Our Troops are Not Campaign Props

Much ink has been spilled about Mr. Trump’s decision to skip tomorrow night’s Fox News debate, and so I won’t focus on his decision much here. I will, however, focus on what he has decided to do instead of attend the debate. His official release says that he will attend an event to “raise money for Veterans and Wounded Warriors.”

I already see several young troops posting and liking this event on my Facebook feed; they are mostly former students of mine when I taught middle school and high school Latin prior to being accessed from the Air Force Reserves onto active duty. I applaud their service; I worry, however, that they don’t realize they’re being used as props for Mr. Trump’s campaign.

Certainly other candidates have showed their support for military veterans, but I believe it’s telling how we find out about their support. We hear of former President George W Bush’s support for our veterans from similar sources, and because he takes such an active interest in their lives. There are endless pictures of George W Bush running with wounded veterans, sitting at their hospital bedsides, and eating with them down range on surprise visits. He continues to invest his time and energy in caring for our troops long after he has left office and has no political incentive whatsoever to do so. His continued actions suggest to me that the love he demonstrates for our men and women in uniform is sincere and not for personal gain. We hear of former Texas Gov. Rick Perry’s support for our veterans from their families and from the veterans themselves. He has taken them in and invested large amounts of his own time when there has been no discernible benefit for him to do so.

What has Mr. Trump done? He has suggested his military boarding school experience was comparable to actual military service. I taught at a military boarding school for three and a half years; several of my former students have since enlisted, gone to service academies, or enrolled in JROTC. It is a good school, but it is in no way comparable to what the soldier, the sailor, the marine, or the airman experiences on deployment. On second thought, it might resemble what some of our airmen experience on deployment in the most superficial of ways. (I kid. Even Qatar is miserable compared to military boarding school.)

What has Mr. Trump done? He has insulted a wounded veteran, namely Senator John McCain. I have my disagreements with Senator McCain, just as I have my disagreements with Pres George W Bush, but the man was beaten horribly by the North Vietnamese. The man turned down the possibility of preferential treatment because he was so committed to the ideals he swore to uphold; Mr. Trump, meanwhile, who has lived a life of wealth and ease, insulted him for being captured.

The Air Force has many heroes. We hold dear, for example, Lt. Lance P. Sijan, who despite suffering a fractured skull, mangled limbs, and limited access to food, water, or shelter evaded capture for 46 days. He was then beaten and tortured before finally contracting pneumonia and dying in captivity. He, like Senator McCain, is a hero for his valor in the face of the enemy. When Trump speaks ill of Senator McCain, he speaks ill of all our fallen dead and wounded warriors.

As far as I can tell, Mr. Trump has only recently expressed any interest at all in our veterans, wounded or otherwise. I’ve done a limited search of the internet for him bringing it up as a concern prior to, say, 2013, and haven’t had much success. He says he cares for our veterans and dislikes how all politicians do is talk about their concerns, but to my knowledge, he almost exclusively talks about the issue.

So, a man worth many billions of dollars will attend an event for wounded warriors rather than attend a debate. He will benefit mostly himself. If Mr. Trump truly cared about veterans, he would use his vast material resources to help them, with little reference to himself in the process. From where I sit, he only talks about us when it’s to his benefit to do so. He seeks for us to be his unwitting campaign props, to wrap himself in a blanket of patriotism for his own benefit, with minimal cost to himself, temporally or materially. I can only speak for myself. It disgusts me. I pray those who serve and those who care about us will see through his transparent self-promotion. The brave men and women who bleed for our nation deserve better.