During the runup to the government shutdown a couple of months ago, Donald Trump tweeted almost obsessively about the military, attacking Democrats’ patriotism by arguing that failing to endorse the Republican proposal would hurt U.S. troops. He didn't really understand what he was saying, though that apparently didn't matter.
All of this came to mind on Friday when the president, just hours after threatening to veto a federal spending bill, explained why he signed it anyway.
"In this case, [the omnibus spending package] became so big because we need to take care of our military, and because the Democrats, who don't believe in that, added things that they wanted in order to get their votes."
So, as Trump sees it, Democrats don't believe in providing for the military, but they do support unspecified domestic priorities. Republicans therefore had no choice, the argument goes, but to load the omnibus package with wasteful spending -- on what, the president didn't specify -- in order to secure funding for the troops and the nation's national security needs.
In reality, of course, the idea that Democratic officials -- including more than a few veterans -- "don't believe" in supporting the military is the kind of slander that's become so common, Trump's comments on Friday practically went unnoticed. We didn't see Dems on Capitol Hill respond angrily because rhetoric like this is effectively background noise. We hear it all the time from this White House, as if the attacks were somehow legitimate.
And that's a shame because the public deserves a better and more honorable discourse.
The irony of Trump's slander is that no modern president stands on weaker footing when it comes to military credibility. After all, as we discussed several weeks ago, this is a president who’s clashed publicly with Gold Star families and exploited military widows to advance petty political points.
Trump likes servicemen and women “who weren’t captured.” Trump likes to brag about money he promised to give to veterans’ charities, without the necessary follow-through. Trump likes to belittle U.S. generals.
Trump, who avoided military service during the Vietnam War, also liked to say 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.”
And as we learned on Friday night, when the White House probably hoped the public wouldn't notice, Trump wants to ban transgender Americans from serving in the military, solving a problem that doesn't exist.
How exactly did Trump arrive at the idea that he has credibility attacking others for failing to support the men and women in uniform?