When I find myself in times of trouble, Donald Trump comes to me, speaking words of wisdom: "I like people that weren’t captured." Yes, the ever-braggadocious Trump, erstwhile Celebrity Apprentice magnate and sometimes-presidential candidate, has gone there again. Unfortunately for him, it seems that no one is laughing this time, not even his fellow Republicans. During Saturday's Family Leadership Summit, a conservative gathering hosted in Ames, Iowa, the billionaire business mogul told crowd members that fellow GOP-er and Arizona Sen. John McCain, a Vietnam veteran, wasn't really "a war hero" because he had been captured by the North Vietnamese in 1967 and spent five hellish years in a prison. Thankfully, Trump doesn't get to decide who's a hero and who's not, but the comments still stung.
"He's a war hero because he was captured," said Trump jokingly (though Trump's understanding of what a joke is might actually be one itself). "I like people that weren’t captured."
The comments outraged the businessman's Republican rivals, some of whom called for him to drop out of the 2016 race altogether to make amends for his behavior.
"As a veteran and the son of a veteran, I find Mr. Trump’s brand of vitriol particularly offensive, and I have no confidence that he could adeptly lead our nation’s armed forces," wrote fellow GOP candidate and former Texas Gov. Rick Perry in an op-ed for the National Review on Monday. "His comments over the weekend should completely and immediately disqualify him from seeking our nation’s highest office."
I'm not sure I ever thought I'd say this, but thank God for Rick Perry. By making his divisive comments even more divisive, Trump has effectively proved that he's nothing more than a sideshow, as The Huffington Post so pointedly reminded us this weekend. And by mislabeling American POWs as losers rather than the brave men and women that they actually are, he's completely removed himself from the political game altogether, whether he cares to admit it or not.
According to Trump, people like Pfc. Jessica Lynch and fellow soldier Spc. Lori Piestewa, both taken prisoner in Iraq in 2003, aren't heroes. Their service to their country and those halfway across the globe doesn't really count, because they didn't really do anything special. It's simply not enough that Lynch was captured mid-mission, taken away by enemy soldiers to an unknown location, and found broken in an Iraqi hospital a short time later by U.S. Special Forces, or that Piestewa, a Native American, was the first woman to die in combat in Iraq after being taken prisoner. They simply aren't heroes, not to Trump.
The problem with Trump's misguided (and unintentionally ridiculous) statements on what makes a hero a hero isn't just that he said them — it's that he's sticking by them. In a telephone interview with The Today Show's Matt Lauer on Monday morning, he refused to back down from his statements, insisting instead that he had been "misquoted."
"The highly respected reporter ... Sharyl Attkisson said I said four times that McCain is a war hero," stumbled Trump, pointing a finger at the media for misconstruing his words. "If you would have let [the footage of my statements] run just another three seconds, you would have said that I said very clearly he is a war hero."
Take a second with me and scratch your head; it's OK.
Honestly, I don't really care that Trump didn't serve in the military. Frankly, I'm relieved he never wore a uniform (can you imagine the kind of soldier he would have made?). I'm not even concerned about the fact that he received at least five separate draft deferments. If someone's really that adamant about it, do we really want them holding a rifle or manning a logistics center in defense of the country and those who need our help?
Maybe it's more of a personality and morals issue than anything else that has everyone reeling over his comments. After all, as The New Yorker's Amy Davidson explained:
McCain's father was a top military commander, and so he had a chance to get a better place in line, too: the Vietnamese tried to move him up in the order in which prisoners of war were released. He refused. ... At the crucial moment — maybe the decisive one of his life — McCain did not seize a privilege he hadn’t earned. That is the antithesis of the Trumpian view of the world—that is to say, the Trumpian view of Trump.
Trump might believe that because of his status as a public figure, his word is the final one. But that's simply not the case. As the rest of the world looks at veterans like Lynch, Piestewa, McCain, and the majority of captives as heroes and honored military members who served their time with pride, Trump is busying himself with constructing a bizarre, despotic society in which certain individuals had their right to be called such taken away the moment they were taken prisoner. If "POW" is an automatic disqualifier from "hero" status, then Trump's words should count as an automatic disqualifier from "believable candidate" status.
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