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John Nichols: The scorching cynicism of Donald Trump

John Nichols: The scorching cynicism of Donald Trump

Report: Trump disparaged US war dead as 'losers,' 'suckers' (copy)

President Donald Trump talks with reporters at Andrews Air Force Base after attending a campaign rally in Latrobe, Pa., Thursday, Sept. 3, 2020, at Andrews Air Force Base, Md. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

Donald Trump came to Kenosha last week on a political mission that was widely criticized for exploiting the pain of a community where a 29-year-old Black man, Jacob Blake, was shot seven times in the back by a police officer and where two Black Lives Matter protesters were gunned down by a white vigilante.

The purpose of the president’s mission was to claim the mantle of “law and order” in the 2020 campaign. But Trump has never respected the rule of law, and his reelection bid seems to be focused on nothing so much as fostering a chaos that might cause voters to forget his mismanagement of the coronavirus pandemic and the mass unemployment that extends from it.

It’s appropriate to view politicians cynically, but Trump’s cynicism goes to extremes. That's evident as he claims to "support the troops." A report last week in The Atlantic recalled a 2018 incident where the president refused to visit a military cemetery that was the final resting place for 1,800 U.S. Marines who died during World War I. “In a conversation with senior staff members on the morning of the scheduled visit,” the magazine explained, “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.”

The president, of course, denies the report. But this is the same man who in 2015 said of Sen. John McCain, a former POW, “He’s not a war hero. I like people who weren’t captured.”

Media attention has focused on the “losers” and “suckers” quotes. But I was struck by another section of the article, which reported that “Trump, on that same trip, asked aides, ‘Who were the good guys in this war?’”

That’s a measure of the extent to which Donald Trump grew up in a different America than I did.

I was raised in Union Grove, a village with a population of 970 when I was born. The biggest day on the annual calendar was Memorial Day, when everyone would gather at the high school and then march a mile through town to the cemetery. There, after a short ceremony, the people of Union Grove would gather around the graves and recall the stories of soldiers who had served in every war since the Revolution.

Often the tales were told by the soldiers themselves. Miles Hulett remembered serving in the U.S. Army Veterinary Corps during World War I, no small duty at a time when armies still maintained cavalry divisions. Charles Weiler, who we all knew as the mailman, remembered seeing action with the 5th Armored Division during World War II. During the Battle of the Bulge, he was wounded and then the ambulance in which he was traveling was captured by the German SS and he was briefly held as a Prisoner of War.

As kids, we hung on every word of the story. We didn’t think Charles Weiler was a “loser” or a “sucker.” We thought of him as a heroic fighter against fascism.

John Nichols is associate editor of The Capital Times. jnichols@madison.com and @NicholsUprising. 

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