For The Generals, A Duty To Speak Up Now

Donald Trump

So far nobody in the United States military, including those retired from service, has expressed great surprise over President Donald Trump's alleged remarks about soldiers who made the ultimate sacrifice. Anger and disgust, yes, but not surprise.

Given his record of disrespect toward those who have worn the uniform, the comments reported in The Atlantic magazine are no longer surprising. Despite his responsibilities as commander in chief, Trump has never spared the armed services or their officers from his narcissistic bile.

Poisonous vanity — and deep insecurity — form the core of Trump's being, which is why he regards soldiers who are captured, tortured, or die in combat as "suckers" and "losers" rather than heroes. He cannot imagine sacrificing anything for others, let alone his country. He fraudulently avoided military service as a son of privilege, and scorns those who either couldn't or didn't do likewise. As for those who stepped forward to volunteer and shed blood in America's defense, he has one question: "What was in it for them?"

Trump's true attitude toward the military — and the amassed power of our arsenal — is the same as that of any petty dictator. He believes that the armed forces exist to glorify and exalt him, not to protect our people and our vital interests and to uphold the Constitution. This telltale tic emerged even before his presidency began. Recall that, for his inauguration, he wanted a display of "tanks and choppers" to "make it look like North Korea." And for his self-aggrandizing Fourth of July travesty on the National Mall, he demanded tanks despite the damage they would do to the capital's streets.

Nor did he care that military officers and troops alike disdained these abuses of power, because they know such authoritarian flummery is an insult to our traditions and values. Their objections were of no concern to a president who believes that he knows more than generals and never hesitates to show his disrespect for them.

Of course, Trump has denied the awful quotes attributed to him in The Atlantic, a publication with a very long history and a solid reputation for accuracy, far more reliable than that of the Trump White House. The damning story by Jeffrey Goldberg is just "fake news," according to him, cooked up to win clicks at his expense.

But those denials lack any force or persuasion after years of Trump's contemptuous behavior toward the military. Millions of Americans watched in horror as he defamed the Gold Star parents of Capt. Humayun Khan, an Army officer killed in Iraq. Millions observed with disgust as he (and his minions) bullied, slurred, and threatened Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman and his brother Yevgeny, an officer of equal rank, whose decades of decorated service left no impression on Trump. Nearly the entire nation recalls with revulsion how he repeatedly disparaged the service of John McCain, even after the senator's death.

So, what we already know about Trump is confirmed again by these new revelations. The question that remains — and that so often arises in this regime — is why the sources of those disclosures insist on remaining anonymous. We don't expect courage or decency from the likes of Sen. Lindsey Graham, a former Air Force Reserve officer who was once McCain's best friend and now smooches the boots of a man he knows to be unfit. But we do expect duty and honor from most Americans who have served.

Why do figures like former Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch speak up, at no small cost to themselves, while the top retired military leaders remain silent? When will those generals, who know that Trump is an existential threat to national security and democratic freedoms, speak their truth?

Their country needs them now.

To find out more about Joe Conason and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at


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