Donald Trump looooves to talk about “my military” and “my generals,” like the authoritarian leader he longs to be. And he likes military pageantry, at least when it’s convenient and the cheers are for him. But he doesn’t care enough to risk getting his hair wet to honor the dead of World War I in France or go to Arlington National Cemetery on Veterans Day, and many observers say he just plain doesn’t get it: that as commander in chief, he’s responsible for people’s lives, and that even in the post-George W. Bush Republican Party there are lines it’s not a good idea to cross in politicizing the military.
“There was the belief that over time, he would better understand, but I don’t know that that’s the case,” said Col. David Lapan, a retired Marine who served in the Trump administration in 2017 as a spokesman for the Department of Homeland Security. “I don’t think that he understands the proper use and role of the military and what we can, and can’t, do.”
Of course, Trump may be corroding the relationship between the president and the military in a way that works for him:
“If a president routinely and cynically leverages our nation’s armed forces for short-term political advantage, the professional ethos” of the officers corps will be degraded, said Karl W. Eikenberry, a retired three-star Army general and a former commander of American forces in Afghanistan. “This, in turn, would threaten one of the foundational principles of our republic — that our military must remain outside of politics.”
That’s a principle that Trump would like to threaten. In the military, which will win out? Discomfort with Trump’s cynicism and lack of interest and flagrantly political use of troops, or pleasure at the new toys he’s getting them? If it’s the latter, the United States of America is in serious trouble.
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