The big campaign news last week was that Donald Trump was accused of showing disrespect toward our fallen soldiers. Amazingly, much of the criticism has come from Fox News, which is usually the chief Trump apologist. Fox59 explains the story.
Fox News tried to dismiss the story out-of-hand, but was then contradicted by its own national security correspondent, Jennifer Griffin, who said she had two sources corroborating at least part of the story. Griffin sent out a series of tweets
about it, such as these:
Two former sr Trump admin officials confirm .@JeffreyGoldberg reporting that President Trump disparaged veterans and did not want to drive to honor American war dead at Aisne-Marne Cemetery outside Paris.— Jennifer Griffin (@JenGriffinFNC) September 4, 2020
According to one former senior Trump administration official: “When the President spoke about the Vietnam War, he said, ‘It was a stupid war. Anyone who went was a sucker’.”
This former official heard the President say about American veterans: “What’s in it for them? They don’t make any money.” Source: “It was a character flaw of the President. He could not understand why someone would die for their country, not worth it.”
I read the source a few quotes from The Atlantic article. This former Trump admin official said, “The President would say things like that. He doesn’t know why people join the military. He would muse, ‘Why do they do it’?”
LET’S BE FAIR
We like to look at whether there’s another side of every story. It’s entirely possible to see a reasonable explanation for Trump’s alleged words. Most people today think that the Vietnam War was a mistake. (Trump escaped going over there by having his doctor claim that he had bone spurs, according to Military Times.) Speaking in private, to a trusted individual, it’s conceivable that Trump was feeling sorry for the dead—that they had died in a war that didn’t make sense.
Trump is also quoted as saying the WW I was “a stupid war.” And, yes, he’s right. There was no real reason for the war, except that there were a lot of bad feelings on the continent, and when Archduke Ferdinand was assassinated, countries used it as an excuse to declare war senselessly, and Germany was sucked into it only by treaty. Yet, Germany was held chiefly responsible, and the “stupid” end of the war led directly to the rise of Adolf Hitler. It was a stupid war, all the way around.
And again, standing in a huge cemetery, with headstones all around, it’s understandable that Trump might have become overwhelmed by the immensity of the death, and asked how they could have the strength of character to give their very lives for a cause? “What’s in it for them?”
However, this story is not really about Trump and the Military. This is a site about the presidential election. We are concerned with how things impact the election.
IMPACT ON ELECTION
Although rumors of Trump’s attitudes have flown around for years, the Atlantic Magazine article is important for its timing, and the fact that it assembled several examples, so that it could not be seen as a one-off or misstep.
The Trump campaign was caught flat-footed. There was no possible response but denial. Then, of course, they pointed to the fact that the story quoted unnamed sources. That allowed them to say the whole story was fabricated.
But that’s a dangerous defense. After the dust settles for a few days, and people think, “well, yeah, who did say that? Are they trustworthy?” Then, if the person is named, or worse, comes forward, then Trump’s whole defense collapses.
We already have one option. One incident was at the grave of the son of John Kelly, former Trump chief of staff. Reporters have asked Kelly for confirmation. He could have said, “yes, I heard it,” or “no, it never happened.” He did neither, and that leads one to think he just doesn’t want to get involved. But, seriously, if it were false, wouldn’t the average person just say that?
The point now is that Trump’s people really had no way to disprove the incidents. It’s like the old story of a guy being asked, “When did you stop beating your wife?” The premise of the question is that the person is guilty. There is no effective defense since the charge is already in the minds of the listeners before it is answered.
Trump is no good at answering questions like that. Yet, they are his stock and trade. Trump is always making outrageous claims—or defends himself by saying he’s just passing them along. The most famous incident was during the 2016 Republican primary campaign. Trump passed along a claim that Ted Cruz’s father was involved in the assassination of JFK. It was such an outrageous claim that Cruz just fumed, became defensive, and it blunted his campaign, as he tried to deny it.
In this video, Trump begins by trying to defend himself for making an unconscionable attack on Cruz’s wife. Then, at the 2:50 mark, he doubles down on his JFK claim:
In the same campaign, Marco Rubio figured out how to get under Trump’s skin, with a silly insinuation that Trump’s “manhood” must be small, since he has “tiny hands.” The appropriate, and effective response would have been to shake his head and laugh it off, in the style of President Reagan. But to paraphrase Lloyd Benson, “We knew Ronald Reagan. Ronald Reagan was a friend of ours, and you sir, are no Ronald Reagan.”
Instead, since Trump likes nothing more than fighting, he tried to defend himself—and looked ridiculous.
His only real response was to refuse to do any more debates. If the other candidates had had half a brain, they would have gone forward with the Fox News debate, treating Trump as if he had pulled out of the race. Instead, they collapsed like a house of cards, and that was the end of the campaign.
And that brings us to the current furor. The GOP has always been strong with the troops. In the last election, it’s said that 2/3 of them voted for Trump. So the charge that a “draft dodger” was ridiculing the military is a “yuge” charge. And the response has been lackluster.
As we’ve seen, Trump has bullied and steamrolled opponents by calling them goofy names and by constantly making up voluminous ridiculous charges against his opponents. For instance, his people planted the story that Hillary was not well. She was, of course, until she wasn’t. Suddenly, she comes down with pneumonia, and many people thought that verified the long-standing false charge.
But the same tactic could be used against Trump: just keep making up stories about him, whether they’re true or not. We’ve seen that recently in questions about Trump’s own health, showing video of his having trouble coming down a plank. Force him to try to defend himself—and that’s the key. As long as he’s on the defensive, he can’t bully or steamroll others.
Let’s hope this doesn’t happen. It would be horrible for our democracy if we allow foreign governments to feed our warring sides false weapons, and we spend all our time hearing lies and counter-lies. But sadly, so far, it has worked.
There’s a relevant old episode of the original Star Trek. An alien brings down members of the Federation and the Klingons to his planet. The alien tells them to fight so that the alien can learn the difference between “good” and “evil.” In the end, of course, Captian Kirk wins, but the alien notes that there was no difference in their fighting tactics. Kirk replies that it was the alien who set up the premise, and both sides had to fight within it.
Michelle Obama has always said, “when they go low, we’ll go high.” Maybe that advice is obsolete.