I’m the spouse of a vet who served 29 years in the Marine Corps. So when Donald Trump began publicly insulting service members and veterans early on in his presidential campaign, I took notice.
A lot of people are saying that since Jeffrey Goldberg’s recent Atlantic article quotes anonymous sources (Trump: Americans who died in war are “losers” and “suckers,” Sept. 3, 2020), the entire article is “fake news.” I happen to disagree, but let’s pretend for a moment that Goldberg’s extremely credible piece of journalism is unverifiable. (Journalism 101: Just because an article quotes anonymous sources doesn’t mean the journalist doesn’t know who those sources are. In fact, quoting sources who wish to remain anonymous involves an even more exhaustive vetting process than if the sources had allowed themselves to be named.)
So for the sake of argument, let’s consider only the things Trump has said publicly about the military — on the radio, on television, and on his own Twitter feed. Certainly you wouldn’t call the videotape of Trump saying John McCain “isn’t a war hero” because “he was captured” fake news, right? Just roll the tape from the 2015 Family Leadership Summit in Ames, Iowa where Trump appeared when he was a presidential candidate. He also calls John McCain a “loser” earlier in that same tape, and a few days later (July 18, 2015 at 4:45 p.m.), Trump retweeted an article about the event with the headline “Donald Trump: John McCain is ‘A Loser.’” Whether or not you agree with John McCain’s politics, he served in the military 23 years and was a prisoner of war for six of those years. To say he is a “loser” and “not a war hero” shows a heartless disrespect for the thousands of surviving POWs still living among us, as well as the tens of thousands of American service members who remain unaccounted for.
I am the spouse of a veteran who served 29 years in the Marine Corps. So when Donald Trump began publicly insulting service members and veterans early on in his presidential campaign, I took notice. (It’s worth noting I’d been a registered Republican for 34 years until that point.) After Khizr and Ghazala Khan spoke at the Democratic National Convention on July 28, 2016, Trump belittled them in an interview with George Stephanopoulos of ABC News, speculating that Mrs. Khan was not “allowed” to speak. (“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.”) Mr. and Mrs. Khan are Gold Star parents. Their 27-year old son, U.S. Army Capt. Humayun Khan, was killed in Baqubah, Iraq in 2004. In that same interview with Stephanopoulos, Trump likened the Khan’s sacrifice of losing a son in the war to his own experience running a business: “I think I’ve made a lot of sacrifices. I’ve worked very, very hard. I’ve created thousands and thousands of jobs.” These are things Trump said on film. No anonymous sources. Words that undeniably came out of Trump’s mouth. By disrespecting one Gold Star family, he disrespected all Gold Star families, along with the memories of hundreds of thousands of service members who gave all.
In two separate radio interviews with Howard Stern in the 1990s, Trump compared his sexual exploits to serving in Vietnam. In 1993, while discussing the dating scene with Stern, Trump likened his efforts to avoid sexually transmitted diseases to being a soldier: “Dating is like being in Vietnam. You’re the equivalent of a soldier going over to Vietnam.” He did so again in 1997: “It is a dangerous world out there — it’s scary, like Vietnam. Sort of like the Vietnam era. It is my personal Vietnam. I feel like a great and very brave soldier.” Listen to the audio. That is Trump talking. Comparing dating and having sex with serving in Vietnam. Then ask a Vietnam veteran if their time in Vietnam was like dating. Or better yet—ask the mother, father, brother, sister, child, or spouse of someone who died in Vietnam if they would say their loved one’s efforts to avoid getting blown to bits by not stepping on a land mine in the jungles of Vietnam is like trying to avoid getting an STD in the New York City dating scene.
Then there are the lies about Veterans Choice. The Veterans Choice Act, which allows veterans to seek care outside of the VA health system, was written by John McCain and Bernie Sanders and signed into law by President Obama in 2014. By some estimates, Trump has lied about and attempted to take credit for Veterans Choice more than a hundred times. During a rally appearance in June 2019, Trump is filmed saying “They’ve been trying to get that [Veterans Choice] passed for 44 years.” On August 8, 2020 Trump was filmed at his Bedminster, NJ golf club saying, “We passed Choice as you know, Veterans Choice. They’ve been trying to get that passed for decades and decades and decades and no president’s ever been able to do it. And we got it done. So veterans have choice.” At another filmed appearance Trump says, “The vets — the VA was in horrible shape. Now, they have choice. And nobody could get choice. John McCain couldn’t get it. Nobody could get it. They tried for years. They couldn’t get it. I got choice for the vets.” What’s interesting is that Trump could easily — and honestly — claim credit for extending and expanding Veterans Choice when he signed the Mission Act in 2018. But instead he chooses to continue insulting veterans and the people who care for them by blatantly lying about his role in Veterans Choice. Again, these are words Trump has been filmed saying in public, in front of an audience. No anonymous sources. Watch the tapes.
In a tweet dated October 12, 2019 referring to Green Beret Maj. Mathew Golsteyn who was charged with war crimes, Trump described service members as “killing machines”: “We train our boys to be killing machines, then prosecute them when they kill.” This shows a complete lack of understanding of the American military, how it works, and what it stands for. (Trump also ended up pardoning two other convicted war criminals in addition to Golsteyn.) This lack of understanding on the part of the president, the Commander in Chief of our armed forces, further demonstrates a lack of respect for our service members by Trump’s failure to educate himself on something as basic as the Military Code of Conduct. No anonymous source here. The tweet is there for all to see in Trump’s Twitter feed.
There are so many other instances in which Trump has insulted our military on the record, in his own words, whether it be via television, radio, or tweet. That time he accused troops in Iraq of stealing money meant for Iraqis (“I want to know who were the soldiers that had that job, because I think they’re living very well right now, whoever they may be.”) Or that time he called Gen. James Mattis, a beloved Marine Corps general, “the world’s most overrated general.” Or that time he said “I don’t care what the military says” during a Fox News interview about renaming Army bases. Or how about when Trump said he “knows more about ISIS than the generals do.” Or when he described service members suffering from PTSD as “weak” and said “they can’t handle it.”
Go ahead, don’t believe Jeffrey Goldberg’s article in The Atlantic because, as you say, it quotes anonymous sources. But tell me, how do you discredit the audio recordings, the videotapes, the tweets coming directly from Donald Trump? If you didn’t already know before The Atlantic article came out that Trump doesn’t care about our military, you haven’t been paying attention.
Nan McCarthy is the author of the Since You Went Away series, the Chat, Connect, Crash series, and the memoir Live ’Til I Die. A former magazine editor and tech writer, Nan founded Rainwater Press in 1992 and began selling her books online in 1995. She started writing the Since You Went Away series in 2012, after taking a ten-year break from full-time writing to care for the family during her husband’s frequent military travels. Nan and her husband, a veteran who served 29 years in the Marine Corps, are the proud parents of two adult sons.