Trump’s Military Scorn Spotlight’s GOP’s Fake Patriotism

The Atlantic's reporting adds to Trump's long history of denigrating service members and spotlights the GOP's military hypocrisy.
Veterans listen as President Donald Trump speaks before signing an Executive Order at the Department of Veterans Affairs, Thursday, April 27, 2017, in Washington. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

Veterans listen as President Donald Trump speaks before signing an Executive Order at the Department of Veterans Affairs, Thursday, April 27, 2017, in Washington. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

This week, The Atlantic reported that Commander-in-Chief Donald Trump refused a visit to the Aisne-Marne American Cemetery in France with the comment “Why should I go to that cemetery? It’s filled with losers.” The report also alleged that Trump called war dead “suckers,” didn’t want to support John McCain’s funeral, and when visiting the grave of former Chief of Staff John Kelly’s son Trump asked Kelly, “I don’t get it. What was in it for them?”

Kelly, who could definitively confirm or deny this story, has not commented. The similarity to past comments from Trump, however, is difficult to miss.

In spite of Trump’s denials, the key allegations in The Atlantic’s reporting were corroborated by the AP, The Washington Post, and even Fox News. After this news, the Pentagon, which is under Trump’s purview, announced it was ceasing publication of Stars and Stripes, the independent military newspaper in print since the Civil War.

And then, just as quickly as Trump-appointed Secretary of Defense Mark Esper announced the closure of the publication, with the feel of a two-man act meant to rehabilitate Trump, or at least distract from his blood-roiling comments, Trump said the newspaper would not cease publication. It’s reminiscent of the first act in the same show in August, when Esper announced a nonsensical $2.2 billion dollar cut to veteran’s healthcare, and two days later Trump rejected the cuts. That was shortly after Trump tried to claim credit for Veteran’s Choice, a healthcare program passed in 2014 under the Obama-Biden Administration.

Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden responded to The Atlantic report:

On September 4, 2020 the Trump Hotel in Washington DC was aglow with a sign demanding better for our troops:

After Republicans, the party of a seemingly endless Benghazi investigation, offered little more than a shrug about reports that Russian Vladimir Putin offered a bounty for the murder of US soldiers, they’ve chimed in for a second verse, same as the first on Trump’s disdain for the men and women under his command. Representative Jim Jordan (R-OH) tweeted:

As of this writing, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) has not commented on Trump’s reported horrific statements, which allegedly included describing fallen troops as “suckers.” Nor has Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), whose twitter feed comes from the twilight zone where there weren’t 395 bills passed by the House as of February sitting on his desk.

This roaring silence from the supposed “Support our troops” Republican Party is curious, because lordy there were previous tapes in which Trump called honored veteran and prisoner of war Senator John McCain a loser. Josh Jordan reminds Trump in this quote retweet of Trump’s hyperventilating denial:

“I like people that weren’t captured,” said Trump.

The backlash has been strong. Veteran Senator Tammy Duckworth (D-IL) tweeted:

Captain Chesley Burnett “Sully” Sullenberger III, who famously landed a disabled passenger plane in the Hudson River, also had some choice words for Trump:

Given the opportunity to backtrack on his previous comments about McCain, Trump declined, confirming “I say what I say.”

Trump denies he made the comments quoted in The Atlantic article, as did former and current administration officials, including his wife, Melania, who isn’t exactly being best.

On Saturday morning, Trump again denied making the comments, and took credit for improvements to the VA made by the Obama-Biden Administration:

Republicans’ “meh” attitude about how Trump views our military comes as Russian forces increasingly show aggression toward American troops. In August 2020, a Russian armored vehicle rammed a US vehicle in Syria, injuring four American soldiers. In June, the US Air Force intercepted two Russian bombers near Alaska; a similar incident occurred in March of 2020:

And though Republicans spent years investigating Benghazi, where four Americans were killed after Republicans cut funding for embassy security, they had little interest after four US troops were killed in an ambush in Niger in 2017. While there was talk of public hearings into the deadly incident, it’s not clear if any ever actually took place.

To say Republican hypocrisy on the military is staggering is like saying the universe, in the words of Douglas Adams, “is big.” It goes deceptive hand in deceptive hand with their rallying cry of patriotism; what they say and what they do are two separate sides of a coin, one that never shows the same face at the same time. The GOP is the party apoplectic at athletes kneeling during the anthem to protest police brutality, claiming it’s disrespectful to the flag or the anthem, but eight Republicans spent the Fourth of July 2018 in Moscow, Russia with Putin’s officials. That visit came long after confirmation that Russia interfered with the 2016 election.

Stevens Institute of Technology Assistant Professor Lindsey Cormack, in her book Congress and U.S. Veterans: From the GI Bill to the VA Crisis writes:

“On a continuum of legislative behavior, we have one end populated by the dedicated workhorses who draft legislation, hammer out compromises, and get into the weeds of complicated policy questions. On the other end, there are show ponies that care more about pumping out media sound bites or trying to get the next ‘viral’ video on YouTube.”

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The Trump Administration And The Military

Trump famously avoided military service in Vietnam due to “bone spurs,” and once told Howard Stern he considered not getting a sexually transmitted disease “his” Vietnam. Trump is not sparing in his insults directed at members of the military, calling retired four-star General John Allen “a failed general” and attacking the family of fallen soldier Capt. Humayun Khan.

In 2016, when retired Lt. Col. Louis Dorfman presented the bone-spur afflicted Trump with the Purple Heart he earned in Iraq, Trump told the audience that he had said “Man, that’s like big stuff. I always wanted to get the Purple Heart,” Trump said. “This was much easier.”

Trump’s jovial ease at accepting the recognition of another person’s bravery became vitriol when the valor was aimed in his own direction. Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman testified at Trump’s 2020 impeachment trial, detailing how the administration extorted election help from Ukraine to target Joe Biden, smearing former U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch in the process. Lt. Col. Vindman also testified to the contents of Trump’s “perfect phone call” with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.

Trump attacked Vindman on Twitter:

Over 1,000 members of the military signed a letter objecting to Trump’s baseless attacks on Vindman. In November 2019, Esper assured Vindman he need not fear retaliation for his testimony. In any case, he was fired with Trump claiming it was for being “very insubordinate,” and Trump claimed that the military might take disciplinary action against him.

Myeshia Johnson found the “condolence call” from Trump for the death of her husband, Sgt. La David Johnson, one of the four soldiers killed in the Niger ambush far from comforting, saying Trump even forgot her husband’s name. Trump reportedly told Myeshia Johnson that her husband “knew what he signed up for.” Trump later denied saying it, but Cowanda Jones-Johnson, Sgt. Johnson’s mother and Rep. Frederica Wilson (D-FL) confirmed they both heard Trump’s words.

Trump banned trans service members from enlisting, and current members from transitioning while in the military. The Supreme Court allowed Trump’s ban to take effect. House Democrats have twice tried to reverse the ban, but the Republican-controlled Senate did not cooperate.

Trump reversed limits President Obama set on the transfer of military gear to police departments. The effect on the protests during the months since George Floyd’s killing at the hands of police is palpable.

In 2019, to fund his vanity wall, Trump diverted Pentagon funds, including those earmarked for military base schools and daycare. The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals gave his plunder of $3.6 billion dollars the A-OK in a split decision in 2020. In 2019, the Supreme Court allowed Trump to take $2.5 billion in Pentagon funding for the wall. In the nearly four years under Trump and his wall fever dream, of 216 miles of wall constructed, only three miles is new wall. The rest is a replacement of existing wall. Perhaps it’s not a great use of that purloined $6.1 billion.

In April, a veteran group claimed that the VA was using veterans as test-subjects for hydroxychloroquine to treat COVID-19. The anti-malaria drug was touted by Trump as a coronavirus cure despite no evidence of an effect on the virus. It later came out Trump had a small financial interest in the manufacturer.

Highlighting that nothing is clear-cut in the Trump Administration, in 2017, it proposed a plan to cut funding for the HUD-VASH program, a program proven to reduce homelessness in veterans. After widespread outcry, the administration reversed; yet it appears, according to a statement from House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs Chairman Mark Takano (D-CA) in February 2020 that HUD’s budget allows for zero new vouchers. The Democratically-led House voted to expand the program in February 2020.

Proposed Republican cuts to Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) and disability also affect veterans, as, per the House:

  • “Approximately 1.7 million veterans rely on Medicaid.”
  • “More than half of all veterans, approximately 9.3 million, rely on Medicare.”
  • “The budget cut to DI benefits could financially harm wounded warriors—approximately 621,000 military veterans received these benefits in 2016.”
  • “Nearly 1.3 million veterans live in households that participate in SNAP.”

Like Trump’s claims that he will protect pre-existing conditions while simultaneously trying to overturn the ACA, another piece of legislation veterans rely upon, many of the Republican attacks on veterans are less than direct. Ultimately it makes them easier to deny.

On the plus side, Congress passed and Trump signed the largest pay increase for the military since 2010, under Obama and a Democratic-majority Congress. The 3.1% increase, which took effect in 2020 after passing the Democratically-controlled House and the Republican-controlled Senate, was a jump after prior-year Congressionally-approved increases that maxed out at 1.7% during the intervening years. Interestingly, though the first increase of 1.0% happened while Republicans controlled the House and Democrats the Senate, some of the lowest increases occurred after Republicans took control of both Houses of Congress in 2014.

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Obama-Biden Administration And The Military

When it comes to President Obama and his military policy, he gets blame and stolen credit at both ends. Trump recently claimed he won a hard-fought battle for the Veteran’s Choice Act; instead, that was an achievement of the Obama-Biden Administration after news broke of veterans dying before receiving care. Trump did sign the VA Mission Act, which was described as an extension of Choice, but critics call it a plan “to tear down the agency, brick by brick, visit by visit,” pushing veterans into private care. Trump also tried to take credit for the electronic records system Obama implemented.

In that sobering VA scandal, records were falsified to cover up the long waits. Obama took the blame for that, as well, but it turns out that the George W. Bush Administration identified the issue in 2005, early in his second term, and did nothing about it.

Well, Republican Bush did do one thing about it, he proposed massive health care cuts for the veterans he had sent off to war. In sharp contrast, Obama increased coverage for veterans, decreased wait times, and also expanded mental health coverage.

The Obama-Biden Administration cut veteran homelessness nearly in half, and cut unemployment for veterans by more than half. Like all unemployment rates, unemployment rates for veterans have spiked in 2020, tripling from February to May.

Obama ended “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” a piece of legislation that was an illustration of where good intentions lead, and allowed LGBTQ+ service members to openly serve, including trans troops. In 2016, Republicans, and Trump, tried to criticize Obama for his military budget, which stayed stable from Bush before him, and was, of course, set by the legislative branch, as per the Constitution.

The Rantt Rundown

Because every day is “Groundhog’s Day” under the Trump Administration, news of Trump openly disparaging our military, the military of which he is the supposed Commander-in-Chief, comes as a questionable surprise for many. And yet Trump has a history of insulting members of the military; he’s even on video calling John McCain a loser, and denying that the war hero was a war hero.

The very man in charge of the safety and security of armed service members refused to even raise a deadly bounty on their heads with Putin, who allegedly set it. Meanwhile, he and Republicans attack the very programs veterans depend upon, especially now in the economic wreckage of the pandemic.

Words are merely words, and Republicans like to use a lot of them. None of them matter, not even if every single one is wrapped in false patriotism. The only thing that matters in this world of soundbites and Twitter quips is what they actually do.

And somehow, here we are yet again with Trump saying despicable things about the very veterans they claim to honor, and these fountains of words suddenly run dry. They have claimed “fake news” so many times, it seems they themselves can no longer throw the words with conviction, and still they cannot bring themselves to condemn that which they know is unthinkable.

It’s time, Republicans, to take down those flags. They’ve grown so thin we can see right through them.

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Opinion // Donald Trump / John Kelly / John Mccain / Military / Republican Party / Russia / Veterans