Labor Day is the traditional start of the presidential election campaign and things are going from bad to worse.
On Friday, The Atlantic published an article by Jeffrey Goldberg detailing the reasons Trump didn’t visit the Aisne-Marne cemetery outside Paris in 2018 where 1,800 marines who died in the battle of Belleau Wood during WW1 lie buried. That battle, one which every new marine learns about, stopped the German advance towards Paris. It was the largest number of marines killed in a single battle in their storied history.
Goldberg writes, “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. In a conversation with senior staff members on the morning of the scheduled visit, Trump said, ‘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. … Trump, on that same trip, asked aides, ‘Who were the good guys in this war?’ He also said that he didn’t understand why the United States would intervene on the side of the Allies.”
To no one’s surprise, Trump said it was Fake News, thereby assuring us that it was all true. Not a single active or retired military officer who witnessed these events, including retired General John Kelly, Trump’s Chief of Staff at the time, has said a word. Lots of retired military officers have denounced Trump’s remarks. I might be naïve, but I don’t think any of them were completely shocked by what he said; it may not be what they expect of a president, by the Commander-in-Chief, but it may be what they’ve come to expect from this president.
Personally, I was both shocked and saddened yet hardly surprised. It’s what I’ve come to expect from our president as well. I thought back to my registering for the draft back in 1958. I was a student at the University of Maryland where one of the prerequisites was joining the ROTC for two years. I was a terrible ROTC member. I refused to get a haircut. I wouldn’t spit polish my shoes. I didn’t bother showing up for most obligatory formations on the drill field. I objected to so many things in the academic ROTC lectures that they sent me off to discuss my various opinions with the school chaplain. Father X and I had a fine time talking to each other and it allowed me to avoid the classes altogether.
Whatever my objections to ROTC, on a gray and drizzly fall afternoon after my 18th birthday, I took the bus from College Park to Baltimore to register for the draft. Oddly enough, I went willingly. I thought that much as I didn’t ever want to join the army, much less go through basic training, much less actually fight in a war, I would do so because I thought that there were consequences to being a citizen of this country. If one of them was to serve in the army when the country and its elected representatives decided I was needed, then I would do so. With all the rights that I was guaranteed by the Constitution, there were also obligations, and this was one of them. Just as voting is another. In later years, when the draft was activated for Vietnam, much as I was opposed to the war, I would have gone if drafted. Fortunately, I wasn’t and so I didn’t. I guess by Trump’s reckoning, I was a sucker but managed to avoid being a loser by the luck of the draw. As for Trump himself, when it came time for him to make the decision, he decided not to be a sucker or a loser and grew bone spurs. I’m sure he would have said that he did the smart thing.
The other extraordinary event of the weekend was Trump’s decision to eliminate all racial sensitivity training in the federal government. The OMB memo states, “The President has directed me to ensure that federal agencies cease and desist from using taxpayer dollars to fund these divisive, un-American propaganda training sessions.”
Do I really need to unpack this statement for you? Well, I will anyway. If racial sensitivity is un-American, then racial insensitivity is American and, therefore …? You can rest comfortably in the warmth and safety of your bigotry? Do you still think Trump isn’t a racist or, at the very least gives license for racism to thrive in America? Are you saying to yourself, “At last” or, “How have we gone so wrong?”
Had enough? Not so fast. After all, we live in Donald Trump’s America.
Last week Trump also decided to praise and encourage the presence of right-wing militia and other armed groups in Kenosha. Although last year the FBI said that right-wing extremists and White nationalist groups constituted a significant domestic terrorist threat (ANTIFA, not so much), and DHS promised to issue a plan to local governments advising how to address the problem, no such plan was ever issued. Elizabeth Neumann, a life-long Republican who resigned as Assistant Secretary of Counterterrorism and Threat Prevention because of the refusal to release a plan, said in interviews last week that the White House was seeking to suppress the phrase “domestic terrorism” and refuses to criticize “the White supremacist global threat.” She also said that Trump was pouring fuel on the fire.
Will we see these groups in the streets if he loses the election? Some Trump supporters have said that Trump can only lose by fraud and that they are armed and prepared to do battle if he doesn’t win.
Trump talked of secretive bad men in black suits flying hither and yon to foment violence. Or maybe they’re filling out phony ballots. But he can’t or won’t tell us who these people are, and Barr isn’t prosecuting anyone, but he wants to know they’re around, just in case.
Trump also seemed to encourage his supporters to vote twice, thereby committing the voter fraud he claims is rampant before he pulled back on the statement saying he only wants them to check and see if the mail-in ballot they’ve filed has actually been counted. One way to commit voter fraud, I suppose, is to commit it and then say, “See? Voter fraud!”
And Trump talked of defunding “anarchist jurisdictions,” like NY and Washington, D.C, which sounds silly to most anyone who lives there but also sounds ominous.
If that weren’t enough, there were also rumblings last week about invoking the Insurrection Act of 1807, which would give the president the authority in deploy US military and National Guard forces in the streets of cities. Here’s a question: If the president decided to declare martial law, would his Republican allies in the Senate object?
What have I left out? Oh, yes. Scores of former Republican officeholders and national security professionals who served in administrations of both parties declared they would vote for Biden.
And we found out that the counter-intelligence investigation of Trump that we thought was being conducted either by Muller, the FBI or the Justice Dept, was never carried out on orders of Rob Rosenstein, the one-time Deputy Attorney General who we at one time credited with “saving” the Muller investigation, never knowing that all the while he was doing the opposite.
Anything else? No matter. We are just entering the homestretch run of the election. Mail-in voting has already begun in some places. What we know is that things are sure to get worse in the next few weeks. After four years of living with Trump, knowing how far down he is in the polls, you also know what thugs and bullies, people without a moral or ethical sense, do when you get them into a corner. They either lash out at everyone and everything, willing to bring the whole world—our world—down around them, or they unexpectedly curl up into a ball and slink away.
Stay tuned. It’s going to be a bumpy ride.
Michael Saltz is an award-winning, long-time, now-retired Senior Producer for what is now called “PBS NewsHour.” He is a resident of Hillsdale.