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“Veterans, Patriots And Pawns”: A Particularly Blatant And Distasteful Ploy For Credibility

When Donald J. Trump removed himself from the Republican debate last week and threw a huge public relations party for himself, he did what many politicians before him have done: He cynically used United States military veterans to elevate his own political standing. His alt-rally, called a “Special Event to Benefit Veterans Organizations,” held in Des Moines, was the type of circus we’ve come to expect from the former reality TV star turned politician.

Thankfully, the candidate stopped short of ringleading a few acts under his big top — no Marines on the overhead trapeze, Navy SEALs balancing balls on their noses or Special Forces walking the tightrope.

The circus had nothing to do with those who serve this country; we know that he was sticking it to Fox News and the “mean” moderator Megyn Kelly. But like many before him, Mr. Trump saw an opportunity and seized it.

Mr. Trump didn’t invent this particular brand of hypocrisy; he just employed it a bit more flagrantly. Politicians from both parties have used warriors as photo ops and speech fodder ever since Abraham Lincoln posed with his generals for Mathew Brady at Antietam.

In Des Moines, Mr. Trump, who took a swipe last year at Senator John McCain of Arizona for being “captured” in Vietnam, and long before that complained that “homeless veterans” were ruining his property values, made the night air sparkle with his praise. And soon, like a true ringmaster, he gave the people what they wanted — three real, live veterans who came onstage to speak to the crowd.

As someone who spent 20 years in the active-duty Army, I should be used to strangers bending and twisting my service to suit their needs. But I’m not. I’ve been out of uniform for nearly a decade, and I still break out in a rash when I see service members used, misused and abused for commercial or political gain.

For candidates, veterans are the most useful props imaginable. They are real-life stand-ins for any number of campaign trail virtues: patriotism, national defense, antielitism, take your pick. And they are a great way to inoculate oneself from criticism for not having served — which is the case for every major candidate in the 2016 race, not just Mr. Trump. (The former Virginia governor Jim Gilmore, a long shot, is the exception.) Still, for Mr. Trump, who avoided military service in Vietnam, this was a particularly blatant and distasteful ploy for credibility.

But the public gets something out of the bargain, too. For many, to be in a room with a veteran is to touch the battlefield. In his novel, “Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk,” Ben Fountain describes the quasi-religious ecstasy that can come about when civilians meet so-called war heroes: “They tremble. They breathe in fitful, stinky huffs. Their eyes skitz and quiver with the force of the moment, because here, finally, up close and personal, is the war made flesh.” Mr. Trump hoped his supporters would skitz and quiver their way right into his campaign coffers.

At least there was a payoff. The $6 million Mr. Trump promised to donate to veterans organizations is, as Forbes recently pointed out, $5.94 million more than his charitable foundation has given veterans in recent years. Though some veterans organizations have said they’ll take the money raised at the event, the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, a group that represents about 150,000 veterans, has said no thanks. The I.A.V.A.’s founder, Paul Rieckhoff, tweeted: “We need strong policies from candidates, not to be used for political stunts.” Mr. Rieckhoff was right to refuse the candidate’s cash, and put some distance between veterans and Mr. Trump.

Other veterans saw last week’s rally as just more of the same. Nathan Webster, a Desert Storm veteran and contributor to the anthology “Incoming: Veteran Writers on Coming Home,” told me that “veterans are the go-to for any politician who wants an easy, effort-free splash for an event or promotion.”

Mr. Trump’s Iowa event appeared to be heavily seeded with fist-pumping veterans chanting “U.S.A.! U.S.A.!” “Veterans are like anybody else in this current culture,” Mr. Webster said. “They’re happy to play along with whatever cynical fame-grab somebody offers them.”

Most veterans I know don’t want to be lionized for any purpose. We were simply dedicated to doing our jobs to the best of our abilities, carrying out the orders of our superiors and coming home safe every night, not unlike responsible employees at Microsoft, City Hall or Mo’s Coffee Shop. But politicians don’t rally in honor of programmers, office clerks or short-order cooks because they just aren’t as sexy and camera-ready as soldiers — particularly the ones who’ve been battered and broken by combat. Military service is charged with a special aura of bravery and honor that politicians can’t resist glomming on to.

As a result, those who serve in the military all too often find themselves also serving as the flavor of the month (November), and the poster children or circus performers at political rallies like Mr. Trump’s. Maybe we shouldn’t be surprised. In his novel, Mr. Fountain writes: “What is a soldier’s job but to be the pawn of higher? Wear this, say that, go there, shoot them, then of course there’s the final and ultimate, be killed.”

What a shame, then, that those who make it home alive sometimes find themselves fighting a new battle: to be seen as more than a prop on the American political stage.

February 5, 2016 Posted by | Donald Trump, Republicans, Veterans | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Veterans Being Used As Props”: Trump Claims To Aid Veterans, But Is He The World’s Least Charitable Billionaire?

Donald Trump wants voters to believe that he cares deeply about veterans and proved it by skipping Thursday’s Republican debate to raise money for organizations serving them.

But the billionaire developer’s latest stunt was all about him and his feud with Fox News, not about helping those who served. While he did raise $6 million (including $1 million of his own money), those funds all went to the Donald J. Trump Foundation — a tax-exempt non-profit entity that generally gives barely $1 million a year to charity, let alone to veterans’ groups (the last time it disbursed more than a million dollars was in 2012). Indeed, Trump is reputed to be “the least charitable billionaire in the world.”

He donated $5.5 million between 2009 and 2013, a tiny drop in the bucket for a man who is apparently worth $4.5 billion. According to the latest filings available, his foundation donated only $540,000 in 2014 — with $100,000, a fifth of all donations, going to a group listed as “Citizens United.” If that is the same group whose Supreme Court litigation led to the legalization of limitless political campaign expenditures, it received 10 times the amount of money that the Green Beret Foundation, a charity that helps Green Berets when they return home, received from the Trump Foundation in 2014.

His foundation’s record validates claims by veterans groups that they were being used as props in Trump’s campaign to make him seem the victim of Fox News.

Paul Rieckhoff, the founder of the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, tweeted before the Trump fundraising event: “If offered, @IAVA will decline donations from Trump’s event. We need strong policies from candidates, not to be used for political stunts.” Founded in 2005, IAVA has more than 180,000 members and provides support for over 2.8 million veterans of the Afghanistan and Iraq conflicts, according to its website.

Trump’s foundation, for its part, released a list of the charities that will be receiving the money raised at his counter-programing event. It includes 22 veterans organizations from over a dozen states. But the campaign has not commented on how the groups were selected or how the money will be distributed. If the money is distributed evenly, each organization would stand to receive around $272,000.

By avoiding the last Republican debate before the Iowa primary, Trump sent a clear message to the Republican establishment. He doesn’t need their approval to win over voters.

But it isn’t clear Trump won that battle, even if the debate had the second lowest ratings in this election cycle. The presidential campaign has been going on for nearly a year, the debate was the seventh one for the Republican candidates and it was held on a weeknight. Those factors may explain the lower ratings — and more Americans tuned in for the debate than for Trump’s rival event.

 

By: Saif Alnuweiri, The National Memo, January 29, 2016

February 2, 2016 Posted by | Charitable Donations, Donald Trump, Veterans | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Shameful, Even For Sarah Palin”: Vets Balk After Palin Connects PTSD, Obama

It’s generally important to consider a politician’s family, especially his or her kids, off limits to political scrutiny. It’s simply unfair to go after private citizens, outside the arena, simply because of their familial connections.

But when a politician chooses to put a spotlight on their family members, on purpose, and uses them to advance an agenda, standards and expectations of privacy change.

On Monday, for example, one of Sarah Palin’s sons, 26-year-old Track Palin, was arrested, charged with domestic violence, possession of a firearm while intoxicated, and assault on his girlfriend. A day later, Palin endorsed Donald Trump, and yesterday she hit the campaign trail – where she suggested President Obama bore some responsibility for Track Palin’s issues.

Sarah Palin suggested Wednesday that her son’s arrest on domestic violence charges this week stemmed from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and – in part – the president’s lack of “respect” for veterans.

Addressing what she called “the elephant in the room” during a rally in support of Donald Trump, Palin said her son Track came back “different” from his year-long deployment in Iraq.

Referencing her son’s problem, Palin specifically said, “[I]t makes me realize more than ever, it is now or never for the sake of America’s finest that we’ll have that commander-in-chief who will respect them and honor them.” She added that veterans like her son “come back wondering if there is that respect … and that starts right at the top.”

Last night, Donald Trump took credit for the rhetoric, saying he “suggested” to Palin that she talk about the issue.

As Rachel noted on Twitter late yesterday, some veterans were not pleased with Palin’s rhetoric.

Don’t blame President Obama for the PTSD that Sarah Palin claims her oldest son is battling.

That was the message Wednesday from the head of a New York City-based veteran’s organization that has fought for years to get Iraq and Afghanistan war vets help with their post traumatic stress disorder.

“It’s not President Obama’s fault that Sarah Palin’s son has PTSD,” said Paul Rieckhoff, who heads Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA). “PTSD is a very serious problem, a complicated mental health injury and I would be extremely reluctant to blame any one person in particular…. I hope this doesn’t become a portable chew toy in a political campaign,” he said.

It’s quite simple: bringing attention to PTSD is worthwhile; using PTSD as some sort of partisan cudgel to take cheap shots at the president is not.

For that matter, the idea that the Obama administration has somehow been lax in helping veterans returning with PTSD is plainly wrong. There’s ample evidence pointing in the opposite direction, with the White House expanding treatment options several times over the course of several years.

In other words, this line of attack isn’t just ugly; it’s also untrue.

I’m well aware of the fact that in some far-right circles, it’s important to blame President Obama for everything, without regard for propriety or common sense. But for Sarah Palin to exploit her own son’s troubles in the hopes of making the president look bad is just shameful, even for Sarah Palin.

 

By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, January 21, 2016

January 22, 2016 Posted by | PTSD, Sarah Palin, Veterans | , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

   

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