I of course cannot confirm firsthand that the president labeled fallen servicemen as “losers” and “suckers,” as reported by the Atlantic. However, I don't really need to have heard him say any of it to be certain that he holds disdain for our military. There is so much other evidence to support that hypothesis.
In March 2016, then-candidate Trump disparaged John McCain, calling him a “loser” (something he's now denying amid the recent allegations by The Atlantic, despite recorded proof) and saying, “He’s not a war hero. He’s a war hero because he was captured. I like people who weren’t captured.”
McCain was undoubtedly an American war hero. He spent five and a half years as a prisoner of war during the Vietnam War. Captured by the North Vietnamese in October 1967, he was detained and tortured in prison camps, including the infamous Hỏa Lò Prison, ironically nicknamed the “Hanoi Hilton." In mid-1968, after his father, John S. McCain Jr, was named commander of all U.S. forces in the Vietnam theater, the younger McCain was offered an early release. However, McCain declined this preferential treatment, and refused to be released before other prisoners of war. He was tortured for years. He spent two straight years of his torture in solitary confinement. His health was terrible, and he spent periods of time on the brink of death. For a long period, he was subject to torture every two hours. McCain’s injuries were so severe that for the rest of his life, he was unable to raise his arms above his head.
Trump’s attacks on John McCain have continued after his death. It took two days before Trump bent to public pressure and relented to order the flag at the White House to fly at half-mast after McCain died. Remember last December when Trump implied that John Dingell (a World War II veteran who formerly represented Eastern Michigan University’s district in Congress and whose widow, Debbie Dingell, currently represents our school’s district) might be burning in hell saying that, instead of “looking down” at us, he might be “looking up”? That wasn’t the first time he made that sort of a comment about a deceased lawmaker.
In June 2019, Trump spoke before the Faith and Freedom coalition. In his remarks, he recalled the defeat of his healthcare bill in the Senate, saying, “We had a little hard time with a couple of [senators], right? Fortunately, they’re gone now. They’ve gone on to greener pastures—or perhaps far less green pastures. But they’re gone. They’re gone, Bill. I’m very happy they’re gone.” Keep in mind that the only senator that voted against his healthcare bill that left the Senate was John McCain, who had died in office. This is far from the only petty slight he has made at McCain since his death.
In 2019, it was reported by the Wall Street Journal that the military had tried to hide the U.S.S. John S. McCain from sight during Trump’s visit to Japan. If disparaging McCain wasn’t enough, Trump now takes credit for the dead man’s work, while claiming he’s “done more for veterans” than McCain. Trump frequently will falsely cite the Veterans Choice Act as an example of what he has done for veterans. This is actually a piece of legislation that John McCain, along with Bernie Sanders, was chiefly responsible for negotiating in the Senate, and which then-president Barack Obama signed into law in 2014. CNN has counted more than 150 occasions where Trump has falsely taken credit for passing this piece of legislation.
Trump has also demonstrated a lack of empathy for our veterans struggling with brain injuries from their service. In October 2016, Trump suggested that veterans struggling with mental health problems aren’t “strong” and “can’t handle it.” In January of this year, Trump downplayed the severity of concussion symptoms being experienced by soldiers injured in the January 8 attack on the Al-Asad airbase as mere “headaches” and said, “I don’t consider that to be bad injuries.”
In October 2017, Trump demonstrated a lack of empathy in a phone call with Myeshia Johnson, whose husband, Sgt. La David Johnson, had died in service. Mrs. Johnson recalled the tone of Trump’s voice having been inappropriate for such a call. She recalled that Trump couldn’t even remember her husband’s name on the call. She also recounted him having declared that La David “knew what he signed up for."
Let me just dwell for a moment on how disgusting that statement is. While serving in the military does risk one’s life, death is certainly not what any serviceman has “signed up for.”
They serve with the full intent to, hopefully, return safely to their loved ones. Rather than apologizing, Trump painted Mrs. Johnson as a liar, adding even more pain to someone who had just lost her husband. Mrs. Johnson’s account of the call was corroborated by those who had been with her in a car (en-route to meet the body of her husband) at the time she took the phone call with Trump, including Cowanda Jones-Johnson, the adoptive mother of La David Johnson, and Congresswoman Fredricka Wilson. In retaliation for her corroborating Mrs. Johnson’s account, Congresswoman Wilson was subsequently the focus of a smear campaign by the Trump administration.
After the appearance of Gold Star parents Khizr and Ghazala Khan at the 2016 Democratic National Convention, where Khizr delivered a powerful rebuke of Trump, Trump responded with an Islamophobic attack. Khizr and Ghazala Khan, whose son Humayun had died an extraordinarily heroic death in service to this country stood together onstage, but only Khizr spoke, his wife silent at his side. Because of this, Trump remarked, “If you look at his wife, she was standing there. She had nothing to say. She probably — maybe she wasn't allowed to have anything to say. You tell me.”
This was very clearly implying that, because he is Muslim, Khizr Khan would not let his wife speak publicly. It was telling that, in response to Mr. Khan’s line directed at Trump, “you have sacrificed nothing—and no one,” Trump replied, "I think I've made a lot of sacrifices ... I've created thousands and thousands of jobs, tens of thousands of jobs, built great structures. I've had tremendous success. I think I've done a lot." This demonstrates that, to Trump, his business ventures are somehow equal, if not greater, then the commitment and lives military members give to our country.
Trump has a long history of not caring about war veterans. In the 1990s, Trump picked a fight against disabled veteran street vendors in New York City, wanting to block them from selling goods on Fifth Avenue, where Trump Tower is located. He wrote that they were a "detriment of the city as a whole or its tax paying citizens and businesses."
Trump’s alleged failure to respond to Putin placing bounties on the heads of members of our military illustrates his disregard for the lives of our servicemen, as well.
During his 2016 campaign, Trump held a fundraiser for veterans, and received significant publicity from it. However, he appeared to have failed to donate any of the proceeds to veterans until being called out by the media. One of the groups he donated the proceeds to had an “F”-rating from CharityWatch. Discrepancies and lies by the Trump camp also appear to exist. Despite having initially claimed to have raised $6 million, they later claimed they had only raised $4.5 million. Furthermore, it was found in court in 2019 that he had initially misused those funds, by putting $2.8 million of it into Trump’s campaign fund rather than his foundation.
In the midst of this current pandemic, when limiting unnecessary gatherings was particularly paramount, Trump called 1,000 cadets back to the US Military Academy at West Point all so that he could deliver a speech before a crowd. The speech he gave them was extraordinarily self-promotional. He put his ego above the health and well being of these cadets.
Trump also has evidently threatened to cut his own children off financially if they dared to serve in the military. There was a clause in his prenup with his second wife Marla Maples stating, in the instance that they divorced, his child support payments to Marla would cease to be paid if their daughter Tiffany, already born by the time of their wedding, dared to enter military service or join the Peace Corps.
Additionally, Donald Trump and his ex-wife Ivana are alleged to have threatened to disown their son Donald Trump Jr. when he expressed an interest in joining the military. In her recent book Too Much and Never Enough, Donald Trump’s niece Mary Trump recalls having had her uncle Robert Trump (Donald Trump’s recently-deceased brother) tell her, “Donny was going to join the military or some bullshit like that, and Donald and Ivana told him if he did, they’d disown him in a second."
Trump is a notorious draft-dodger. In addition to receiving an unusually large number of student deferments, Trump is alleged to have paid doctors to diagnose him with bone spurs so that he could avoid being conscripted into service during the Vietnam War. The supposed bone spurs did not seem to halt his athletic career. Nevertheless, he likes to pretend that he is just as worthy of adoration as those who actually served in the military. He has declared that his attending New York Military Academy (NYMA), a military-styled prep-school in New York, is practically the same as him having served in the military.
This is beyond insulting to those who actually served. Let me disclose that I am somewhat familiar with NYMA. I have known former faculty that taught there, and I attended a school which competed against them in sports. I even once competed in a cross-country race held on their campus. I am quite confident in saying that attending NYMA is not remotely equivalent to having served in our military.
In the 2018 midterms, when the partial tabulation of the votes in gubernatorial and senate race in Florida were close (but led by the Republican candidates) and absentee ballots, including many overseas military ballots, were still uncounted, Trump demanded on Twitter that absentee ballots be entirely thrown-out, and the votes cast election-day be the only ones counted. Trump would love to disenfranchise members of the military when he sees potential political gain. Particularly now that Trump has alienated many of our enlisted forces, and in light of the doubts he has already sought to sow about mail-in-voting, I will not be shocked if he makes a similar demand in this coming election.
There are so many other blaring examples of Trump’s disrespect for our military. In September 2019, Trump diverted $3.6 billion designated to build training centers, schools, and other facilities on military bases to fund his border wall. In 2018 Trump claimed he was simply “too busy” to visit Arlington National Cemetery on Veterans Day.
Trump defenders can, and have, made excuses for many of the examples I have given. However, I find it impossible to grant Trump the benefit of the doubt on so many things. A clear pattern of disrespect and disregard for our servicemen has been established by Trump.
I cannot understand how someone could see those in the military as missing any sort of personal capabilities, let alone someone who has had endless opportunities to interact with members of our military over his tenure as president of this nation. It bewilders and upsets me. Yet, it is apparent that Donald Trump does not see the military the way I, and presumably most other Americans, see them. While I see the military service as indicative of someone having something extra, be it courage, a sense of patriotism, a sense of service, Donald Trump evidently sees military service as somehow indicative of something far less. It truly breaks my heart that our nation’s own commander-in-chief holds a disdain for the military.
Trump does not appear to comprehend the honor of service in our military.