretary of state Colin Powell endorsed Biden because he wouldn’t succumb to “the flattery of dictators and despots.” And retired admiral William McRaven, who oversaw the operation that killed Osama bin Laden, said Trump “humiliated us on the world stage."
The troops are listening to these old soldiers, and witnessing the calamity of Trump’s leadership. I salute them.