A new report from the Atlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg on Thursday night revealed new and galling details about President Donald Trump’s stunning level of contempt for members of the military — particularly those who have died or been injured in battle.
While there’s plenty of reason to be critical of the military and even those who serve in it, the comments reported in the Atlantic are remarkable and revealing about Trump’s lack of character for several reasons. First, while Trump wraps himself in patriotism and militarism for electoral purposes, it’s a sham; he has little understanding or respect for the military’s values or its people. Second, it shows Trump’s fundamental indecency. The incidents described show little concern or thought for the people and lives involved, including people close to him. And third, the reporting shows Trump has a dark and shallow view of the world, one in which self-interest rules all, and he believes there’s no reason to sacrifice oneself for greater values. It’s a frightening perspective for a political leader to hold.
Here are seven of the most notable details from the report:
1. The real reason Trump decided not to visit the Aisne-Marne American Cemetery during his 2018 trip to France
Trump rejected the idea of the visit 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.
It was widely remarked upon that at the time that Trump’s decision to forego the visit was a display of disrespect.
2. Trump’s dismal view of dying in war
“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.
3. Trump’s reaction to the death of Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) — a Vietnam veteran and former prisoner of war whom the president long hated — was even worse than it appeared
When McCain died, in August 2018, Trump told his senior staff, according to three sources with direct knowledge of this event, “We’re not going to support that loser’s funeral,” and he became furious, according to witnesses, when he saw flags lowered to half-staff. “What the fuck are we doing that for? Guy was a fucking loser,” the president told aides.
4. Trump demeaned the intelligence of people who joined the military who serve under his command
According to eyewitnesses, after a White House briefing given by the then-chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Joe Dunford, Trump turned to aides and said, “That guy is smart. Why did he join the military?”
5. Trump couldn’t even show respect for his own appointee’s son
Trump was meant, on this visit, 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.
6. Trump has greatly exaggerated the extent of his efforts to comfort the families of fallen service members
Trump recently claimed that he has received the bodies of slain service members “many, many” times, but in fact he has traveled to Dover Air Force Base, the transfer point for the remains of fallen service members, only four times since becoming president. In another incident, Trump falsely claimed that he had called “virtually all” of the families of service members who had died during his term, then began rush-shipping condolence letters when families said the president was not telling the truth.
7. Perhaps worst of all, Trump showed contempt and disgust for veterans disabled at war
Trump has been, for the duration of his presidency, fixated on staging military parades, but only of a certain sort. In a 2018 White House planning meeting for such an event, Trump asked his staff not to include wounded veterans, on grounds that spectators would feel uncomfortable in the presence of amputees. “Nobody wants to see that,” he said.
One curious aspect of the report is its timing. Why is this coming out now? It seems that some people in the administration or close to it, perhaps collectively, have decided to reveal deeply shameful details about the president’s character within two months of the election. This strongly suggests that they would like to see him voted out. However, it raises the question: If they do indeed feel so strongly about the president’s unfitness, why won’t they speak out on the record? If not now, when would they?
Conservative writer David French observed that, though the report will likely be dismissed by the president’s defenders, the number of sources Goldberg cited makes the piece hard to dispute:
Not one source. Four sources "with firsthand knowledge" say he said this: https://t.co/ct5RRvprpi
— David French (@DavidAFrench) September 3, 2020
Even more significant, AP reporter James LaPorta provided substantial corroboration:
A senior Defense Department official I just spoke with confirmed this story by @JeffreyGoldberg in its entirety. Especially the grafs about the late Sen. John McCain and former Marine Gen. John Kelly, President @realDonaldTrump former chief of staff. https://t.co/ol2lhBbgv8
— James LaPorta (@JimLaPorta) September 3, 2020
Recent polling found that the president has lost a significant amount of his political support within the ranks of the military. Pieces like this, which stirred swift and fierce outrage, are unlikely to help.