COMMENTARY

Trump tests the right's patriotism: Republicans suddenly begin to sour on the military, police

If there's one lasting legacy of Donald Trump it's that there are no longer any sacred cows on the American right

By Heather Digby Parton
Published June 25, 2021 10:01AM (EDT)
US President Donald Trump walks with US Attorney General William Barr (L), US Secretary of Defense Mark T. Esper (C), Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mark A. Milley (R), and others from the White House to visit St. John's Church after the area was cleared of people protesting the death of George Floyd June 1, 2020, in Washington, DC (Getty Images)
US President Donald Trump walks with US Attorney General William Barr (L), US Secretary of Defense Mark T. Esper (C), Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mark A. Milley (R), and others from the White House to visit St. John's Church after the area was cleared of people protesting the death of George Floyd June 1, 2020, in Washington, DC (Getty Images)

If there was one thing I always thought Donald Trump truly cared about, it was men in uniform. After all, one of his earliest forays into politics, if you want to call it that, was an infamous full page ad he took out about the Central Park Five jogger case entitled, "Bring Back the Death Penalty, Bring Back Our Police," in which Trump waxed nostalgic about the days when police had free rein in the city and recalled fondly the time he saw a couple of cops violently rough up some guys in a diner when he was a kid. Trump was also said to have loved dressing up in his military high school uniform and considered his four years there akin to serving in the military. He would always call the Pentagon leadership "my generals" and loved it when they looked as if they came out of central casting. His 2016 campaign was filled with lurid stories of tough officers committing war crimes, which he enthusiastically endorsed.

Trump's idealized view of the men in blue and the military brass was sorely tested as president, however.

He locked horns with his first defense secretary, retired General James Mattis, whom he had chosen on the basis of the nickname "Mad Dog" and was sorely disappointed when he turned out to actually be sane. Likewise he had nothing but disdain for those who insisted that military discipline and preparedness required that the military not allow war criminals to go unpunished, much less be lauded for their crimes.

His great respect for law enforcement had its limits as well.

Trump was vicious when it came to the FBI, insulting the agency and many employees by name when it became known that he was in their crosshairs. And on January 6th, as a wild mob of insurrectionists engaged in hand to hand combat with police trying to protect the Capitol and a joint session of congress, it took hours before Trump could be persuaded to gently admonish them to not be violent with the police. It was clear he was siding with the mob. After all, he did send them there.

I suppose it's not all that surprising that the Republican base would be hostile to the FBI. Being gun fetishists, the extreme right has long had issues with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, which certain politicians called "jack-booted thugs" back in the 90s. And there has always been the pretense among some on the far right fringe that they are preparing for war with the federal government. But I have to say that I never thought we'd see the day when average Republican voters would storm the Capitol and openly beat rank-and-file cops over the heads with metal flagpoles, all with the not-so-subtle encouragement of the man who professed to be the "law and order" president.

CNN has excerpted a new book about the last months of the Trump administration and the 2020 campaign by Wall St. Journal reporter Michael Bender called "Frankly, We Did Win This Election: The Inside Story of How Trump Lost," and it reveals just how uncivilized and tyrannical Trump really was. Recounting the period of the George Floyd protests a year ago, Bender writes that Trump was beside himself with anger at the protesters. He loved footage of police getting confrontational with the protesters telling his staff, "That's how you're supposed to handle these people! Crack their skulls!"

This isn't a total surprise. I wrote about this last year, quoting a source for the Daily Beast saying that he kept talking about returning to "eye for an eye" and wanting to "go in" to Democratic run cities and round up (Black) people for summary executions, one of his favorite fantasies. But I didn't know how hard he pushed the military to "go in and beat the fuck" out of the protesters. According to the book, Trump said "just shoot them!" multiple times.

The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mark Miley pushed back Trump's intention to invoke the Insurrection Act so the military could get involved in domestic protests (although he made the monumental mistake of wearing battle fatigues to accompany Trump on his ill-fated photo-op and had to apologize.) According to the book, at one point, Milley pointed to a portrait of Lincoln and said: "That guy had an insurrection. What we have, Mr. President, is a protest."

Seven months later, we did have an insurrection — at Trump's direction. And this week Milley appeared before the House Armed Services Committee to discuss it: 

If you had asked me a few years ago if this would be the way Fox News would respond to such comments, I would not have believed you:

Who had money on the Republican Party running on "Defund the Military" in 2022? Not me. And the next night, there was this:

He made that up, of course. Milley is actually known to be blunt spoken and has spent a great deal of time on the battlefield. Carlson topped off that insulting commentary with this charming observation:

I won't go into Tucker Carlson's ongoing descent into madness on national TV but suffice to say that right-wing pundits are now completely incoherent.

The party that once extolled the police and the military as the highest form of civic duty and patriotism is now celebrating the actions of people who beat cops over the heads with metal pipes and calling the military leadership stupid pigs, as if they've traveled back in time to a Bizarro World version of 1968. They are simultaneously excoriating the Democrats because some activists used the slogan "defund the police" in the wake of the murder of George Floyd while angrily demanding that we "defund the military" — which will certainly come as a surprise to their leader Donald Trump who considers his bloated military budgets to be among his greatest achievements.

If there's one lasting legacy of Donald Trump it's that there are no longer any sacred cows on the American right. They have given themselves permission to literally say anything in the moment without regard to principle or ideology while at the same time wringing their hands over the supposed destruction of American culture by "wokeness" and political correctness. They no longer have any commitment to making sense and I'm not sure that anyone knows exactly how to combat such surreal intellectual anarchy.  


Heather Digby Parton

Heather Digby Parton, also known as "Digby," is a contributing writer to Salon. She was the winner of the 2014 Hillman Prize for Opinion and Analysis Journalism.

MORE FROM Heather Digby Parton


Related Topics ------------------------------------------

Commentary Fox News Gen. Mark Miley Tucker Carlson