Alan Zendell, September 8, 2020
Trump’s relationship with the military has disparate elements, but that’s not to say it’s complicated. It’s really quite easy to read. It began with the Vietnam-era draft. Due to the unpopularity of the war, the Government instituted a birthdate-based lottery system. Each year, every date in the calendar was put into a randomized bingo machine. Every American male over eighteen cringed as numbers were drawn. If your number came up early, you were most likely going to Vietnam. It was Russian Roulette with a 365-chamber revolver. On the other hand, what could have been fairer than random selection?
Except that random selection excluded people with deferments (employment, marital status, school-related) and those with enough money and political influence to buy their way out. I had a deferment because of my job as a NASA and defense contractor. I was ecstatic over not being shipped out to Nam, but I still spent three excruciating years in the Pentagon as a captive civilian.
All Donald Trump had was enough money to buy a friendly doctor who was willing to “diagnose” him with bone spurs, a conveniently temporary condition timed to last until the end of the war. Trump’s attitude toward average soldiers was clear – only suckers and losers put their lives on the line when there was no benefit to them.
From then on, right through the George W. Bush years, Trump disparaged every military venture, but there was never any mention of standing up for our troops. It was always political. Whether it was Clinton, Bush, or Obama, Trump always new better than either the current president or his military brass. He made a lot of noise, and all of it was uncomplimentary to the military, at least until Roger Ailes of Fox News explained to him that he couldn’t win without support from the millions of deployed military personnel who voted by absentee ballot.
Master panderer Trump began painting himself as someone who reveres our troops. In 2016, it worked; he won that segment of the electorate by nearly thirty points, even while referring to all of his predecessor’s (Obama) Joint Chiefs as incompetent losers. It was the same tactic he applied to the rest of his base. Label a sector of the electorate as downtrodden and taken advantage of and promise to stand up for them by attacking their oppressors. It sounds compelling, until you realize the guy making the promises is a life-long con man who is out only for himself.
Add to that Trump’s disdain for John McCain and his mockery of a mourning Joe Biden for lauding his deceased son’s military service as evidence that he is weak. Knowing what we do of Trump, nothing in Jeffrey Goldberg’s revelations in The Atlantic is either surprising or hard to believe. Goldberg reported that in the company of General John Kelly and Joint Chiefs Chairman Joe Dunford, Trump described veterans as suckers and losers on the way to visit the Aisne-Marne cemetery in France, where many American WW2 soldiers were buried.
Trump flew into a rage over the story that lasted through Labor Day Weekend. That’s notable because of the contrast with his reactions to other accusations. In the past, as with sexual allegations, his rage was pure counterpunch, anger and denial, playacting what he’d been taught by Roy Cohn and his mobster friends. But this was different. He was an erupting volcano. The Atlantic story unhinged him like previous reports hadn’t. It wasn’t about the truth or falseness of the allegation – it was fear of losing the support of those millions of losers and suckers on Election Day.
The main controversy over the Atlantic story was Goldberg’s reliance on anonymous sources. We’d all like to know who they are, but it’s understandable that high-ranking people might feel driven to tell the truth while needing to fly under Trump’s radar. Goldberg said journalists prefer sources who speak on the record, but sometimes, the public’s need to know is paramount. When up to six anonymous sources tell the same story, that’s enough to publish.
It’s not difficult to guess who at least some of them are. Dunford and Kelly and their aides were the only ones who could have heard what Trump said. The absence of overt denial by any of them speaks almost as eloquently as if they’d let Goldberg use their names. And if that’s not clear enough, Trump’s wild rant, accusing top military brass of being in bed with weapons manufacturers who profit from conflict couldn’t be more transparent.
The question that remains is the same one we’ve been asking since 2015. Will Trump’s base finally realize that he couldn’t care less about them except in pandering for their vote? In the case of active duty military and veterans, many of them will. And Trump’s panic tells us he understands that they vote early by mail, and the timing couldn’t be worse.