Jeffrey Goldberg of The Atlantic reported on Thursday that President Trump doesn’t have quite as much respect for the military as he claims, to put it mildly.
Goldberg lists several examples. The most prominent is an account of why, during a 2018 trip to Paris, Trump declined to visit the nearby Aisne-Marne American Cemetery, where Americans who died at Belleau Wood during World War I are buried. Trump claimed at the time that he couldn’t go by helicopter because it was raining, and that it wasn’t feasible to drive. Both excuses have since been largely debunked. The real reason, Goldberg writes, citing four sources with firsthand knowledge, was that Trump simply “did not believe it important to honor American war dead.”
“Why should I go to that cemetery?” Trump reportedly told senior staff members on the morning he was supposed to visit. “It’s filled with losers.”
The comment is so obscene it borders on comical, like a line that was thrown on the table in the Veep writers’ room but quickly nixed for being too dark. It couldn’t pass as believable even in a fictional parody of the presidency.
But Trump’s time in office has transcended fiction, and even though Goldberg’s sources are anonymous — and even though there are certainly plenty of former administration officials itching to make the president look bad — everyone knows deep down that brushing off dead American soldiers as “losers” to get out of an event he thought might mess up his hair is exactly the type of thing Trump would do.
How do we know? For one, he’s made similar remarks in the past. During a 2015 campaign event in Iowa, Trump responded to criticism from John McCain by bashing the former prisoner of war. “I like people who weren’t captured,” Trump said. “I don’t like losers,” he added. Trump later tweeted an article highlighting how he called the senator a “loser.”
But in denying Goldberg’s reporting on Thursday, Trump insisted he said no such thing.
— Shannon Watts (@shannonrwatts) September 4, 2020
Goldberg continues to report that when McCain died in 2018, Trump told senior staff that they were “not going to support that loser’s funeral.” When flags were lowered to half-mast, Trump grew furious. “What the fuck are we doing that for?” he reportedly told aides. “Guy was a fucking loser.”
Goldberg also writes that Trump described former President George H.W. Bush as a “loser” for being shot down during World War II.
The theme of Goldberg’s reporting is not just that Trump lacks respect for the military, but that he genuinely does not understand why anyone would sacrifice their lives for something that offers no direct, financial benefit to themselves. During a visit to Arlington National Cemetery in 2017, Trump accompanied then-Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly to the grave of his son, who died serving in Afghanistan. “I don’t get it,” Trump reportedly said to Kelly while standing at the gravesite. “What was in it for them?”
Soon after Goldberg’s story was published, James LaPorta of the Associated Press corroborated it, citing multiple sources including a senior Defense Department official and a senior Marine Corps officer. The Washington Post then reported that, according to a former senior administration official, Trump “frequently made disparaging comments about veterans and soldiers missing in action, referring to them at times as ‘losers.'” The Post went on to report that Trump 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.”
On Friday, Jennifer Griffin of Fox News confirmed Goldberg’s reporting, citing two former senior Trump administration officials.
Two former sr Trump admin officials confirm .@JeffreyGoldberg reporting that President Trump disparaged veterans and did not want to drive to honor American war dead at Aisne-Marne Cemetery outside Paris.
— Jennifer Griffin (@JenGriffinFNC) September 4, 2020
Trump and the White House have vehemently denied Goldberg’s reporting, with Trump tweeting that it was “made up.” An easy way to prove it wasn’t would be for Goldberg and LaPorta’s anonymous sources, as well as John Kelly, to come forward and confirm these stories. To do so would constitute the type of potential career sacrifice for the greater good Trump could never understand, but one that could go a long way in keeping this pathologically self-centered monster from presiding over the service members he doesn’t respect for another four years.
As it stands now, it’s unclear if this story will affect the election, given how Trump has inoculated himself by convincing his supporters that any negative news about him is a lie. What is clear, however, is that his actions continue to hurt the members of the military and the country they signed up to serve.
When it was reported in July that Russia offered the Taliban bounties to kill American troops, Trump seemed nonplussed, telling Axios that he didn’t even bring it up in a phone call with Vladimir Putin later that month. More recently, USA Today reported on Friday that Trump has ordered the shutdown of Stars and Stripes, a news organization that has been serving military families since the Civil War. No reason was given for stripping the “local paper” of the armed forces of its $15.5 million budget, which only constitutes a small fraction of the $700 billion allocated to the Pentagon every year.
This post has been updated.