Among Donald Trump's favorite stump-speech cliches is insisting on his fervent veneration of our military veterans. He often posts flowery tweets about them too, referring to them as "amazing people" and promising to "take care of the vets" because "we love the vets." It is a sentiment that almost every politician — or citizen — should be able to utter with perfect sincerity.
Given the insults he has heaped on veterans lately, those words now sound as hollow as any other Trump lie.
Twice in three days, the president decided not to show up at ceremonies honoring American veterans, evidently fearing rain. (Were his old bone spurs acting up? Or was he afraid of disturbing that vulnerable comb-over on his head?)
Visiting France to commemorate the centennial of the World War I armistice last weekend, Trump canceled his scheduled appearance to honor more than 2,000 of our dead at the Aisne-Marne American Cemetery and Memorial. He made matters worse by lying about the reason, claiming that his helicopter couldn't fly due to weather. But he could easily have traveled by car instead.
This pathetic display inspired the French Army to troll Trump on Twitter with a photo of a young recruit braving an obstacle course amid drenching precipitation. The caption, translated roughly, said: "It's raining but no big deal. We're motivated."
Back in Washington on Veterans Day, the president simply skipped the annual ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery. Imagine the indignant rebukes that would have poured forth from Trump — and dozens of other Republicans — if former President Barack Obama had simply blown off that hallowed hour, as he never did and never would.
On that same national holiday, Trump had time to type an early morning tweet. He urged Florida election officials to end recounts of the state's races for senator and governor. He whined that the recount process is "infected," for which there is no evidence. To throw out absentee ballots would also mean discarding the votes of thousands of service members — just another casual insult to those who sacrifice for American freedom.
And of course, Trump has done greater damage still to American service members and their families merely for his partisan advantage.
At the moment, more than 7,000 soldiers are coping with muddy roads, cold weather and other challenges as they construct temporary bases near the Mexican border. According to Trump, their mission is to deter that terrifying "caravan" of destitute women and children heading northward from Central America. In reality, their deployment was nothing but a wasteful stunt.
Now the midterm elections are over, but Trump's political misuse of those unfortunate troops will continue at least until Dec. 15 — depriving them of a chance to spend Thanksgiving with their families, and perhaps ruining Christmas for many of them as well.
The disturbing truth is that Trump sees the military and veterans not through the eyes of a democratically elected commander but a self-glorifying despot. That is why he so brazenly insulted the service of the late John McCain and Captain Humayun Khan, who died in Iraq defending fellow soldiers in his unit. That is why he has only gone to Dover Air Force Base on a single occasion to meet the coffins of the fallen — and why he has yet to visit troops on combat duty abroad. But he wants them to hold a big parade that makes a chicken hawk look powerful.
In this, as in so many things, he is a disgrace to his office. And his conduct mocks every Republican who still pretends that he is a patriot.
To find out more about Joe Conason and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.