Trump's unique skills: cheapening the invaluable; discrediting the exceptional
We honor the fallen on Memorial Day. On Veteran's Day we pay tribute to those still serving . We recognize them on the Fourth of July and in every parade, military or otherwise. In airports, in stores, on city streets, we acknowledge their service sometimes in deed and always in words. And among all occupations, they are among the most trusted and laudable.
I'm talking about the U. S. military—before Monday June 1, 2020. That's the day the President of the United States, in yet another crisis of his own making for which he was consummately unprepared, gave this honored group orders to gather its "persuasion and intimidation" devices—rubber bullets and flash bang grenades—and break up a peaceful demonstration in the nation's capital. Not to put too fine a point on this, but in terms of us vs. them (which is the only way Trump envisions the world), soldiers were being called out to fight...well...us.
We all know that the reason for the confrontation was that Trump, having holed up in a bunker last weekend, wanted to establish his masculinity again—the way he did when he used his father to get him out of serving in the military, or when he initiated an argument with the wife of a slain soldier, or when he bragged to people about walking into beauty pageant dressing rooms to gawk at the women in various stages of dishabille—you know, that kind of masculinity that plays so well with other "real men."
It didn't work. In fact, though it often seems impossible that Donald Trump can look any more foolish on one day than he did on the previous, he outdid himself in front of that D.C. church, holding a Bible—as Gail Collins wrote in today's N.Y. Times— as if "he had never touched a Bible before in his life. True cynics felt that it looked as if he had never touched a book, period."
And the cost of the president's narcissism and cowardice? The reputation of U.S. military who, and I hate to harp on this, are us.
I'm not naïve. There have been atrocities in war and American soldiers have sometimes been held responsible, but the iconic image of a soldier fighting to defend his country remains ingrained in all of us, especially those of a certain age for which World War II was recent history and stories of bravery were ubiquitous. But unless the governor of a besieged state formally makes a request, fighting Americans on American soil is not now and never has been the role of the U. S. military. And though the president is the Commander-in-Chief and does by definition have the right to call out that selfsame military, he retains that option only to forestall an invasion by a foreign power, not to roust people expressing their right to free speech and assembly in, of all places, the nation's capital.
The title of former Republican strategist Rick Wilson's book, Everything Trump Touches Dies, has been well earned. And now the president has set his sights on the military, hoping to convince them to join his battle against civilians. Retired United States Marine Corps general Jim Mattis probably slowed him a down a bit with his blistering attack in the Atlantic, defending our soldiers against ignorant leadership and labeling the president a threat to the Constitution. Yet it appears that the soldiers will remain stationed in our capital—more busloads have arrived.
One of the tragedies of the American Civil War was the fact that brother often fought against brother. It's happening again on the streets of our capital, but Trump—unlike Lincoln—will not view it as a tragedy. To him it's just business as usual.