More than five years ago, then-candidate Donald Trump rejected the assertion that John McCain, who refused to take an early release and remained with his fellow POWs despite torture, was a hero. "He’s not a war hero,” said Trump. “He was a war hero because he was captured. I like people who weren’t captured.” At this point, the failure of the GOP to disown Trump signaled that Republicans would accept anything that came out of his mouth. Since then, with very few exceptions, elected Republicans have stood shoulder to shoulder with a president who utters one lie after another, spews racist bile, demeans women, dehumanizes immigrants and venerates dictators.
The Atlantic magazine article that came out on Thursday seems entirely in character for Trump:
Trump rejected the idea of the visit [to a World War I cemetery in France in 2018] 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.
When McCain died, Trump reiterated his contempt for POWs when he declared “according to three sources with direct knowledge of this event, ‘We’re not going to support that loser’s funeral,’” and he became furious, according to witnesses, when he saw flags lowered to half-staff. ‘What the f--- are we doing that for? Guy was a f---ing loser.’ ”
When preparing for a military parade, the magazine reports, “Trump asked his staff not to include wounded veterans, on grounds that spectators would feel uncomfortable in the presence of amputees. ‘Nobody wants to see that,’ he said.”
The White House adamantly denies all these comments, as you would expect. Keep in mind, the Atlantic reports, Trump was previously caught lying when he said that “he has received the bodies of slain service members ‘many, many’ times” (just four times, in fact) and “falsely claimed that he had called ‘virtually all’ of the families of service members who had died during his term” (the families of fallen soldiers say otherwise). Interestingly, the “don’t believe your lying eyes and ears” tactic was on full display Thursday when, on an unrelated matter, Trump falsely denied having told North Carolinians to vote twice, which is illegal and prompted state officials to rebuke him and remind voters they only get one vote.
After the Atlantic article was published, the Associated Press reported that a “senior defense official” plus “a second source, specifically a senior U.S. Marine Corps officer with knowledge of President Trump’s comments,” confirmed many parts of the story. The Post also reported, “A former senior administration official confirmed to The Washington Post that the president frequently made disparaging comments about veterans and soldiers missing in action, referring to them at times as ‘losers.’”
Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden responded to the Atlantic report in a written statement. “If the revelations in today’s Atlantic article are true, then they are yet another marker of how deeply President Trump and I disagree about the role of the President of the United States,” he said. “I have long said that, as a nation, we have many obligations, but we only have one truly sacred obligation — to prepare and equip those we send into harm’s way, and to care for them and their families, both while they are deployed and after they return home.” Biden pointedly mentioned that he was not squeamish about meeting with wounded men and women. “We’ve hosted wounded veterans in our home to share a Thanksgiving meal,” he said. “And, as the proud parents of a son who served in Iraq, we’ve made supporting military spouses, caregivers, and children a focus of our service.” In short, Biden made clear that unlike Trump, “if I have the honor of serving as the next commander in chief, I will ensure that our American heroes know that I will have their back and honor their sacrifice — always.” It was an effective way to show the we need not continue to suffer with a small, petty and untrustworthy president.
I do not much care what trait — envy, materialism, cowardice — explains Trump’s apparent disdain for military heroes who, unlike Trump (who got out of serving in Vietnam with five deferments), sacrificed their bodies and in many cases their lives for their country. What we know is that Trump’s character is deeply deformed, and his narcissism knows no bounds. This report is anything but shocking. However, we are reminded about something equally, if not more, disturbing than the outbursts of an unfit president.
Why did the senior officials — who still refuse to go on record — not quit and tell their stories? Why did they not come forward with their accounts even during impeachment, when the president’s lack of loyalty to the country and betrayal of national security were at issue? We can only guess that the explanation is some mixture of cowardly careerism or, maybe, self-delusion that without them the country would be (more) endangered. Instead, they stayed, enabled him, defended him and kept critical information from their fellow Americans.
The silence of these senior aides is really no different from the silence of virtually all elected Republicans. They, along with intellectually corrupt right-wing pundits and media outlets, have denied, deflected, ignored or excused almost everything that has come out of Trump’s mouth. The so-called Republican hawks — Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.), Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) — have stuck with him through thick and thin. They did not condemn him when he first slandered POWs, nor excoriate him for refusing to address the poisoning of yet another political opponent of Russian President Vladimir Putin. They have not denounced his unwillingness to raise with Putin the Russian bounties on our troops. They did not disown him for commuting the sentences of war criminals; they did not rebuke him for slandering troops by accusing them of stealing money in Iraq and Afghanistan. It seems there is no insult, lie or exaggeration about our troops too great to prompt these Republicans to declare Trump unfit to serve as commander in chief.
One legacy of the Trump era is to discredit virtually all elected Republicans and the sycophantic right-wing media figures whose silence (or even worse, their cheerleading) has made them complicit in Trump’s defilement of his office and weakening of the United States’ image around the globe. They put party and personal careerism above country, and in doing so earn the contempt of their compatriots.
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