Friday, September 4, 2020

Quiet Part Out Loud

Veterans For Trump, not merely Astroturf but an open dependency of

Before it falls entirely into the hands of the righteous harrumphers, I want to make sure to post my own reaction to Jeffrey Goldberg's remarkable report in The Atlantic of Donald Trump's actual views, as opposed to pious gestures, on people who do military service:  

Trump rejected the idea of the visit [to the Aisne-Marne American cemetery in 2018] because he feared his hair would become disheveled in the rain, and because he did not believe it important to honor American war dead, according to four people with firsthand knowledge of the discussion that day. In a conversation with senior staff members on the morning of the scheduled visit, Trump said, “Why should I go to that cemetery? It’s filled with losers.” In a separate conversation on the same trip, Trump referred to the more than 1,800 marines who lost their lives at Belleau Wood as “suckers” for getting killed.

Which shouldn't be a surprise to anybody that remembers his spiteful remarks on John McCain's generally agreed heroism as a POW in the Hanoi Hilton ("I like people who didn't get captured") or one of the few cases of actual sarcasm in his repertoire, his boast back in the day that avoiding STDs was his own personal Vietnam. For that matter, his hair anxiety was pretty widely reported at the time and the subject of some memorable tweets

and the joyously prophetic

But his contempt for military service has family roots, for one thing. Friedrich Trump fled German conscription in 1885 not because he wasn't brave—it certainly took courage to run a whorehouse in the Klondike in the 1890s—but because he didn't want to take the time. It was Fred Trump who arranged for a podiatrist tenant in one of his Queens buildings to diagnose young Donald with imaginary bone spurs for his fifth draft deferment:

Elysa Braunstein said their father made the diagnosis to gain access to the landlord and that she didn't know if her father even examined the junior Trump.  

"I know it was a favor," Elysa Braunstein said. 

"What he got was access to Fred Trump," she told the Times. "If there was anything wrong in the building, my dad would call and Trump would take care of it immediately. That was the small favor that he got."

And Rachel Maddow reports it as a recurring theme in Fred's parenting and Donald's as well to seriously threaten to disinherit any kid with the nerve to join the military.

But the crudity of it in Donald's mouth, and his clear inability to understand what the pieties of respect for "our troops" are about, is just astonishing:

A first lieutenant in the Marine Corps, Robert Kelly was killed in 2010 in Afghanistan. He was 29. Trump was meant, on this visit [to Arlington in 2017], to join John Kelly in paying respects at his son’s grave, and to comfort the families of other fallen service members. But according to sources with knowledge of this visit, Trump, while standing by Robert Kelly’s grave, turned directly to his father and said, “I don’t get it. What was in it for them?” Kelly (who declined to comment for this story) initially believed, people close to him said, that Trump was making a ham-handed reference to the selflessness of America’s all-volunteer force. But later he came to realize that Trump simply does not understand non-transactional life choices.

“He can’t fathom the idea of doing something for someone other than himself,” one of Kelly’s friends, a retired four-star general, told me. “He just thinks that anyone who does anything when there’s no direct personal gain to be had is a sucker. There’s no money in serving the nation.” Kelly’s friend went on to say, “Trump can’t imagine anyone else’s pain. That’s why he would say this to the father of a fallen marine on Memorial Day in the cemetery where he’s buried.”

You see there, it's not just that he's cruel and contemptuous, though he is those: it's the psychopathy. He's honestly baffled by any kind of altruism (when he manages to articulate a concept of "supporting the troops" as president, it's always in the purely transactional terms of how he's literally bought them, getting them federal money, though he's also generally lying about that too). His contempt comes from that incomprehension.

What I really want to forestall is the inevitable but stupid conclusion that this proves Trump isn't a "conservative", because as everybody knows right favors the military and the left opposes it. To begin with, that's smushing the difference between the institution, an object of authoritarian veneration at all times, and the individual soldiers, sailors, marines and airpersons, and spacefolk if any of those exist yet, of whom the Duke of Wellington said, on more than one occasion, that they were the "scum of the earth" except as constrained by their upper-crust officers, who get all the credit.

The [French revolutionary] conscription calls out a share of every class—no matter whether your son or my son—all must march ; but our [enlisted British] friends—I may say it in this room—are the very scum of the earth. People talk of their enlisting from their fine military feeling—all stuff—no such thing. Some of our men enlist from having got bastard children—some for minor offences—many more for drink; but you can hardly conceive such a set brought together, and it really is wonderful that we should have made them the fine fellows they are. I have never known officers raised from the ranks turn out well, nor the system answer; they cannot stand drink. (My bold)

Judge them not on their Veterans' Day pieties but by what they do for enlistees, and that means not just money (where the Trump administration has sometimes been forthcoming, though never honest) but cautious and respectful use of the troops, not endangering them without some broader goal than political profit. It's a conservative habit to exploit the military to make themselves look awesome and tough, from Nixon's prolongation of the Vietnam War for years after he'd lost it through Reagan's vanity wars in Panama and Grenada to the catastrophe of Iraq (you can disagree all you want with some of Obama's military actions in Libya or Afghanistan or Yemen, in contrast, but you can't deny the efforts made to keep US troops out of harm's way, especially with the expanded use of drones). 

The excesses and missteps of the Trump administration, from that first ghastly mission in Yemen, nine days after the inauguration, to his use of them as stage props, to the West Point commencement ceremony in the middle of a pandemic, when at least 15 cadets got infected with Covid, and even the Republican convention (sadly, Democrats weren't perfectly free of that, but it looks like the fault of the American Samoa delegation, not the DNC) just exemplify the Reagan style; as does his mysterious belief that he's withdrawn them from Afghanistan and Syria (site of last week's cockup with Russian troops, about which Trump has characteristically said not a word) even as he's expanded the US troop presence in these place. Trump's attempts to bring federal troops into quelling demonstrations with the pretext of protecting federal property are in direct emulation of Nixon's Operation Garden Plot for May Day 1971—

Over the weekend, while protesters listened to music, planned their actions or slept, 10,000 federal troops were moved to various locations in the Washington, D.C. area. At one point, so many soldiers and Marines were being moved into the area from bases along the East Coast that troop transports were landing at the rate of one every three minutes at Andrews Air Force Base in suburban Maryland, about 15 miles east of the White House. Among these troops were 4,000 paratroopers from the U.S. 82nd Airborne Division. Troops from the Marine Barracks lined both sides of the 14th St bridge. These troops were to back up the 5,100 officers of the D.C. Metropolitan Police, 2,000 members of the D.C. National Guard and federal agents that were already in place.[7] Every monument, park and traffic circle in the nation's capital had troops protecting its perimeters. Paratroopers and Marines deployed via helicopter to the grounds of the Washington Monument.

—guarding intersections and bridges while the police gassed protestors and took 7000 prisoners. And of course while no neoconservative, Trump shares with George B. Bush and Richard Cheney (and Paul Wolfowitz and Scooter Libby and I don't know how many others) the distinction of having avoided military service not out of any moral or political convictions, but just because he had what Cheney called "other priorities", and, like Bush, an influential father.

What I'm trying to say is, contempt for the troops is as conservative as Skull and Bones. The difference is that Trump's personality disorder makes him unable to conceal it. Another case of saying the quiet parts out loud.

So when the NeverTrumpers come out clutching their pearls over this latest evidence of Trump perfidy (Dr. William Kristol, another expediency draft dodger from the Vietnam era and architect of the Iraq War, is having a wild time on the Twitter), just remember they aren't allies, neither of the troops nor of anybody who values peace.

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