Trump Versus the Troops

In an apparent move to lose even more of the military vote than he’s already lost, Trump has ordered the complete shutdown of the American military newspaper Stars and Stripes. The last issue will be at the end of this month, assuming Congress doesn’t save it.

Exactly why Trump wants to do away with this venerable bit of military tradition is not clear. He says it is to save money, but Stars and Stripes is a tiny blip of the ginormous military budget. Something in it must have pissed him off.

The history of Stars and Stripes goes back to Union troops in the Civil War. It has been published daily since 1918 and began the careers of many legends of journalism and publishing, such as Alexander Woollcott and Bill Mauldin. The paper is funded by the Pentagon but is editorially independent.

This news comes within hours of Jeffrey Goldberg’s Atlantic exposé of Trump’s contempt for the dead and wounded of war. If you haven’t read it, please do so. I assume you’ve heard a lot about it by now. The White House is denying all of it, of course, but a lot of this story was already public.

Trump’s no-show at the Aisne-Marne American Cemetery and Memorial In November 1918 to honor the dead of the Battle of Belleau Wood, for example, was widely noted at the time. His excuse was bad weather, which didn’t stop other heads of state and dignitaries from being there. Winston Churchill’s grandson had some words.

Nicholas Soames, a British politician and grandson of Winston Churchill, ripped President Trump on Saturday for canceling a cemetery visit in France due to bad weather.

“They died with their face to the foe and that pathetic inadequate @realDonaldTrump couldn’t even defy the weather to pay his respects to The Fallen,” Soames tweeted.

Soames, who is a member of Parliament for Mid Sussex, included a hashtag saying Trump is “not fit to represent his great country.”

There was plenty more of that. Trump was thoroughly roasted for not being there. A couple of days later, Trump lashed out at his staff for not explaining to him that skipping the ceremony would be bad PR. I wrote at the time, “As if any American wouldn’t care enough to want to go; as if any American wouldn’t realize how it would look to cancel. He has no sense whatsoever of American history and tradition; anything that happened before him is of no interest to him.”

Sometimes Trump acts as if he were just pulled out of a petri dish and has never lived on this planet before. There have been a handful of presidents — including some great presidents — without personal experience in the military, but I believe Trump is the first president who hasn’t even been related to someone who served in the U.S. military.  And time and time again he reveals himself to be utterly ignorant of U.S. military history. Someone had to explain to him what happened at Pearl Harbor before he toured the memorial, for example. How do you not know that? Especially at his age? What American boy grew up in the 1950s not watching classic 1950s war movies like From Here to Eternity and To Hell and Back and re-creating D-Day and Iwo Jima with his buddies in the back yard? It’s not normal, I tell you.

Anyway — some of Trump’s denials of the Atlantic article have been fact checked. He denied he had ever called John McCain a “loser,” for example. Oh, yes he did. And enough of it is on video, such as his famous “I like people who weren’t captured” putdown of John McCain’s years as a POW, that Goldberg’s new revelations are entirely believable. They are part of a well-established pattern. The Associated Press says it has corroborated much of the new information.

One of the saddest stories in Goldberg’s exposé is of the time Trump and Gen. John Kelly were at Arlington, standing over the grave of Kelly’s son. And Trump said of the Marines buried there, “I don’t get it. What was in it for them?” I notice that Gen. Kelly has yet not spoken up to deny this story.

The problem, of course, is that Goldberg’s sources were all off the record, meaning they are anonymous. This makes the story easy for the Trumpers to just ignore. Fake news!

At Slate, Fred Kaplan calls for the brass to go on the record.

This would be unusual. Generals don’t like to go on the record when talking about anything controversial, and certainly not when dissing a sitting president. This is true for retired generals as well, who feel no less bound by the ethos of respecting civilian authority and staying out of politics.

But by talking to Goldberg about these events at all, these generals waded deep into the political swamp. They must have thought it important for the public—for voters—to know this side of the man in the White House. They must, deep down, feel despair over the possibility that this man—who holds their professions, their values, and their patriotism in such contempt—might serve as president for another four years.

One or more of these generals should weigh the competing values: their loyalty to the president versus their loyalty and lifelong dedication to the security of the nation and the lives of their fellow service members.

Charles Pierce is harsher. See Jeffrey Goldberg’s Atlantic Piece Shows the Difference Between Battlefield and Political Courage.

Kelly and the president* went to Arlington five months into the president*’s term. Kelly worked for the president* for another year and, since then, until just now, he has maintained his silence as the president*’s assault on the rule of law and the Constitution only intensified. All of them—Kelly, H.R. McMaster, James Mattis—have been Good Soldiers rather than patriots. (Mattis did call the president* a threat to the Constitution in another Goldberg piece that ran in June. Of this year. Barn. Lock. Missing horse.) This is also the case for all the anonymous people behind Goldberg’s opus. Personally, I have more respect for the average kid marching in the streets than I do for all of them combined.

I don’t want to hear about “duty” and “service,” either. They took an oath to defend the Constitution, not to hold their tongues until they could get a book deal as a reckless vandal takes the Republic down, brick by brick. Of all the people whom history will account as being complicit in the attempted demolition of constitutional government, I rank them ahead even of the invertebrate Republicans in the United States Senate. I do not expect political courage from the likes of Mitch McConnell or Ben Sasse. I expect it of men who have demonstrated physical courage under extreme circumstances, but never has the difference between battlefield courage and political courage been more clearly drawn. I am glad that Goldberg has written this piece. I’m glad it’s out in the world. I’m glad that people are outraged about it, and I’m glad for whatever role it may ultimately play in lifting this scourge from the land. But I am sorry, and angry, that it has come to this, in 2020, when the vandals are still on a rampage that seems as though it can only end in annihilation.

Gen. James Mattis’s public rebuke of Trump last June ought to make this easier for them. Trump must not be allowed to be Commander in Chief any longer.

Update: Get this:

Having ordered Stars and Stripes to be destroyed, now he’s pretending to save it.