Our president is a coward.
This may not come as news to you.
But as we cascade toward the latter half of his first and, God hope it, only term, Donald Trump’s craven fearfulness is worth a reminder simply because of its vast continuing implications for our country and the world.
Of course, there’s the surface narcissistic indifference and insensitivity to others, in particular his disregard for members of the military and veterans, despite his many tweeted proclamations of support and gratitude.
This disrespect was made manifest in early November during the 100th anniversary celebrations of the armistice that ended World War I. His well-known fear of a wet head kept him indoors, a no show both on one of the days he was in France and later at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington National Cemetery. Panic at the prospect of a bad hair day apparently took precedence over Veterans’ Day.
Not since the first month of his administration has Trump made a visit to pay his respects at Dover Air Force Base, where the bodies of America’s war dead are returned home. According to Bob Woodward in his book, Fear, the commander-in-chief was “clearly rattled” by that one experience and won’t go back. Duty and sacrifice just aren’t his thing.
And although he loudly has supported more defense spending, unlike his predecessors, it’s no surprise that Trump has yet to visit any of our troops deployed abroad in combat zones. “In modern times, we expect presidents to do that much more than in the old days when travel was more difficult,” historian Michael Beschloss told The Washington Post. “When Trump doesn’t come anywhere close to meeting the expectation, it makes people wonder why.”
Despite his self-professed “unbelievably busy schedule,” (including 154 visits to golf resorts, mostly his own, since Inauguration Day), the president now says that a visit will happen, although no date has been set. Yet Josh Dawsey and Paul Sonne at The Post quote a former White House official: “He’s never been interested in going. He’s afraid of those situations. He’s afraid people want to kill him.”
Acting out his timorous bully tendencies, Trump has lashed out at those possessing the courage he lacks, insulting Gold Star families, the late senator and former POW John McCain and recently, retired Navy SEAL and Special Operations commander Bill McRaven.
So, as opposed as you and I may be to the wars in Iraq, Afghanistan and wherever else our armed forces are placed in harm’s way—including the Mexican border, where their presence is political, gratuitous and unlawful—there’s no denying that the commander-in-chief’s graceless apathy, even antipathy, have done nothing but create ill will.
Worse and scarier, according to The New York Times, “[T]op Defense Department officials say that Mr. Trump has not fully grasped the role of the troops he commands, nor the responsibility that he has to lead them and protect them from politics.”
Beyond his personal cowardice (including his seeming, non-Apprentice-like inability to fire anyone face-to-face), an overall paranoia about the world beyond his bubble leaves him ignorant and unwilling to face inconvenient truths. That’s why conspiracy theories are so reassuring to Trump and his followers—there’s always some larger force at work that makes it easy to shirk responsibility and blame someone—anyone—else.
It’s part of what keeps him from confronting the awful and incontrovertible reality of climate change, his administration trying to bury on the day after Thanksgiving that stunning, 1,656-page assessment from thirteen federal agencies. As per The Times, “The report puts the most precise price tags to date on the cost to the United States economy of projected climate impacts: $141 billion from heat-related deaths, $118 billion from sea level rise and $32 billion from infrastructure damage by the end of the century, among others.”
Trump’s response? “I don’t believe it.”
Look, too, at his refusal to listen to the tape of journalist Jamal Khashoggi’s murder at the Saudi Arabian consulate in Turkey. “It’s a suffering tape, it’s a terrible tape,” Trump told Fox’s Chris Wallace. “I’ve been fully briefed on it. There’s no reason for me to hear it.”
That denial is a singular metaphor for the president’s gutless inability to confront Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman or his father Saudi King Salman over the killing—or any of Saudi Arabia’s grotesque and cruel violations of human rights. Despite overwhelming evidence presented to him by the intelligence community, “Maybe he did and maybe he didn’t,” was Trump’s response when asked if the crown prince was complicit in Khashoggi’s death. It was an answer eerily reminiscent of his “very fine people on both sides” comments in the wake of the fatal neo-Nazi riot in Charlottesville, Virginia.
Much of his cowardice is egged on by avarice and amoral political calculation, as our chief executive evaluates everything by price and values nothing by standards of common sense, common decency or the greater common good. Living in a constant greed-fueled state of fear and suspicion, Trump sidles up to dictators abroad. He only attacks our democratic allies, who sensibly, so far, have valued the length and durability of our friendships over the short-term ravings of an uninformed and intolerant autocrat.
Like his fellow totalitarian Putin and others, he brooks no dissent or opposition and views the facts as daggers pointed straight at his heart. Trump is so afraid to face the truth that he makes up lies to comfort himself, fabrications that give him an excuse to take no action—or to take actions so heinous we’ll be trying to recover from them for decades to come.
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Michael Winship is the Schumann Senior Writing Fellow for Common Dreams. Previously, he was the Emmy Award-winning senior writer forMoyers & Company and BillMoyers.com, a past senior writing fellow at the policy and advocacy group Demos, and former president of the Writers Guild of America East. Follow him on Twitter: @MichaelWinship.