The Marine Corps lives by one hard-and-fast rule foreign to American corporate and financial life: "Officers eat last." Simply stated, the Marine officer in command does not eat until all the Marines he is responsible for — beginning with the corporals and the privates — have first been fed. This practice reflects another Corps value: Loyalty for Marines is a two-way street. It must go from the top to the bottom ranks, as well as from the bottom to the top.
In 1968, when 540,000 Americans were fighting in Vietnam and when 30,587 had already died, a young Ivy League graduate, born to privilege and comfort in New York City and already with a young bride, chose one course. He joined the Marine Corps, was commissioned a second lieutenant and went through the demanding challenges of both Army Ranger school and Army Airborne training before going to Vietnam, where, as a platoon commander, he led Marines into combat, was awarded the Bronze Star for valor and received a Purple Heart after an enemy combatant shot him in his thigh. He lived "officers eat last," completed his tour of duty, came home and went to law school. This was Robert Mueller.
That same year, another New Yorker who was born to wealth and a recent Ivy League graduate, faced with similar choices, went in a different direction. He chose not to enlist in the U.S. military and go to war. Asked years later by radio host Howard Stern about how he, someone who boasted about the swinging lifestyle he led when was a young man about Manhattan, had avoided sexually transmitted diseases, he compared his conduct to combat: "It is a dangerous world out there. ... It's like Vietnam. ... It is my personal Vietnam. I feel like a great and very brave soldier." From that day until this, there is no record of Donald Trump's ever having flirted with the alien notion that "officers eat last."
Quite the opposite. Trump repeatedly mistreats and publicly humiliates his own people, most recently attacking Attorney General Jeff Sessions, the first U.S. senator to endorse his presidential candidacy, for being "very weak." Trump explained, "The only reason I gave (Sessions) the job: because I felt loyalty. He was an original supporter." But in this White House, loyalty is entirely a one-way street, from those below to the man at the top. According to Trump, the only reason he kept Omarosa Manigault Newman, a 15-year professional associate of his who's now his critic, on his White House staff was that "she only said great things about" him.
Contrast this with the man former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, a Trump intimate, said was a "superb choice to be special counsel. His reputation is impeccable for honesty and integrity. Media should now calm down." For more than a year, Mueller and his colleagues in the investigation he leads have been vilified by the president and his political and press allies. But unlike the case with the Trump White House, there has been not even a whisper, let alone a leak, from Mueller's office about any tensions within it or second-guessing of Mueller. A half-century ago, Bob Mueller learned early and well that the successful leader puts his people first by being the officer who eats last.
To find out more about Mark Shields and read his past columns, visit the Creators Syndicate webpage at www.creators.com.