Making Sure Trump's Troop Comments Matter
The notion that nothing Trump says or does matters is self-defeating and incorrect
On Thursday evening, The Atlantic posted a blockbuster story by Jeff Goldberg about Donald Trump disparaging the troops. Goldberg reported that Trump resisted going to a French cemetery where U.S. troops were buried because it was “filled with losers” and said the following to former White House Chief of Staff John Kelly at his son’s grave:
Trump, while standing by Robert Kelly’s grave, turned directly to his father and said, “I don’t get it. What was in it for them?”
Trump, of course, denied the story but he is a liar who has expressed very similar sentiments in public on multiple occasions including when Trump favorably compared his efforts to avoid contracting sexually transmitted diseases to service in the Vietnam War. Anyone who doesn’t take these allegations seriously, shouldn’t be taken seriously.
The response to the story set off a depressingly familiar cycle — outrage at what Trump said followed by a number of “political experts” telling us there is no point being outraged because “nothing matters.” Trump will emerge unscathed from yet another incident that would end any other presidency.
The “Nothing Matters” impulse is so strong that The Atlantic felt the need to undermine the impact of their own reporting by noting:
There was no precedent in American politics for the expression of this sort of contempt, but the performatively patriotic Trump did no damage to his candidacy by attacking McCain in this manner. Nor did he set his campaign back by attacking the parents of Humayun Khan, an Army captain who was killed in Iraq in 2004.
“Nothing Matters” is a punditry tic designed to signal world-weary cynicism and prevent wide-eyed voters from getting their expectations out of line. It is also self-defeating and very, very wrong.
Trump Has Paid a Political Price for his Misdeeds
The firestorm around The Atlantic story is very reminiscent of Trump’s attacks in 2016 on the Khans, a Muslim-American family whose son was a U.S. Army Captain killed in Iraq. The “Nothing Matters” crowd points to this incident as prima facie evidence that The Atlantic story won’t matter. This is just wrong. In the moment, Trump paid a huge political price for his behavior. A Washington Post/ABC poll conducted at the time found:
59 percent of Republicans and 62 percent of conservatives disapprove of Trump's handling of the exchange, along with larger numbers of independents, moderates, Democrats and liberals. Fewer than one-quarter of Republicans, 23 percent, approved of Trump's response.
Yes, Trump went on to win the election despite this and many other misdeeds, but that is not the same thing as saying he didn’t pay a price. The way Trump treated the Khans mattered to voters, we just failed to make sure enough voters remembered on Election Day
More broadly, it is ridiculous to say that nothing sticks to “Teflon Don” at a moment when he is losing reelection by approximately seven points according to the Real Clear Politics polling average. A majority of the country disapproves of the job Trump is doing and trusts Biden more on nearly every single issue. All of this is strong evidence that Trump has paid a price for his corruption, incompetence, and general terribleness.
In a democracy, elections are the primary method for delivering accountability to Presidents. Trump was rebuked by the voters in elections in 2017, 2018, and 2019 by embarrassingly large margins and in places as red as Alabama, Kentucky, South Carolina, and Oklahoma. Some pundits may feel “nothing matters,” but voters have proven them wrong at the ballot box at every opportunity since 2016.
It’s true that nothing to date has caused Republican elected officials to abandon Trump and this latest incident is not going to change that. But they have also paid a steep political price for their unpatriotic obsequiousness with more to come if we do our job in sixty days. It is also true that Trump’s base has largely stuck with him through thick and thin. However, viewing politics primarily through the prism of the Republican base is a form of MAGA myopia that obscures the broader movement against Trump. A majority of Americans rejected Trump in 2016 and a larger majority is poised to do so again.
We Decide What Matters
Ultimately the biggest problem with the “Nothing Matters” school of thought is that it denies the public agency in what actually happens. Political accountability isn’t delivered by some entity somewhere that comes down from on high to render judgement.
It’s up to us.
We decide what matters. We decide — through our activism — if Trump and the Republicans pay a price for everything they have done to this country over the last four years.
That’s how the Affordable Care Act was saved. That’s how the Democrats took the House in 2018. And it’s how Medicaid was expanded in states all across the country.
In general, all of us — myself included — need to spend less time worrying about whether Trump will get away with another outrage and more time making sure that he doesn’t. Here are some ideas on what can be done.
Are you a vet or from a military family? Record a cell phone video of your reaction to Trump’s outrageous comments and share it on Facebook and with others in your military community.
Just generally pissed off at Trump and the “Nothing Matters” crowd? Go to VoteSaveAmerica.com to find out how to channel your anger into activism.
With so much terrible stuff going on right now, it’s easy to fall prey to the cynicism and give up hope. That’s exactly what Trump and the Republicans want. We can’t let that happen. If we do, then nothing will matter.