Trump under fire
Updated 17:25, 09-Sep-2020
Freddie Reidy
U.S. President Donald Trump arrives for an East Room event at the White House in Washington, DC, June 17, 2020. /Getty Images

U.S. President Donald Trump arrives for an East Room event at the White House in Washington, DC, June 17, 2020. /Getty Images

Editor's note: Freddie Reidy is a freelance writer based in London. He studied history and history of art at the University of Kent, Canterbury, specializing in Russian history and international politics. The article reflects the author's opinions, and not necessarily the views of CGTN.

Last week's allegations published in The Atlantic, claiming President Trump belittled American veterans, is a stark reminder of the fragility of a campaign. The incumbent may be resurgent in the polls, but even Donald Trump can occasionally find himself at the mercy of the press.

The incident also drew attention to the complicated relationship between the president and the military, but what influence could this have on the election?

It may be hard for some nations to appreciate the respect that the U.S. affords its military. There have of course been times when the military has been vilified, such as the anger service men and women felt when targeted by anti-war protesters during Vietnam.

The U.S. is still a country today though that commemorates its veterans during national holidays, that pays it soldiers more than other nations, and that even has dedicated airport lounges for serving and retired personnel.

"Thank you for your service" may occasionally be derided but they are words, to many Americans of great significance that our bound to the fabric of what it is to be American.

It is also the case, unlike in many nations, that the president is the commander in chief of the military. Appreciating these social and systematic considerations leads one to understanding the shock and outrage felt by many when Donald Trump referred to fallen veterans as "losers" and "suckers."

During the 2016 campaign, Trump said of the late Senator John McCain "He is not a war hero; he is a hero because he was captured. I like people who weren't captured." McCain had survived five and a half years in captivity during the Vietnam War, subject to torture and frequent beating that left him scarred for life.

Donald Trump is an iconoclast, but this latest episode may well be a step too far. The president's form in his treatment of veterans and military officials has meant that the alleged story in The Atlantic appears part of a pattern of behavior rather than a one-off shock tactic. Indeed, Jeffrey Goldberg, the editor-in-chief of The Atlantic, stated that "I would fully expect more reporting to come out about this, and more."

While Trump's support in the military is strong, with roughly a 60 percent approval rating, the incident is likely to cause alarm among more moderate potential voters. There is also every possibility the story is not true, but it fits the narrative. Many a political candidate has been a victim of these defining moments.

While Hillary Clinton was helping her husband Bill, during a state election in Arkansas, when asked about her prominent position in the campaign, she responded "I suppose I could have stayed home, baked cookies and had teas; but what I decided to do was to fulfill my profession."

Clinton had meant it as a rebuke of the traditional conventions of a first lady, but it was portrayed as a slight against "homemakers" which would dog her for the rest of her political life.

Protesters outside with signs after President Donald Trump gave his opening ceremony of the New York City 100th annual Veterans Day Parade, New York, U.S., November 11, 2019. /Xinhua

Protesters outside with signs after President Donald Trump gave his opening ceremony of the New York City 100th annual Veterans Day Parade, New York, U.S., November 11, 2019. /Xinhua

Thus far, Trump has appeared impervious to accusations of bullying, corruption and sexism which would have terminated most candidates' campaigns. Being perceived as not supporting U.S. troops, however, is a line not to be crossed.

Aware of the escalation of the fallout from his comments, President Trump announced that the popular military newspaper "Stars and Stripes" which had been due to close this month in budget cuts would "not close under my watch."

It is not the first time the president has sought to pacify the voice of dissenters, after another spat, Trump went on to announce military spending would be "the most amount ever (sic)." In fact, the allocation was 10 billion U.S. dollars lower than the previous year.

Such sops have not convinced some of the former top brass, however. Many have been enraged by misuse of the military, deploying troops to protect against a "Mexican invasion" of refugees or to quell civil uprising during rioting.

Former Pentagon Chief of Staff General Mattis, went on the record as saying, "Donald Trump is the first president in my lifetime who does not try to unite the American people – does not even pretend to try."

On a strategic level too, the military has repeatedly expressed concern. In the Middle East, a deal brokered by President Trump and President Erdogan effectively handed over the west's principal regional ally to its sworn enemy, Turkey, in a move which could have dire long-term consequences and which Senator Linsdey Graham described as a "dishonest act."

These "errors" though, are unlikely to be fatal to Trumps 2020 chances among the armed forces and veteran demographics. While Joe Biden may win over small numbers of disaffected voters on this issue, the greater risk to the Trump campaign is voter apathy. It may be too big a leap to switch from Republican to Democrat; but the risk of not turning out is very real.

President Trump may have found support from those in uniform, but he does not feel he owes any fealty to the military establishment. As commander in chief though, he will need to call on all his reserves to push him over the line come November and dissent in the ranks could be costly.

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