Wednesday, September 9, 2020

America in decline - The Cost of Contempt for Competence, Part 1

“Trump reminds one of someone trying to fake fluency in a foreign language. Over and over, he makes glaring errors because he has no idea what he is talking about.

But he says those things anyway. There’s a lot of projection (and other ego defense mechanisms) at play here as Trump trashes the military in general and especially Pentagon leaders.

Three essays constitute Part 1 of this feature. Jennifer Rubin leads off with a summary of Trump’s disrespect for the military, his counter-charges not withstanding. Then Steve Benen has essays picking apart Trump’s defenses and counter-charges.

Maligning the military

Trump keeps insulting the military reports Jennifer Rubin of the Washington Post.

President Trump is fighting a losing battle against reports of his talk about the military, which he claims to revere but deeply resents. Multiple news organizations, including The Post, have confirmed private comments he made disparaging those who served as “suckers” and “losers.” These and his previous remarks — disrespecting POWs and allegedly telling the wife of a slain serviceman that her husband Sgt. La David T. Johnson “knew what he signed up for” — are consistent with the narcissist’s felt need to maintain an unduly high opinion of himself by diminishing others who have plainly surpassed him in courage and competence. Trump ducked military service; the valiant men and women who went in his place therefore must be denigrated, pitied and scorned. How foolish they went to war for me!

Trump can deny his animosity until the cows come home but he remains unable to articulate real respect for those who have served. Recall the scene in “A Very Stable Genius,” by Post reporters Philip Rucker and Carol Leonnig, in which Trump called the service chiefs “a bunch of dopes and babies” and barked, “You’re all losers. You don’t know how to win anymore.” Trump did it all over again at a Monday news conference.

He insisted (contrary to polling) that the rank and file troops are in love with him. However, he declared, “The top people in the Pentagon probably aren’t because they want to do nothing but fight wars so that all of those wonderful companies — that make the bombs, and make the planes, and make everything else — stay happy. But we’re getting out of the endless wars.”

In other words, they are bloodthirsty warmongers. The notion that generals want wars reveals his utter lack of understanding of the sacred responsibility commanders have for the troops and the sacrifices their own families have endured. Only a man shamed for having avoided war could imagine that those who serve are bloodthirsty savages.

He simply cannot help himself. His niece, Mary L. Trump, reminds us that in the peculiar Trump family, military service was scorned and not celebrated. “Growing up in a mansion in Jamaica Estates in Queens, Trump heard the family criticize those who joined the military instead of going into business. Trump and his father, Fred Trump Sr., were especially harsh in criticizing the decision by Donald’s older brother, Fred Jr., to join the U.S. Air National Guard‚” my colleague Michael Kranish reported, quoting Mary Trump. “My father was frequently ridiculed for his career choices and disparaged for serving our country by both his father and by his brother Donald," Mary Trump said.

Trump not only resents those who serve but also is at a loss to understand concepts like honor, discipline, sacrifice and loyalty. He thinks pardoning war criminals will make him popular with men and women in uniform who have sworn to uphold the Constitution and live by the military code of conduct. (Likewise, he thinks it will impress decent and law-abiding police officers when he says they should not "be too nice” putting suspects in patrol cars.) Likewise, he once thought his cheering for war crimes — bombing the wives and family members of terrorists — would be impressive, until soon-to-be secretary of defense James Mattis set him straight.

Trump reminds one of someone trying to fake fluency in a foreign language. Over and over, he makes glaring errors because he has no idea what he is talking about.

At this point, only the most committed cult members believe Trump’s denials. The rest of us can see and hear for him for ourselves. Trump’s enormous ego and his shameful conduct when asked to serve mean he can never accord our military men and women — at whatever rank — the respect they deserve.

Trump’s charges military leaders as corrupt warmongers, asserts soldiers’ love for him

Trump targets Pentagon leaders with ironic criticisms reports Steve Benen. _To hear Trump tell it, Pentagon leaders are corrupt war mongers, principally concerned with arms manufacturers’ financial interests. That’s … curious.

Donald Trump was already in the midst of an ugly controversy in which he’s been accused of denigrating military service. It was against this backdrop that the president held a Labor Day press conference in which he accused his own country’s military leaders of being beholden to defense contractors.

“I’m not saying the military is in love with me; the soldiers are. The top people in the Pentagon probably aren’t because they want to do nothing but fight wars so that all of those wonderful companies that make the bombs and make the planes and make everything else stay happy. But we’re getting out of the endless wars.”

In American history, there are plenty of examples of presidents disagreeing with the brass on matters large and small, but I’m not aware of any previous instance in which a sitting president effectively told the public that Pentagon leaders are corrupt war mongers, principally concerned with the financial interests of arms manufacturers.

But as strange as it was to see Trump malign the U.S. military during a press conference in which he insisted he doesn’t malign the U.S. military, that wasn’t the only problem. The president’s unscripted comments generated three key questions:

(1) “The soldiers” are “in love with” Trump? According to the latest Military Times poll, they’re really not.

(2) Is Trump standing up to the Military Industrial Complex? It was amusing to see the president make the case that he’s unpopular among Pentagon leaders because he stands up to defense contractors, since the truth is the exact opposite. Trump did, after all, name a Raytheon lobbyist as his current Defense secretary, and arms manufacturers have had extensive access to power players in the Republican administration.

For that matter, Trump has spent much of his term bragging to anyone who’ll listen about how much money he’s thrown at the Pentagon, celebrating “the bombs and the planes and everything else.”

MSNBC’s Chris Hayes added, “It drives me nuts to watch Trump attempt to position himself as some kind of anti-war president when he has expanded U.S. bombing and civilian casualties in basically every theatre of combat.”

(3) Is Trump getting the United States “out of the endless wars”? A Washington Post fact-check piece recently explained, “While there have been some relatively minor shifts in distribution – and since 2017, the Defense Department no longer includes troops in Afghanistan, Syria and Iraq in its unclassified, published tallies – the overall total of those serving abroad is believed to have slightly increased since Barack Obama left office.”

Taken together, Trump’s incoherent boasts are only impressive to those who haven’t paid close enough attention to the details.

Five ways Trump’s offense is wrong

In another critique, Steve Benen shreds Trump’s defense:Accused of denigrating military service, Trump’s response falls short. Accused of denigrating military service and fallen heroes, Trump’s response has had five key elements. Each of them is ridiculous.

It’s been five days since The Atlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg published a staggering report on Donald Trump, his denigration of those who serve in the military, and his condemnation of fallen American heroes as “suckers” and “losers.”

As the Washington Post’s David Ignatius wrote, the resulting firestorm has exploded the “bad marriage” between the Republican president and American military leaders.

The quotes were anonymous, but it has been an open secret in Washington that many prominent retired four-stars have regarded Trump with growing horror as he assaulted the traditions of discipline and professionalism that are bedrocks of military life…. The military understand their role in a democracy. They have obeyed Trump as their commander in chief, even amid his tirades and insults. And they will continue to do so if he’s reelected. But many of them won’t like it: Trump just isn’t a guy with whom you’d want to share a foxhole.

Part of what makes the political impact of the controversy so potent is the degree to which it fits into what’s already been well documented. Trump has spent much of his term belittling American troops and mocking the military leaders of his own country. Complicating matters, the Republican’s willingness to disparage military service predates his political career.

For his part, the president hasn’t just furiously denied the accuracy of the reporting, he’s also begun an offensive that includes several key – but badly flawed – components.

(1) Pretend the reporting is fiction. Trump has said the reporting is “made up” and a “fake story.” That’s extremely unlikely: not only is Goldberg’s reporting reliable, and not only does the reporting comport with what we know, but much of The Atlantic piece has been corroborated by the Associated Press, the Washington Post, the New York Times, and even Fox News. Are we to believe five major news organizations manufactured a fictional tale as part of an elaborate conspiracy? It’s a tough sell.

(2) Attack freedom of the press. Trump told reporters on Friday, “It’s a disgrace that somebody is allowed to write things like that.” Of course, in the United States, at least for now, journalists are “allowed” to publish reports the president doesn’t like.

Similarly, on Twitter, the president called for Fox News to fire its Pentagon correspondent. This brazen example of “cancel culture” is extraordinary: American presidents don’t generally call for the ouster of journalists whose reporting upsets the White House.

(3) Target suspected sources. Trump doesn’t know who served as the sources for last week’s reporting, but he clearly suspects former White House Chief of Staff John Kelly. The president told reporters late last week that Kelly, a retired four-star general, “didn’t do a good job,” “had no temperament,” “wasn’t even able to function,” “and ”was unable to handle the pressure of this job."

Of course, even if each of these attacks were true – and there’s ample reason for skepticism – it doesn’t mean that Kelly, if he did serve as a source for journalists, was wrong about what he heard Trump say behind the scenes about veterans and military service.

(4) Target perceived media foes. It was bizarre to see a sitting American president deliberately encourage allies to harass a private citizen, but on Sunday, Trump called on his followers to go after Laurene Powell Jobs, a co-owner of The Atlantic, because the magazine published a report he didn’t like. “Call her, write her, let her know how you feel!!!” the Republican wrote on Twitter.

If he weren’t ostensibly the Leader of the Free World, isn’t this the sort of misconduct that would get someone suspended from the social-media site?

(5) Assert that the reporting simply could not be true. Reflecting on the quotes attributed to him, Trump said at a Labor Day press conference, “Who would say a thing like that? Only an animal would say things like that.” In other words, the public is supposed to believe the president is simply too good a person to disparage those who wear the uniform, despite his years of public disparagements against those who wear the uniform.

The quote reminded me of Trump’s presidential campaign, when he denied mocking Serge Kovaleski’s physical disability. “I would definitely not say anything about his appearance,” Trump said shortly after publicly deriding arthrogryposis.

In effect, Trump was saying then, as he’s saying now, that even he wouldn’t stoop to something so low. The trouble, however, is that Trump really did ridicule Kovaleski’s disability, and given the weight of the evidence, it’s painfully easy to believe he disparaged American heroes who served in the military.

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