President Donald Trump avoided military service in the Vietnam War, but his generation’s signature conflict has long held a prominent place in his psyche.
The president’s biographers say Trump has taken the American retreat from Vietnam as a personal affront that he shares with many of his core voters who feel the U.S. doesn’t win anymore, and are looking for someone else to blame, reported Politico Magazine.
“Weakness is Trump’s greatest fear,” said Tony Schwartz, who spent hundreds of hours with Trump while writing “The Art of the Deal.” “(Vietnam is) his worst fear writ large — that the enemy, with far less money and resources, would figure out a way to outwit the Goliath.”
Trump got four education deferments, and then a medical deferment in 1968, that allowed him to avoid serving in Vietnam, although he didn’t protest against the war, either, and over the years he’s repeatedly referred to the conflict in symbolic terms.
“It was the feeling of supremacy that this country had in the 1950s,” Trump told graduating students in a 1988 speech at Lehigh University. “It was a feeling of supremacy. It really was. And I had — I didn’t know it well — I was very young at that point — and I didn’t know the feeling of supremacy. I’ve known that since the Vietnam War.”
Trump often spoke about the Vietnam retreat during campaign rallies before the 2016 election, and the message resonated with many voters, especially those around his age who had lived through that era.
“When I was young and went to school,” Trump said in New Hampshire, “I had always heard we never lost, this country, we never lost a war, you know, World War I, World War II, we just didn’t lose wars. And since then, I mean, when you think of it, you look at Vietnam.”
“Prior to Vietnam, we never lost a war, right?” he told a Tennessee rally. “Vietnam was a loss. Nothing else you can call it. And then after that, we now — we don’t even think about winning.”
“Since Vietnam,” he said in Ohio, “we don’t win anymore.”
Trump claims support from Vietnam veterans, even as he derides the military service of the late Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) and Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), who have criticized him.
“Like many of that era, he has been fixated on Vietnam ever since,” said Trump biographer Michael D’Antonio. “Those who didn’t serve carry guilt and resentment over the feelings of guilt. Trump isn’t the type to get over anything let alone this issue.”