“This is not normal. This is not normal.” It’s a mantra I repeat to myself every time I read about anything Trump-related. His latest Twitter rant. His making the Boy Scouts boo Obama. His desire to pardon himself even though he insists he did nothing wrong.
“This is not normal.”
The latest not-normal thing to come out of the Trump administration, however, raises even redder flags, and raises them even higher. As Slate reports, Trump stepped aboard the USS Gerald R. Ford on Sunday to say a few words to sailors being commissioned.
At first blush, there’s nothing particularly egregious about that. Presidents have been attending military ceremonies and visiting with servicemen and -women forever. And in fact, they’ve been doing so to push their agenda; at least, when it comes to military intervention. George W. Bush, for example, famously showed up to the Abraham Lincoln in 2003 to talk up the Iraq War to the men and women on board.
Trump’s visit to the Ford, however, had nothing to do with war. Instead, he used the occasion to drum up support for his healthcare initiatives.
“I don’t mind getting a little hand, so call that congressman and call that senator and make sure you get it.”
— Diplomacy140 (@Diplomacy140) July 25, 2017
The problem, as Slate writer Phillip Carter sees it, is that Trump, acting as Commander-in-Chief, can be seen as giving a direct order here.
“Trump’s verbal command in Norfolk, Virginia, incites the assembled troops to discard centuries of U.S. military ethics and break long-standing military rules, too.”
In other words, Trump is misusing his powers as Commander-in-Chief here by giving a direct order to the sailors. Generally, the President issues orders to top military commanders, who then disseminate those orders to the personnel, through the chain of command. What’s more, he issues those orders on the advice of military commanders – not off-the-cuff in a speech.
NBCNews: President Trump promises “great rebuilding” of military in speech aboard USS Gerald Ford … pic.twitter.com/BWkhjbcfrn
— Maximiliano Valdes (@maxvaldes) March 3, 2017
What’s more, Trump’s willingness to draw the military into supporting his own homeland agenda is unprecedented, at least as far as democratically-elected leaders in the First World. It is not unprecedented, however, in other contexts, says Carter.
“This is what leaders do in banana republics: Instruct the people with guns to join the political fray.”
In fact, the tradition of keeping America’s military out of its politics is two centuries old and bordering on being sacrosanct. Military officers, for example, are prohibited from speaking ill of the President or Congress, ostensibly to prevent them from rallying the troops with a view toward a military takeover. Similarly, service members are prohibited from engaging in political activity while in uniform, to keep the military as a whole from being seen as being involved in politics.
That tradition isn’t merely window-dressing. Keeping the military out of politics, and keeping politics out of the military, is one of the things that separates a democracy from despotism.
It’s a 200-year-old tradition that Trump threw out the window in a shameless play for political hay.
It’s disgusting, it’s terrifying, and, as per usual when it comes to Donald Trump, it’s not normal.
[Featured Image by Carolyn Kaster/AP]