If there’s one thing Donald Trump wants veterans to know, it's that he loves us, he's going to take care of us, and by the way, he's going to rebuild the military so that it's “so big, so strong, so powerful, nobody is going to mess with us.“ Going into South Carolina — a state where something like a quarter of voters in past Republican primaries had served in the armed forces, where there are eight military bases, and where there are tens of thousands of military retirees — it's important for Trump that veterans trust him.
Before vets succumb to Trump's blandishments, though, we need to realize that his promises are as self-interested as those from any other politician— and, if possible, even less genuine. Consider that as recently as 2004, before he felt a need for their votes, Trump was pursuing his own private jihad against veterans in New York City who had the temerity to operate as street vendors on Fifth Avenue — which is to say, in front of Trump Tower.
New York had long offered licenses for veterans to ply this sort of trade. But Trump, as the New York Daily News reported, found the veterans unsightly. “Whether they are veterans or not, they should not be allowed to sell on this most important and prestigious shopping street,“ he wrote to Michael Bloomberg, mayor at the time. “The image of New York City will suffer. . . . I hope you can stop this very deplorable situation before it is too late.“ Fifth Avenue was too important and prestigious a spot — the kind of place a billionaire might live! — for vets to try to earn a (legal and honest) living.
This attempt to clear the veterans off his street was not a one-off affair. In 1991, Trump sent a similar letter to an influential member of the New York State Assembly, asking, “Do we allow Fifth Ave., one of the world's finest and most luxurious shopping districts, to be turned into an outdoor flea market, clogging and seriously downgrading the area?“ So, for well over a decade, Trump's position on lending a helping hand to veterans was that it was fine, so long as it didn't offend his eyes or hurt his bottom line.
What a difference a run for the presidency can make! To Chuck Todd, earlier this campaign season, Trump lamented the condition of all the wounded vets he sees in New York City: “And they're walking all over the streets of New York, all over the streets of every city, without arms, without legs and worse than that. And I would take care of them. They paid a big price.“ How would he take care of them? Famously, by taking ISIS's oil and giving them the proceeds: “It's okay. We're going to circle [Iraq]. We're going to circle. We're going to have so much money, and what I would do with the money that we make, which would be tremendous, I would take care of the soldiers that were killed, the families of the soldiers that were killed, the soldiers, the wounded warriors that are — see, I love them.“
If Trump were serious about wooing veterans, you might think he would have the grace to propose a scheme that might actually come to pass. The notion that Trump could actually send the U.S. military to Iraq to seize the oil there, then give the money to wounded warriors, is about as ridiculous as the notion that Trump's love for veterans is anything other than a convenient and very recent affectation. As John McCormack pointed out on this magazine's website (“For Years, Trump's Charity Gave Veterans Little More Than Peanuts,“ Jan. 27), Trump's ostentatious hosting of a fundraiser for wounded vets in Iowa, in lieu of attending a Fox News debate, elicited surprise from veterans' charities, who had little experience of any support from the man. Indeed, in recent years, Trump gave significantly more money to the Clintons than he ever did to veterans' organizations.
Maybe Trump hopes all of these declarations of love and all of these promises of money will make veterans forget or forgive the fact that, rather than serve in Vietnam, he did everything a young rich kid could to get out of the obligation. First, he sought four separate education deferments. The Washington Post reported that during his second year of college, Trump had an armed forces physical that found him fit for duty — and another shortly after graduation in 1968 that arrived at the same conclusion. But then, in September of that year, a new physical found that he had developed “bone spurs“ in one or both of his feet. At one point Trump told reporters he couldn't remember which foot it was. Later he said it was both feet.
Trump has also claimed the reason he wasn't drafted is because of a high lottery number assigned in 1969 to those with his birthday. While it's true that those born on the same day as Trump did indeed get assigned a high number in 1969, it appears that Trump's medical deferment would have gotten him out of serving anyway. Trump has said he feels “a little guilty“ about the fact that he didn't serve — but he also told Michael D'Antonio, a recent biographer, that because his wealthy father had sent him to a private military school growing up, “I felt that I was in the military in the true sense because I dealt with those people.“
My impression is that most people who have served “in the true sense“ would hesitate before they mocked a political opponent because he became a prisoner of war. “He's not a war hero,“ Trump said last year of John McCain, who could have been exchanged early because his father was an admiral, but who refused, suffering years of captivity and torture for his principled stand. McCain's refusal to make a deal with his captors must be incomprehensible to a deal-maker like Trump. “He's a war hero because he was captured,“ Trump said. “I like people who weren't captured.“ Someone who has served “in the true sense“ would not have said of up-armored Humvees captured by ISIS: “Armor plated, top, bottom, all over, if a bomb goes off our wounded warriors — instead of losing their legs, their arms, worse, they're okay. They go for a little ride upward and they come down.“ Several thousand American troops have been killed by IEDs since 2001. Quite a few were in up-armored Humvees when they died.
As Trump directs all of this flattery, all of this love, all of these vague promises of money for veterans in South Carolina, those who have actually been in the military should keep in mind that Trump's real concern, now as always, is what's in it for him.
Source: via The Weekly Standard; Aaron MacLean, a former Marine Corps infantry officer, is managing editor of the Washington Free Beacon.