The Trump administration, maintaining its dedication to petty vindictiveness, relieved the captain of the aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt after Capt. Brett Crozier sounded the alarm that coronavirus was spreading rapidly among his 5,000 crew members. He didn't know at the time that he left the ship Thursday that he was among those infected. Crozier's career-ending mistake was to fight for the health and safety of his crew, an action that Americans used to hail as heroic. Under President Donald Trump's decisive leadership, though, heroism can be a firing offense.
Crozier departed his ship as hundreds of crew members crowded onto the hangar deck and cheered in unison. In one video of his departure, someone in the crowd says, "And that's how you send out one of the greatest captains you ever had."
The Trump administration took issue with the way Crozier sounded the alarm after failed attempts to get his superiors' attention. The tight quarters aboard naval ships make them potentially more vulnerable than cruise ships for contagions to spread rapidly. Crozier sent a letter to several superiors asking for permission to isolate his entire crew. At least 155 sailors on board have tested positive.
A copy of his letter was leaked to the San Francisco Chronicle, which quoted the letter as stating, "This will require a political solution but it is the right thing to do. We are not at war. Sailors do not need to die."
Trump reportedly told top Pentagon officials that he wanted Crozier fired. The official reason for Crozier's dismissal was that he did not honor the chain of command. But Trump himself has overtly undermined the military chain of command and has encouraged lower-ranking service members to challenge their superiors and mock their authority.
Navy commanders late last year took disciplinary action against Chief Petty Officer Edward Gallagher, a Navy SEAL court-martialed after being accused by his colleagues of multiple war crimes, including murder and shooting unarmed civilians. He was acquitted of most major charges after Trump intervened publicly on Gallagher's behalf. But Gallagher's conviction on lesser charges led to his demotion. Commanders stripped him of his coveted SEAL Trident pin.
Trump reversed the demotion and restored the pin, even as Gallagher openly mocked top Navy commanders online in clear acts of insubordination. Trump's public statements made clear Gallagher was protected from disciplinary action.
The difference in Crozier's case was that his letter shone an unfavorable light on Trump's efforts to contain the pandemic. The commander in chief couldn't even protect his own service members. As we've seen in daily Coronavirus Task Force briefings, the goal for Trump's subordinates is not to fight the virus or do what's best for the nation. It's to praise Trump and make him look good. Crozier failed, and it cost him his job.
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