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John Chuckman

THE MOST AMERICAN OF PRESIDENTS

What are the qualities making Trump so “American?” I think there are a number of them, but in this first comment on the subject, I’ll focus on just a few which are related to each other.

He is exceedingly bombastic about Patriotism, complete with photos of himself hugging flags. He enjoys the “toy soldier” militaristic qualities of football half-time shows and marching bands and the histrionic lyrics of the Star-Spangled Banner, and of course he freely expresses himself, with no sense of the dignity of the high office he holds, about the way other people may behave when the anthem is played.

“Real” Americans tend to tell you what they want you to hear, whether you want to hear it or not.

It all seems somewhat over-the-top for a man who avoided military service for the thinnest of reasons, the kind of reasons only supported by draft boards for rich young men in the 1960s. But hypocrisy about such matters, as we’ll see, is also a very old and widespread American tradition.

Cowardice, of course, is closely associated with hypocrisy. Trump has demonstrated cowardice already a number of times, but the truth is that it was there from a young age. In his election campaign, he made very telling statements about matters such as the needless Neocon Wars and Obama’s belligerence towards Russia, but as President, he immediately backed off from any action on those life-and-death matters – that is, once faced with the realities of Washington’s bristling military-security establishment. And it is only cowardice when you both claim to be devoted to something and yet refuse to serve its demands and needs, as he very much did as a young man.

It is also a form of cowardice to attack publicly other people’s beliefs in anything, including how they should or should not express their patriotic feelings. And what is more cowardly than attacking those much weaker than yourself? It is the pattern of a bully.

Trump received four draft deferments while in college, a normal experience at the time (Although there were perhaps more sincere Patriots who managed to give up their deferments and go to war. After all, with “communism threatening our very way of life,” how could you ignore it?), but upon graduating in 1968, at the very height of the Vietnam War, the year of the Tet Offensive, he became eligible for the draft. Well, he supplied a doctor’s letter about heel bone spurs and was excused.

It was the kind of deferment only rich young men could obtain. He not only had been very active in sports during college despite the bone spurs, but many millions of people have this minor condition, many of them never taking much note once they adjust to the initial discomfort which lasts only months at most, and, of course, the condition is completely correctable through a small operation, hardly a barrier to a rich young man. But it nevertheless served to keep this flag-hugging Patriot out of the military and out of Vietnam, though I’m sure he kept dutifully hugging and saluting the flag.

Avoiding military service during Vietnam was a common enough experience among future American politicians. Americans used to call some of the most aggressive, war-mongering figures in the Republican Party “chicken hawks” for their backgrounds in avoiding service.

The list of American chicken hawks includes Dick Cheney, George Bush, Dan Quale, Jeff Sessions, Tom Delay, Newt Gingrich, Joe Lieberman, Trent Lott, Mitt Romney, Ronald Reagan, Mitch McConnell, John Ashcroft, Karl Rove, Paul Wolfowitz, and includes non-politician warmongers like Rush Limbaugh, Bill O’Reilly, Jerry Falwell, Thomas Friedman, and William Kristol. Of course, there is no longer a draft, but the warmonger types still often include those who did no service such as Ted Cruz, Rick Santorum, and Marco Rubio. So, Trump is in very good company in America.

Hypocrisy in Patriotism goes back a long way with American leaders. The godfather of them all is, perhaps, Thomas Jefferson, exactly the person Samuel Johnson had in mind when he spoke of Patriotism as the refuge of scoundrels or when he condemned those in America who yelped about liberty while being drivers of negroes.

Jefferson, of course, is famous for blubbering about the tree of liberty requiring bloodshed periodically for its growth. Yet, as Governor of Virginia during the Revolutionary War, he never picked up a musket, and he set a then-hilarious example of getting on his horse and riding non-stop until exhausted when a small troop of British Cavalry approached his home. He was the butt of rude jokes among Americans and British for a long time.

He demonstrated his bravery again when the Continental Congress tried to appoint him as a negotiator in Europe and he pleaded to be excused for fear of being captured by the British, leaving the redoubtable Ben Franklin to do the job he shirked.

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