Donald Trump has an empathy problem. The Republican nominee loves to boast about his stamina and mental strength, but when it comes to respecting those who fight on the battlefield, there is little esteem which can be gauged from Trump’s statements.
On Monday, he seemed to suggest during a Q-and-A session with veterans in Herndon, Virginia, that post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) was merely a result of soldiers not being “strong” enough to handle the “horror stories” of war.
When one veteran asked Trump if he would “support and fund a more holistic approach to solve the problems and issues of veteran suicide, PTSD, [traumatic brain injuries] and other,” this is what Trump had to say.
“When you talk about the mental health problems, 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. And they see horror stories. They see events that you couldn’t see in a movie. Nobody would believe it.”
— Melissa Bird (@birdgirl1001) October 3, 2016
The remark is disconcerting at a number of levels and betrays Trump’s superficial understanding of the horrors of war. First, the Republican nominee conveniently pits one group of soldiers as essentially different from the other — those who can “handle” the war and those who cannot. The roomful of Trump’s supporters are certainly “strong” enough, while those languishing from the effects of war are simply those who could not handle it. Second, Trump downplays the importance of the question by saying nothing of PTSD among veterans. In Trump’s understanding, it seems like PTSD only haunts those who are not “strong” enough to deal with war.
PTSD is a serious mental illness, and the causes and consequences of which need to be addressed, but according to Trump, it’s a triviality that most soldiers can brush off if they are “strong” enough. Perhaps a little like Trump himself.
It is little wonder that the veterans listening to Trump’s comments fell silent as soon as he made the statement, as reported by BuzzFeed News. Soon, veterans took to social media to condemn Donald Trump’s remarks, arguing that such a comment perpetuates stigma rather than addressing the issue.
— PTSD Foundation (@ptsdusa) October 3, 2016
Yeah, this part is not helpful. "Being strong" and/or "being able to handle it" is the wrong message on PTSD/suicide and perpetuates stigma. https://t.co/Ev3rUuueeA
— Paul (PJ) Rieckhoff (@PaulRieckhoff) October 3, 2016
I guess my buddy who I deployed with, who suffered from PTSD, and who took his own life wasn't as strong as a roomful of Trump's supporters. https://t.co/iLb5V4PYs8
— Corbin Reiff (@CorbinReiff) October 3, 2016
When Donald Trump’s campaign was asked to clarify his position on PTSD, a statement by Lt. General Michael Flynn, essentially blaming the media for Trump’s comments, was forwarded to media organizations. This is what it said.
“The media continues to operate as the propaganda arm of Hillary Clinton as they took Mr. Trump’s words out of context in order to deceive voters and veterans—an appalling act that shows they are willing to go to any length to carry water for their candidate of choice. Mr. Trump was highlighting the challenges veterans face when returning home after serving their country. He has always respected the service and sacrifice of our military men and women—proposing reforms to Veteran Affairs to adequately address the various issues veterans face when they return home.”
This is obviously not the first time that Donald Trump has run into trouble with the military community. In July, 2015, Trump had said that Arizona Sen. John McCain, who spent over five years as a prisoner during the Vietnam War, was “not a war hero,” landing him into hot water with veterans.
More recently, Donald Trump criticized Ghazala and Khizr Khan, the Gold Star parents of U.S. Army Captain Humayun Khan, who was killed during the Iraq War in 2004, after the latter had questioned Trump’s morals and values during the Democratic National Convention.
[Featured Image by Jessica Kourkounis/Getty Images]