On Thursday, The Atlantic reported that Trump called American soldiers killed in action “losers” and “suckers”; that he did not want disabled Veterans to march in military parades because “nobody wants to see that”; that he said to retired General John Kelly near the Arlington National Cemetery grave of his son Robert, who died fighting in Afghanistan, “I don’t get it. What was in it for them?”
“[Trump] can’t fathom the idea of doing something for someone other than himself. He just thinks that anyone who does anything when there’s no direct personal gain to be had is a sucker. There’s no money in serving the nation. Trump can’t imagine anyone else’s pain. That’s why he would say this to the father of a fallen marine on Memorial Day in the cemetery where he’s buried.”—Friend of retired General John Kelly, The Atlantic
Never mind that volunteering for military service is the only obvious and sure way out of extreme poverty and desperate situations for many Americans. Service to something larger than yourself — helping others, defending democracy, protecting your country from danger — is a worthy reward on its own.
I expect and hope that this is the most important reward the Commander-In-Chief gets from the job of President in wartime or peacetime. If Trump asks, “what was in it for them” of dead soldiers, that means he does not see any of the above answers — helping others, defending democracy, protecting your country from danger — as his reward for the job. So, what’s in it for him?
I have plenty of concerns about how much we spend on military equipment and our decision to use military force, war, and killing as our means of engagement with the rest of the world, but those who serve are choosing to be a part of something bigger, are trusting our government to use force wisely for purposes the country’s democratically elected leadership stands behind.
Trump chose to run for office, but from the start it was not clear he wanted to serve. It’s not clear he has any interest in making sure we trust the military, in engaging with tough decisions about how to use force wisely.
How would he answer the question? What is in it for him? Money? Influence? Ego? Something else?