Vets and the Vote: Donald Trump’s exploitation of veterans
This year’s election has been a whirlwind of controversy and a shocking representation of the divisiveness of the American people. Donald Trump has single-handedly distinguished himself in the modern history of American politics by using anti-minority and anti-feminist rhetoric, with his popularity stemming from making unfiltered, “bold” statements. He has even attacked people in his own party, stirring up the GOP which is divided, struggling to justify Trump’s controversial campaign. For this reason, Trump has shaken the world of social media, particularly Facebook and Twitter, with an overflow of memes, tweets, posts and hashtags both for and against Trump.
Now with the election coming up, the Trump campaign is trying to secure the vote. His supporters, mostly conservative, blue-collar workers are usually “less educated” and prone to believing that the economic success of their children is threatened in some way by immigration, job markets and other factors, according to Jonathan Rothwell, a senior economist for Gallup. The Trump campaign has also made it a priority to gain the veteran vote by showing Trump’s purported loyalty to American veterans. This past January, Trump skipped a debate in Iowa and instead held a fundraising event for military voters in Des Moines, boasting that he has donated millions to veterans, when his track record says otherwise.
Trump’s campaign has been under fire for being deceptively unclear about the $6 million that Trump claims he raised for veterans at his Iowa fundraiser last January. The Washington Post investigated where the money went and found that the fundraiser actually only raised about $4.5 million, which is 75 percent of the $6 million Trump had originally boasted. Lewandowski, Trump’s campaign manager, blames this shortage on Trump’s wealthy donors, who backed out of a promise for a large sum of donations to veteran organizations. The Post ultimately found that Trump’s campaign donated about $4.45 million from this fundraiser, with only $1 million personally contributed by Trump. Trump has declined requests to show the financial tracking record for these donations. This appears to be part of a greater pattern. In a Forbes report from December 2015, it is shown that the Donald J. Trump Foundation, during 2009 to 2013, donated $5.5 million to several charities but only devoted $57,000 to veteran organizations that directly benefited veterans or veteran families.
Although he holds a considerable backing from the military population, Trump has made many controversial statements that should severely jeopardize the veteran vote. In July of last year, Trump was heavily criticized for saying of Senator John McCain, who spent six years enduring torture as a prisoner of war in Northern Vietnam, that “he was a war hero because he was captured. I like people who weren’t captured.” Here, Trump defines a war hero as someone who was not captured and dismisses the fact that prisoners of war (POW), like all other soldiers, willingly sacrifice their lives for the protection of this country. Though he later retracted his statement, it becomes apparent that Trump only did so because of the backlash he received from the GOP. Trump’s insult to McCain completely devalues the dedication and trauma of all POWs and veterans in the U.S., and his retraction, which occurred without an apology, only allows him to exploit their suffering to further his campaign and image.
Additionally, Trump received backlash after criticizing Khizr Khan’s DNC speech about his Muslim-American son, Humayun Khan, who died during his service in Iraq. After Khan endorsed Clinton at the DNC with a speech to rally Muslim voters against Trump, Trump belittled the parents by saying that Khizr Khan gave the speech because his wife, Ghazala Khan, was not “allowed” to. His overt disrespect for a grieving family not only demonstrates his lack of sympathy, but it reveals his prejudices as well. In addition to attacking Khan, Trump has repeatedly stated his belief in restricting Muslim immigrants from entering the United States. He also believes that putting mosques under surveillance is the solution to terrorist attacks, even though 94% of U.S. terrorist attacks are conducted by non-Muslim individuals. Not only are these policies in violation of the First Amendment, but they are open discrimination based on race and religion. Trump’s repeated generalizations of Muslim culture and xenophobic language has tainted the image of Islam and Muslim people, and contributes to the anti-Muslim climate that is growing in America.
In addition to insulting McCain and the parents of Humayun Khan, Trump has stirred an uproar with his commentary on Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and suicide among veterans. “When people come back from war and combat and they see things that maybe a lot of the folks in this room have seen many times over and you’re strong and you can handle it, but a lot of people can’t handle it,” Trump said to the Retired American Warriors PAC in Virginia on October 3rd. Trump’s rash statement demeans the trauma of veterans returning from the courageous act of voluntarily fighting for our country. Stating that some veterans are stronger than others does not take into account the psychological impact war can have on a soldier and the stark transition from war to society. Given that the stigma against mental illness in the U.S. already discourages veterans from pursuing treatment, it is very likely that Trump’s comments could potentially discourage even more veterans from seeking help and rehabilitation for PTSD and other mental illnesses.
So, what does this say about Trump? Does he actually have the military vote after his catalogued mistreatment of veterans? According to a recent poll by NBC News, Trump is leading Clinton on the veteran vote by 19 points, 55 to 36 percent. In light of his actions and comments, this disparity is particularly concerning.
Ultimately, Trump has rallied the support of veterans, despite his abject exploitation and disrespect toward them. From his failed promises to donate money to veteran associated organizations to belittling their experiences in combat, Trump has not truly proven an ally to members of the military. Though it is difficult to predict the future of the election, there is no doubt that Trump’s campaign has set a precedent we have never seen before: a campaign that reflects the radical beliefs of the “silent majority” regardless of his arrogant, racist and bigoted rhetoric. The future of America rides heavily on the outcome of this election and will reveal whether Americans can be united as a country after this divisive election.