There’s an enormous amount to unpack in Jeffrey Goldberg’s new report in The Atlantic on retiring Gen. Mark Milley, the outgoing chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, but one anecdote in particular struck me as provocative — and very easy to believe.
Milley had chosen a severely wounded Army captain, Luis Avila, to sing “God Bless America.” Avila, who had completed five combat tours, had lost a leg in an IED attack in Afghanistan, and had suffered two heart attacks, two strokes, and brain damage as a result of his injuries. To Milley, and to four-star generals across the Army, Avila and his wife, Claudia, represented the heroism, sacrifice, and dignity of wounded soldiers.
As the report in The Atlantic, which has not been independently verified by MSNBC or NBC News, went on to explain, it had rained that day, softening the ground. As a result, Avila’s wheelchair nearly toppled, at which point Milley’s wife and then-Vice President Mike Pence rushed to his aid.
Soon after, Trump said to Milley, within earshot of several witnesses, “Why do you bring people like that here? No one wants to see that, the wounded.” The then-president reportedly told the general that he didn’t want Avila to appear in public again.
Goldberg went on to write, “These sorts of moments, which would grow in intensity and velocity, were disturbing to Milley. ... Milley’s family venerated the military, and Trump’s attitude toward the uniformed services seemed superficial, callous, and, at the deepest human level, repugnant.”
If recent history is any guide, the former president will deny the accuracy of this story and come up with new juvenile taunts for the retiring Army general. But Milley’s version of events is nevertheless easy to believe because of everything else we know about Trump.
Indeed, as ugly as the story is, nothing about it is surprising. I’m reminded of this Washington Post report published three years ago this month:
A former senior administration official, who like others spoke on the condition of anonymity to speak candidly, confirmed to The Washington Post that the president frequently made disparaging comments about veterans and soldiers missing in action, referring to them at times as “losers.” In one account, the president told senior advisers that he didn’t understand why the U.S. government placed such value on finding soldiers missing in action because they had performed poorly and gotten caught and deserved what they got, according to a person familiar with the discussion.
The same week, The Atlantic reported that Trump asked his staff in 2018 not to include wounded veterans in military parades, “on grounds that spectators would feel uncomfortable in the presence of amputees.” (The Republican reportedly said, “Nobody wants to see that.”)
We’ve also seen the president insult Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman’s service — putting his military rank in scare quotes, as if Vindman hadn’t earned it — blame military leaders for failed missions he approved, and deride the former commander of the U.S. Special Operations Command for the speed with which the 2011 raid that killed Osama bin Laden was carried out.
Trump has also reportedly lashed out at generals as “a bunch of dopes and babies,” while publicly going on the offensive against his own former defense secretary, retired Gen. James Mattis — whom he accused of acting like a “Democrat” for questioning the White House’s less-defensible national security moves.
In 2020, Trump even downplayed the importance of troops with traumatic brain injuries, which prompted a request for an apology from the Veterans of Foreign Wars — an appeal he ignored.
Keep these details in mind when the former president pushes back against the latest reporting.