Given his general vileness, it is easy for those of us who loathe and despise Donald Trump to readily believe the allegation that he uttered deeply disparaging remarks about World War I American dead whom he was scheduled to honour at a centennial ceremony on 10 November 2018 at the Aisne-Marne Cemetery and Memorial. Trump, and his flunkies have mounted a furious campaign of denial that he said what has been reported, first by Jeffrey Goldberg in The Atlantic and then confirmed by other media. But rather than argue over what he said, which is a matter of dispute, the focus should surely be on what he did, which is not.
First, some background. More than 2,000 Americans fell at the battle of Belleau Wood in June 1918 and are buried in the cemetery. They were part of a force composed of the 2nd and 3rd United States Infantry Divisions rushed to reinforce French troops on the Marne River front who were fighting desperately to stem a final German offensive to end the war. Belleau Wood became the focus of the German thrust in this sector but they ran smack into the US 4th Marine Brigade, comprised of the 5th and 6th Marine Regiments, part of the 2nd Division. The Marines had arrived just in time to see French troops retreating. When urged by the French to do the same the legendary reply came back from US Marine Captain Lloyd Williams: “Retreat? Hell we just got here!” The Marines dug in and repulsed the German attack.
From the 3-26 June the ferocious battle raged back and forth until the Germans were finally ejected from the wood. In that time the Marines endured thunderous artillery, devastating machine gun fire as they advanced through open wheat fields, hand-to-hand fighting using bayonets, knives, rifle butts and fists and, perhaps most frightening of all, poison gas. During one gas attack, Gunnery Sergeant Fred W. Stockham gave his gas mask to a wounded Marine whose own had been shot off. He was posthumously awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor. Some 10,000 Americans were casualties of whom over 1,800 Marines were killed. In their honour the French renamed Belleau Wood “Bois de la Brigade de Marine” or Wood of the Marine Brigade and awarded them the Crois de Guerre.
Against this backdrop and some 100 years later Donald Trump, when confronted with the prospect of a two-hour road trip and a rainy, possibly windy day that would play havoc with his hair, declined to attend the ceremony honouring the American fallen of Belleau Wood. To his chagrin, travel by helicopter had been nixed owing to inclement weather and rather than sucking it up as any other president would have done Trump, true to form, cancelled his appearance and hid behind the fiction that the logistics of moving his motorcade to the cemetery was beyond the organizational ability of his entourage; this despite the fact that several world leaders attended centennial events in the rain that day. There was strong criticism at the time, none more eloquent than this piece from Eliot A. Cohen in The Atlantic.
Not that the day was wasted. Trump apparently shopped for art at the residence of the US Ambassador to Paris and had several works of art shipped back to the White House.
So Trump skipped an event to honour our heroic soldiers and Marines who had given everything they had to give in service to their country to avoid a bad hair day or maybe simply because he couldn’t be bothered. Trump doesn’t need words to show his contempt for those who have served and sacrificed for their country. His actions speak far more loudly than his words.
In his Atlantic piece, Cohen includes a poem from Alan Seeger as a sort of rebuke to Trump from beyond the grave. Seeger was an American who volunteered with the French Foreign Legion prior to the entry of the US into the Great War. He died of his wounds sustained during the Battle of the Somme on the 4th of July 1916 at the age of 28. I can think of nothing more appropriate:
I have a rendezvous with Death
At some disputed barricade,
When Spring comes back with rustling shade
And apple-blossoms fill the air—
I have a rendezvous with Death
When Spring brings back blue days and fair.
It maybe that he will take my hand
And lead me into his dark land
And close my eyes and quench my breath—
It may be I shall pass him still.
I have a rendezvous with Death
On some scarred slope of battered hill,
When Spring comes round again this year
And the first meadow-flowers appear.
God knows ’twere better to be deep
Pillowed in silk and scented down,
Where Love throbs out in blissful sleep,
Pulse nigh to pulse, and breath to breath,
Where hushed awakenings are dear …
But I’ve a rendezvous with Death
At midnight in some flaming town,
When Spring trips north again this year,
And I to my pledged word am true,
I shall not fail that rendezvous.
I have to say I’m both baffled and chagrined by the skepticism expressed by some on the left towards the Never Trump Republicans of such groups as the Lincoln Project and Republican Voters Against Trump.
For one thing, these are people who, at great personal and professional cost, have refused to surrender to the vileness, narcissism and authoritarianism of Trump and his GOP enablers in the administration and in Congress, despite long careers spent in the party. Their rejection of Trump’s assault on our democratic institutions as well as his xenophobic and racist appeals are every bit as heartfelt as those of any Democrat, as encapsulated in a New York Times op-ed by former Republican consultant Stuart Stevens, who has also written a book on the subject. For another, the hard-hitting, Trump-eviscerating ads produced by both groups, for example here, here, and here are a potent demonstration of how good these guys are at what they do – and why Democrats in the past have struggled to win elections, public support for their policy positions notwithstanding.
Yes, NeverTrumpers played a role in creating the monster that is the GOP today, no question. But now after seeing what their creation has become, they want nothing more than to kill it for the good of our country. And if the Bernie Sanders wing of the party is skeptical of what they will want afterwards, assuming Joe Biden wins the election, who cares? I don’t hear any NeverTrumpers referring to the prospect of endorsing Biden as akin to being compelled to eat half a bowl of shit, as the co-chair of the Sanders campaign did recently. Right now disaffected NeverTrump Republican Biden supporters are looking a lot better to me than perennially disenchanted Bernie supporters who can never quite be relied upon in a crunch when their guy loses.
Is there a place for many of these NeverTrumpers in the Democratic Party whilst the GOP continues in its present form and/or until a more traditional center-right party emerges? Maybe and why not? Since when have liberals been shy of engaging in robust policy debates.
But right now, all of this is beside the point. NeverTrumpers like the rest of us recognize that four more years of this president and GOP governance (to use that term very loosely) will be akin to committing national suicide. That must not happen, and we need all the help we can get to ensure it doesn’t.
Very first thing I would like to see addressed by Congress in 2021: make it illegal to claim that election fraud has happened or will happen where there is no evidence presented and no basis for an official investigation is established.
I have a hard time seeing how undermining faith in the core process of our democratic republic is any less dangerous than pulling a fire alarm in a crowded school hallway because you didn’t study, calling in a fake bomb threat at the airport because you’re running late, or spreading misinformation about a stock because you’ll make a fortune if the price tanks.
Afford our democracy the same protections that we provide the stock market: https://www.sec.gov/fast-answers/answerstmanipulhtm.html.
Near the end of a book I was reading recently was this description of a familiar political leader:
He was impervious to advice. He listened but did not absorb the opinions of others. If critics persisted (according to one of his senior staff members) ‘he would break into short-tempered fits of enraged agitation’. He brushed aside uncongenial facts so habitually that his staff began to filter out intelligence of the worst complexion. He displayed in all this not a shred of self-criticism. When things went wrong he blamed others’.
Characterizing his subject as sulky, vindictive, intolerant and irascible, the author goes on to cite his subject’s poor powers of leadership which were masked with a self-constructed myth of infallibility. Add a few more equally unpleasant traits such as bullying, endless lying and bullshitting, a complete absence of empathy and a demand for loyalty from others which goes unreturned and we have a fairly complete picture of Donald Trump, right? Indeed. But the the excerpt is from Why the Allies Won by historian Richard Overy, published in 1995, and the subject is Adolf Hitler.
Now obviously Trump is no Hitler. For one thing, Hitler wrote a book, Mein Kampf. Trump, who has the attention span of a gnat and can’t even sit still long enough to read the President’s Daily Brief (with potentially disastrous consequences) has likely never even read a book cover to cover much less written one (having a book ghost written for you doesn’t count).
More significantly, there is no evidence that Trump harbors a megalomaniacal desire to conquer the world; in fact he has more of a penchant for retreating from commitments abroad and betraying allies – Kurds and Afghans so far, and probably our NATO allies too given half a chance. And whilst Trump is monstrously incompetent, narcissistic and vile (among other things), there is no evidence that he is an actual monster capable of acts of unspeakable evil. Fortunately for us, Trump is constrained by his own enormous limitations, principally his own monumental stupidity; for example, he is still unable to accept the deadliness of the coronavirus pandemic even after everything that’s happened.
There really isn’t much doubt about this and it has been amply demonstrated both publicly before our eyes and in myriad accounts from those who have had to deal with him. He has some smarts, of course, but they’re confined to a gift for relentless self-promotion combined with an uncanny ability to manipulate the media and to exploit the vulnerable by drawing out their very worst instincts.
Second his ambitions, thank the Lord, seem to be limited to getting re-elected and, as Max Boot writes, “..the rallies and the ratings“. His ineptitude protects us from his worst authoritarian instincts but also carries with it devastating consequences for the nation in the face of a deadly pandemic.
All the caveats aside, however, the similarities between the two men’s character traits are unmistakable. Trump’s demonstrated lack of empathy even for the people on whom he is depending for re-election echo Hitler’s studied unconcern for his people suffering privation and under constant bombing, or his soldiers later in the war sustaining one crushing defeat after another.
One more trait they share is a gross overestimation of their own abilities. Hitler thought he was a better general than his field marshals whilst Trump thought he could actually function as president of his nation. Both were wrong. For Germany it brought catastrophe but then a better future. Will America salvage something good also from our own ongoing catastrophe? The jury is still out on that one.
Do you find yourself running out of words to describe President Donald J. Trump? Well then you’ve come to the right place. I started compiling a personal dictionary of adjectives to describe him since he began his campaign that I’d like to share with you now. This is a work in progress that I will keep at the top of the blog for awhile – maybe until Election Day. I plan to link the words to news stories and opinion pieces that are apropos to the words.
Here are the words you can use to meticulously describe President Trump.
Incompetent Aberrant Presumptuous Cynical Wanton Retaliatory Amoral Puerile Malignant Atavistic Neurotic Autocratic Bawdy Negligent Sordid Catty Malevolent Severe Belligerent Ignominious Mercurial Bigoted Tyrannical Incurious Salacious Brazen Calamitous Vindictive Rapacious Persecutory Sinful Churlish Evil Volatile Combative Acrid Lewd Confused Kackistocratical Resentful Hubristic Contemptuous Mendacious Contentious Impulsive Corrupt Vituperative Crooked Slimy Cruel Decadent Repetitive Indignant Deceptive Insolent Antagonistic Detestable Nihilistic Pugnacious Dictatorial Dumb Reckless Duplicitous Egotistical Extreme Feckless Amateurish Snide Glandular Rude Capricious Greasy Megalomaniacal Harsh Misogynistic Truculent Coercive Hostile Wicked Hurtful Ignorant Sneering Dim Immoral Arrogant Imperious Profane Inane Scandalous Petty Inimical Licentious Circumlocutionary Louche Aggressive Manipulative Vainglorious Mindless Wayward Narcissistic Xenophobic Nasty Nepotistic Obscene Erratic Obstructive Paranoid Bellicose Destructive Perfidious Soft Petulant Crass Racist Defensive Rakish Annoying Ribald Demagogic Savage Desperate Scornful Captious Shameless Authoritarian Stupid Vexatious Abusive Vulgar Devious Bullshitter LOSER