Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks at the Family Leadership Summit in Ames, Iowa on July 18, 2015.
Photo by Nati Harnik/AP

POW/MIA Recognition Day is an awkward one for Trump

The White House issued a proclamation this week that, under normal circumstances, would’ve been quite routine. Today is National POW/MIA Recognition Day, and Donald Trump formally honored the day in writing, just as other modern presidents have done. From the statement:

“It is our sacred obligation to pay tribute to the thousands of men and women of our Armed Forces who have been imprisoned while serving in conflicts and who have yet to return to American soil. We reflect on the brave Americans who, while guarding our freedom and our way of life, spent years of their youth imprisoned in distant lands. They paid an enormous price and remained dedicated to our sacred principles, even while under extreme duress. […]

“As Commander in Chief, it is my solemn duty to keep all Americans safe. I will never forget our heroes held prisoner or who have gone missing in action while serving their country.”

What’s wrong with this? At face value, nothing. It’s exactly the kind of proclamation we’d expect to see from any president on National POW/MIA Recognition Day.

But then we’re reminded of the disconnect between the message and the messenger. During the campaign, Donald Trump became one of the few prominent Americans to ever disparage John McCain’s military service, telling an Iowa audience in reference to the Arizona Republican, “He’s not a war hero. He’s a war hero because he was captured. I like people that weren’t captured, okay?”

Given a chance to apologize, Trump refused.

So on the one hand, the president “will never forget our heroes held prisoner,” and on the other hand, we know – because he told us – that Trump doesn’t really think they’re heroes, and he prefers people who “weren’t captured.”

This isn’t the first time Trump has run into this kind of problem. In early April, he issued a proclamation recognizing National Sexual Assault Awareness and Prevention Month, which is inherently problematic given Trump’s record on the issue. He honored World Autism Day, which only brought to mind the ridiculous things Trump has said about autism and vaccines.

As we discussed several months ago, this isn’t a dynamic that will simply go away. If Trump honors those with physical disabilities, we’ll be reminded of his mockery of Serge Kovaleski. If the president recognizes Hispanic Heritage Month, we’ll think of his racist attacks against a Latino judge. If he honors Gold Star parents, we’ll be reminded of his unfortunate remarks about the Khan family.

The president has a weight he’ll drag with him for the remainder of his term: his own record.