U.S. Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump walks past the guns of the USS Iowa after speaking on the battleship in San Pedro, Los Angeles, Calif., United States Sept. 15, 2015. 
Photo by Lucy Nicholson/Reuters

Trump’s respect for military valor is, at best, haphazard


Donald Trump announced via tweet on Friday that retired Gen. John Kelly, who’s served for months as head of the Department of Homeland Security, will be taking over as the new White House chief of staff. A Washington Post report noted in passing that the staffing move reflects the president’s appreciation for decorated military service.

Throughout his life, Trump has venerated military valor, and he recruited several generals into his administration, including Kelly.

I wish this were true, but the evidence to the contrary is overwhelming.

On the surface, Trump tends to honor military service the way a child might: he seems to think it’s cool to be around those who served. The more impressive the service record, and the higher the military rank, the more Trump wants to be associated with the bravery others have shown.

But below the surface, the picture turns darker. Far from venerating military valor, Trump is on record mocking prisoners of war, saying he likes those “who weren’t captured.”

Trump, who avoided military service during the Vietnam War, also said he “felt” like he’d served in the military because his parents sent him to a military-themed boarding school as a teenager. The Republican went so far as to boast that his expensive prep school gave him “more training militarily than a lot of the guys that go into the military.”

Trump was caught lying about his financial support for veterans’ charities. He’s claimed more than once that he understands counter-terrorism better than American generals. He’s one of the few politicians in modern American life to publicly mock a Gold Star family.

To be sure, the president occasionally likes to pretend to have some kinship with those who wear the uniform – except for transgender troops, whom he said via Twitter are no longer welcome in the military, despite their honorable service – but the posturing is ultimately hollow. Trump likes to use words like “tough” and “fight” as applause lines in speeches, without any deeper sense of their meaning or importance.

To believe he’s “venerated military valor” throughout his life is to buy into a cheap p.r. campaign.

Update: Almost exactly a year ago, a Trump supporter gave the then-candidate his Purple Heart. “I always wanted to get the Purple Heart,” Trump said at the time. “This was much easier.”