Much about President Donald Trump is painfully transparent, but perhaps nothing more so than his professed love for American veterans and the U.S. military.
As Mari Uyehara wrote in GQ this week, Trump’s hollow words of support and reverence for America’s armed forces are betrayed by his actions — both his own disrespectful behavior and the deeds of his hand-picked administration.
Last year, during an Alabama rally for the ill-fated U.S. senator Luther Strange, Donald Trump turned to one of his favored cultural wars: attacking the NFL players protesting racial inequality and police brutality. "Wouldn't you love to see one of these NFL owners, when somebody disrespects our flag, to say, 'Get that son of a bitch off the field right now,'" he said to a roaring crowd. "Out! He's fired. HE'S FIRED!'"
It didn't make a lick of difference to Trump, of course, that Colin Kaepernick, the former San Francisco 49ers quarterback blackballed by the NFL for his activism, had reached out to retired Army Green Beret Nate Boyer to figure out a way to protest while, as Boyer put it, "also respecting the men and women who fought and died for what our flag is supposed to represent." In a combustible political environment, where the wide-eyed often lament that those with differences no longer participate in dialogue, two men from divergent ideological perspectives met to honor one another's values: kneeling, as opposed to sitting like Kaepernick had previously done, was their solution.
But Trump? He is not after solutions; rather, the president’s use for such controversy extends only as far as is politically convenient.
Uyehara recalled that Trump told Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones that he would milk the kneeling issue for all it was worth, because it was a “winning, strong issue” for him. Virtually admitting he is unconcerned with respect for the military, the flag, or the national anthem, Trump laid bare his real motive for denouncing black NFL players exercising their First Amendment right to free speech: it’s good for riling up his predominantly white base.
Just as 60 percent of Americans disapproved of Martin Luther King Jr's civil rights march on Washington in 1963, 49 percent of Americans today believe that the peaceful NFL protests are "inappropriate." Trump supporters, in particular, took to squawking that these non-violent protesters, kneeling in silence during the anthem, were somehow disrespecting the troops even as the players unequivocally rejected doing so.
But how might that same crowd react when Trump himself unequivocally disrespects the service and memory of those who died fighting for their country?
Last Saturday morning, just before Veteran's Day, Trump skipped out on a ceremony commemorating the 100th anniversary of the end of World War I. He was scheduled to lay a wreath at the Aisne-Marne American cemetery, where more than 1,800 Americans, who fought alongside the French to repel Germans, were buried. But he cancelled, citing "scheduling and logistical difficulties caused by the weather," otherwise known as light rain.
Trump allowed others to go in his place, hanging back with Melania and keeping all of his “respect” for the troops to himself.
The sprinkling of water didn't keep any of the other world leaders from attending scheduled events, nor WH chief of staff John Kelly and Gen. Joseph Dunford, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, from going to the cemetery in his stead. Back in DC on Monday, he blew off Veteran's Day altogether, canceling another pre-scheduled visit, this time to Arlington Cemetery, a mere 12-minute drive from the White House.
Winston Churchill's grandson called Trump "pathetic" in near disbelief that he "couldn't even defy the weather to pay his respects to The Fallen." Ben Rhodes, a foreign policy advisor to President Barack Obama, dismissed the lame bad-weather excuse out of hand, tweeting that "there is always a rain option. Always."
Further evidence that Trump’s love for America’s service members is nothing short of rhetoric designed to fool those who would cast a vote in his favor was on full display during his presidential campaign — but like Trump’s actions over the weekend, his supporters simply looked the other way.
Just as they have when Trump, who dodged the Vietnam war by claiming "bone spurs," attacked three Gold Star families; called the late Senator John McCain (R-Ariz.) "no war hero;" and lied about donating $1 million to veterans' nonprofits until media pressure forced him to make good on his pledge. Whether you ascribe to military heroism or not, it's unequivocally true that no one disrespects the troops more than Trump. He famously once said that he could "stand in the middle of 5th Avenue and shoot someone" and "not lose any voters"—the same would hold true if the someone he shot was a decorated vet.
Just Monday morning, Trump tweeted that "large numbers of new ballots showed up out of nowhere" and that the Florida vote count "must go with Election Night," despite the fact that the state accepts overseas and military ballots through November 16 as long as they are postmarked by November 6. In other words, Trump would rather disenfranchise active troops than assent to election results in which all votes are counted. For Trump, the troops aren't so much American citizens fighting for democratic values as political props whose worth is in demonstrating authoritarian might, as evidenced in his fantasies about staging Stalin-like military parade to the tune of $92 million.
Though he has yet to visit soldiers currently serving overseas in combat zones, Trump did find time to send 5,600 troops to the southern U.S. border — not to protect Americans from the scary migrant caravan, as he claimed, but to protect the Republican Party from humiliating losses at the polls.
As soon at the elections passed, Trump dropped the fear-mongering hysterics over tired, poor, and hungry immigrants, but those deployed soldiers will still spend Thanksgiving needlessly away from their families because it served the president's get-out-the-base stunt; it will also likely cost Americans upwards of $200 million by the year's end.
From his administration’s dismantling of financial protections from predatory lenders who target service members to making it easier for health insurance companies to make mental health care access more difficult for veterans, Trump has made plain that military members rank low on his priority list.
But that’s okay, so long as he can fill arenas with adoring fans and keep his people outraged.
For many, the sight of black Americans exercising their First Amendment rights over civil rights will always arouse more outrage than a white president stripping away protections for those who have served. Their hollow indignation over symbolic gestures is largely absent when the president can't be bothered to get his hair wet in the rain to honor those who gave their lives. That's not patriotism; it is, indeed, pathetic.