As is usually the case with President Donald Trump, the most important point isn’t always the most obvious.
In this case, it isn’t just a report of what Trump did or did not say, or the media’s reactions to said report. The most important point to keep in mind is that Trump is a dangerously flawed man, yet he has the power to launch nuclear weapons, mismanage a pandemic, and weaken democratic institutions that have (so far) kept us from sliding into authoritarianism.
The report in question is from The Atlantic magazine, which detailed a conversation Trump had with his senior staff members in 2018, when he was in France to mark the 100th anniversary of the armistice to end World War I. On the morning of his scheduled visit to Aisne-Marne American Cemetery near Paris, where 2,289 U.S. soldiers, including 474 Marines, are buried, Trump reportedly said, “Why should I go to that cemetery? It’s filled with losers.”
That’s according to Atlantic editor-in-chief and respected journalist Jeffrey Goldberg.
“In a separate conversation on the same trip,” Goldberg reported, “Trump referred to the more than 1,800 (Marines) who lost their lives at Belleau Wood as ‘suckers’ for getting killed.”
As Goldberg noted, “Belleau Wood is a consequential battle in American history, and the ground on which it was fought is venerated by the Marine Corps. America and its allies stopped the German advance toward Paris there in the spring of 1918.”
Journalists from other news organizations confirmed much of Goldberg’s reporting. Trump himself seems to believe that his former chief of staff John Kelly, a retired Marine four-star general, was one of Goldberg’s sources.
It’s not hard to believe Trump said these things because he’s said many other awful things on camera about women, people of color, people with disabilities, American prisoners of war, and even retired and active-duty generals who have had multiple combat tours. On Labor Day, for instance, Trump asserted that our nation’s top military officers only want to go to war to make defense contractors money.
The president’s apologists want us to believe that while in France, Trump — a draft dodger surrounded by both fallen heroes and combat veterans — didn’t blurt out something insane to soothe his insecurities.
It must have been embarrassing for Fox News producers when their own respected reporter, Jennifer Griffin, confirmed much of The Atlantic’s story, and other Fox News journalists defended Griffin when Trump suggested she be fired.
In an effort to retake control of the narrative, Fox News brought out former national security adviser John Bolton and put this headline on its website: “John Bolton denies claim Trump disparaged fallen American soldiers in France: ‘Simply false.’ ”
I thought Bolton might put the story of Trump’s comments about the military to rest.
Bolton was forced to admit this: “I can’t prove the negative that he never said those things. The president has a habit of disparaging people. He ends up denigrating almost everybody that he comes in contact with whose last name is not Trump.”
Sorry, Fox News producers — your narrative slipped away again!
On Wednesday, we learned that Bob Woodward’s new book, “Rage,” quotes the president as telling trade adviser Peter Navarro that “my f---ing generals are a bunch of p---ies” (an expletive that’s unprintable in this newspaper).
Trump continued: “They care more about their alliances than they do about trade deals.”
We also learned from Woodward that retired Gen. James Mattis, Trump’s former defense secretary, viewed Trump as “dangerous” and “unfit” for the presidency.
Trump is a self-destructive, anxiety-filled, narcissist who seems to suffer from a crippling personality disorder, and he brings dishonor upon himself, his family, and his nation.
He is abetted by corrupt handlers, some of whom are presently in jail, and some of whom are on their way to jail. The longer he’s in power, the more likely the republic will suffer irreparable harm.
Still, the most important point to consider is not the horrible things Trump has said — it’s that he’s a threat to himself and to the country.
Nearly 200,000 Americans have died of COVID-19 on his watch. And, as we learned Wednesday, Trump told Woodward — on audiotape — back in February that he knew the novel coronavirus was “deadly stuff,” but he nevertheless downplayed the threat.
He said he did so because he didn’t want Americans to “panic.” As others noted, this is hardly believable from a president who has sought to foment public panic over everything from migrant caravans to Black Lives Matter protests to a kneeling Colin Kaepernick to mail-in voting.
Trump is quick to express support for the Second Amendment, but not so much the First Amendment.
His anti-science views, his deceit about the threat of COVID-19, his contempt for the First Amendment and his destructive habits have inflamed otherwise manageable situations, from the pandemic to this summer’s protests for racial justice.
Plain and simple, we’re living in messes Trump has created.
This is because Trump himself is a mess.
In 2017, 27 psychiatrists and mental health experts — led by a Yale School of Medicine forensic psychiatrist — contributed essays to the book, “The Dangerous Case of Donald Trump,” and concluded that Trump’s mental health posed a danger to himself, the American people, and the country. An updated edition was issued in 2019.
And earlier this year, Mary Trump — the president’s own niece and a clinical psychologist — wrote a book in which she described her uncle as a narcissist, and possibly a sufferer of antisocial personality disorder. He “may also meet some of the criteria for dependent personality disorder, the hallmarks of which include an inability to make decisions or take responsibility, discomfort with being alone, and going to excessive lengths to obtain support from others,” Mary Trump wrote.
Trump’s horrible comments about America’s fallen service members and military leaders suggest that he has unprocessed anxiety about his claims of bone spurs keeping him out of the military, and unacknowledged anxiety at being surrounded by brave, battle-tested, tough generals. This would explain — though not excuse — why he belittles the American men and women who have sacrificed their well-being, even their lives, to protect this country.
Trump says so many bizarre things that it’s hard to know which of them he truly believes. But again, the reason why he says these things is the main cause for concern.
Trump is a phony; he knows he’s a phony; and he’s destructively anxious at the prospect of being exposed as a phony.
Every year, millions of Americans have the courage to seek treatment from mental health professionals. A true act of compassion for Trump — and I mean this sincerely — would be not to reelect him, but to get him the help he needs.
Bryan T. Stinchfield, Ph.D., is a former Army officer who served in the U.S. intelligence community. He is an associate professor in the business, organizations and society department at Franklin & Marshall College.