A Fundamental Disrespect For Our Troops

Despite portraying himself as a champion of America’s Armed Forces, President Trump has consistently disrespected and undermined the U.S. military by using troops as a prop and political tool. His behavior reportedly led the Pentagon in recent days to issue a directive of its own to the White House: stop politicizing the military. 

As we commemorate the solemn sacrifices of our servicemembers on the 75th anniversary of D-Day, we have every reason to be concerned that Trump will continue to prioritize his own political standing over the readiness and welfare of America’s servicemembers.  

In doing so, he will continue to fundamentally disrespect our troops, as he has for years. 

Illustrative Timeline 

July 18, 2015: Early on in his campaign, Trump claims that he “likes people who weren’t captured,” while mocking Senator John McCain’s wartime experience as a POW. The remarks are widely seen as insensitive not to just Senator McCain, but to generations of American servicemembers who have endured capture and imprisonment.

November 13, 2015: At a campaign rally in Iowa, Trump declares that he “knows more about ISIS than the generals do. Believe me." The remarks came in response to questions about his plan to defeat ISIS - which he has not revealed any details of while insisting it is better than what the military would do.

July 29, 2016: Trump calls retired U.S. Marine General John Allen, who prosecuted America’s war against ISIS, “a failed general.”

July 20, 2016: Trump picks a public fight with a Muslim-American Gold Star family whose son died serving in the Iraq War. 

January 29, 2017: Navy SEAL Ryan Owens is killed and three others wounded in Yemen in the first military operation of the Trump administration. Trump casually authorized the raid over dinner with the input of Steve Bannon and Jared Kushner, rather than convene a formal meeting in the Situation Room. Trump then attempted to pass the buck to military commanders, saying “they lost Ryan.” The father of the slain SEAL, also a veteran, described the operation as “a screw-up from the start.”

July 26, 2017: Trump bans transgender Americans from serving in the U.S. military, announcing the decision via Twitter. Trump cited “the tremendous medical costs and disruption that transgender in the military would entail" even though all four service branch chiefs testified before Congress that open service for transgender individuals had not inhibited military readiness or unit cohesion.

October 4, 2017: A group of 50 ISIS-affiliated militants ambushes a group of U.S. special forces, killing four U.S. soldiers. Weeks then pass before Trump calls the families of the fallen. When he does, Trump tells the widow of the lone African American casualty that her husband “knew what he was getting into” when he signed up.

February 6, 2018: After being dazzled by a military parade in France, Trump orders the Pentagon to prepare a military parade in Washington, D.C. The plan drew immediate bipartisan condemnation as wasteful. The head of the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America also warned against the idea, saying: “We are very aware of anything that politicizes the military.” 

March 28, 2018: Trump nominates his personal physician, Rear Admiral Ronny Jackson, to head the Department of Veterans Affairs, one of the country’s largest and most important institutions. Trump did so despite Dr. Jackson’s lack of experience managing a large organization. Dr. Jackson ultimately withdrew his name from consideration in the face of allegations of workplace misconduct. 

July 2018: Reporting emerges detailing how immigrant U.S. Army recruits were suddenly being discharged, often leaving their immigration status in legal limbo. Many had already taken the Army oath and had attended training or were already serving in the Reserves. 

August 8, 2018: A ProPublica report reveals that Ike Perlmutter, the reclusive chairman of Marvel Entertainment, Bruce Moskowitz a Palm Beach doctor who helps wealthy people obtain high-service “concierge” medical care, and lawyer Marc Sherman are directing policy for the Department of Veterans Affairs from Mar-a-Lago.

August 17, 2018: Trump’s plan for a military parade to mark Veteran’s Day is officially scrapped following a cost estimate by the Pentagon.

November - December 2018: In the run-up to the 2018 midterm election, Trump deploys over 5,000 active duty soldiers and Marines to the U.S.-Mexico border in response to a group of unarmed Central American men, women, and children seeking asylum in the United States. Estimates suggest the deployment could cost up to $200 million. 

November 10, 2018: While on a visit to France to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the end of the First World War, Trump skips the very ceremony he had traveled to attend. Scheduled to pay tribute to American sacrifice at the Battle of Belleau Wood, one of our nation’s bloodiest military victories, Trump instead spent the day in his Paris hotel room.

November 12, 2018: Only two days after skipping the ceremony in France, Trump fails to attend the customary Veterans Day presidential visit to Arlington National Cemetery for the second time as President. Trump later claimed he was “extremely busy” and expressed desire for a “do-over.” (The President was tweeting throughout the day.)

November 18, 2018: In an interview with Fox News, Trump criticizes Admiral Bill McRaven, a retired Navy SEAL and the commander of the raid that killed Osama Bin Laden, as a “Hillary Clinton supporter” and suggested that Bin Laden should have been killed “sooner.” The GOP soon after echoed Trump’s attack on the retired Admiral via social media. 

November 20, 2018: On his way to spend Thanksgiving in Mar-A-Lago, Trump says he thinks active duty troops are “proud” to be deployed to the southern border to help with the immigration effort there, even if it means missing Thanksgiving celebrations with their families. “Don’t worry about the Thanksgiving. These are tough people,” Trump says in response to a reporter’s question about the controversial border mission. “They know what they’re doing, and they’re great. And they’ve done a great job.”

November 22, 2018: Trump repeatedly veers off course during and following conversations intended to thank deployed U.S. servicemembers, heaping praise upon himself, railing against trade deals, attacking his 2016 presidential rival, and again siding with Saudi Arabia over CIA analysis.

December 20, 2018: Secretary of Defense Mattis offers his resignation to Trump effective Feb. 28, following Trump’s proposal to immediately withdraw troops from Syria and Afghanistan. Annoyed by the coverage of Mattis’ resignation letter, Trump fired Mattis on New Years Eve.

December 27, 2018: Trump falsely tells servicemembers during his brief visit to Iraq that he had secured for them a 10 percent pay raise, also falsly claiming that they had not received a pay increase in more than 10 years. In fact, servicemembers have received a pay increase of at least 1 percent annually for the last 30 years. 

December 31, 2018: Trump responds to criticism of his decision to withdraw troops from Syria by attacking “failed generals.” He tweeted: “I campaigned on getting out of Syria and other places/ Now when I start getting out the Fake News Media, or some failed Generals who were unable to do the job before I arrived, like to complain about me & my tactics, which are working.” U.S. troops continue to be present in Syria as of June 2019. 

January 1, 2019: After General Stanley McChrystal expressed that he would not join the Trump administration because he believes the president is immoral, Trump tweets: “General” McChrystal got fired like a dog by Obama. Last assignment a total bust. Known for big, dumb mouth. Hillary lover!” 

January 17, 2019: While delivering a speech at the Pentagon, officially to announce the Missile Defense Review, Trump again uses the backdrop of uniformed servicemembers to launch partisan attacks on Democrats. He joked that he received a welcoming reception “because I gave you the greatest and biggest budget in our history.”

March 14, 2019: In an interview with Breitbart, Trump suggests his ‘tough’ supporters, including the military, might become violent in pushed, and could ‘play it tough’ which would be ‘very bad.’ Trump also claimed he has “the support of the military.” 

April 12, 2019: In March, the U.S. Department of Defense announced plans to begin discharging openly transgender service members who came out on or after April 12. Beginning then, the administration starts to forbid capable openly transgender individuals from enlisting.

May 7, 2019: Trump pardons Michael Behanna, who was convicted of unpremeditated murder in a combat zone. Trump later expressed interest in pardoning additional military members accused or convicted of war crimes on Memorial Day before the conclusion of their trials, reportedly without consulting his senior military advisors or major veterans groups. 

May 30, 2019: The White House directs the Navy keep the warship USS John S. McCain “out of sight” during a Trump visit to Yokosuka base in Japan. A tarp was hung over the ship’s name and a barge was moved close to the ship to obscure the name. Sailors from the McCain were not invited to Trump’s speech, the only American warship in the harbor that was not invited to send sailors.

June 2, 2019: The Pentagon, in the aftermath of the USS John S. McCain incident, tells the White House to stop politicizing the military.

June 5, 2019: During an interview on “Good Morning Britain,” Trump explains that he didn’t serve in Vietnam because he “was never a fan of that war.” In the same interview, Trump repeatedly casts the transgender ban as an economic decision, suggesting transgender individuals were signing up for service as a way to have surgical costs covered.

Ned Price