When The Military Times released new survey results last week showing President Donald Trump’s falling support among service members, it seemed like that would be Trump’s worst military news of the week. Then came Thursday.
Senior administration officials shared with The Atlantic a slew of incendiary and derogatory comments Trump has made in the last three years against U.S. service members, past and present. The comments are, predictably, bad.
The first took place on Memorial Day 2017 in Section 60 of Arlington National Cemetery — where veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan are buried. Trump arrived with then-Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly and others. Kelly’s son Robert, also a Marine, is buried in Section 60. He was killed in Afghanistan in 2010.
While visiting the younger Kelly’s gravesite, Trump reportedly turned to his future chief of staff and said, “I don’t get it. What was in it for them?”
As bizarre and hurtful as that comment presumably was, The Atlantic says Trump saved special vitriol for the late Sen. John McCain. McCain, of course, is widely regarded as an American hero for enduring torture for five years in a North Vietnamese prison. When McCain died in 2018, Trump told his close circle, “We’re not going to support that loser’s funeral.” When he saw flags lowered to half-staff, Trump demanded to know “what the f—k are we doing that for? Guy was a f—-king loser.”
I never agreed with McCain on anything policy-related, but this boggles the mind.
Of course, it didn’t end there.
In 2018, Trump was scheduled to visit the Aisne-Marne American Cemetery near Paris. That was until he reportedly asked senior officials that morning, “Why should I go to that cemetery? It’s filled with losers.”
He apparently made the same remark about former President George H.W. Bush, calling him a “loser” for being shot down by the Japanese in World War II.
When Trump speaks of American military dead, Republicans and Democrats alike, it’s always about “losers.” But that’s not the only word he uses. On the same trip, according to The Atlantic, he referred to the more than 1,800 marines killed at Belleau Wood as “suckers.”
And because there is no bottom, it gets worse.
In 2018, as Trump was planning a military parade at the White House, he asked senior staff not to include wounded veteran amputees because people would feel uncomfortable around them. “Nobody wants to see that,” he reportedly said.
All this invective aimed at the military was confirmed by The Associated Press. The Washington Post also confirmed Trump’s statements, adding an absolute doozy that would end any other presidential administration. Of course Trump and administration officials vehemently dispute the claims.
According to the Post, a former senior administration official said Trump referred to soldiers missing in action, again, as “losers.” The source told the Post that Trump said MIA troops “had performed poorly and gotten caught and deserved what they got.”
Losers, losers, losers, losers, suckers. They “deserved what they got.” If you’re in the military, that’s what Trump thinks of you. These are his words, not mine. If you have a family member in the military — a child, a parent or a sibling — then this is what Trump thinks of them.
Unfortunately, none of this is surprising; the scandalous private comments are only versions of what we’ve all heard him say in public. Trump has disparaged the military time and again, from when he said, “I like people who weren’t captured” to his denigration of the Khan family, whose son was killed in Iraq.
His actions are even worse. He deeply offended the U.S. Army by abandoning our Kurdish allies in Syria and Iraq. He said nothing to Vladimir Putin when it was reported that the Russian government had paid bounties for the deaths of U.S. troops in Afghanistan.
I was standing in Section 60 at Arlington when Trump’s motorcade arrived with Kelly that Memorial Day in 2017. It was my last Memorial Day in Washington before moving back to Texas after eight years. As soon as he stepped out of the limo, my friends and I began walking toward the exit. Unlike most veterans at the time, we knew he would defile the moment and the sacred ground on which we stood. We didn’t want to stick around for it.
Trump still had the support of most of the military on that day. Even earlier last week, he could’ve counted on the 37% of service members who said they were going to vote for him. But most of that has to disappear now. And he has no one but himself, in all his broken sullenness, to blame. The thing about Trump’s disdain for the military is that it goes both ways.
Brandon Friedman is an entrepreneur and former Obama administration official. He served as an infantry officer in the Army’s 101st Airborne Division in Afghanistan and Iraq.