I write as a military veteran. On Saturday, West Point cadets will attend the commencement address given by their Commander-in-Chief Donald J. Trump. Their preparation to become military officers has been guided by values of honor, duty to country and loyalty to the Constitution. They have lived under an oath which states: “We will not lie, cheat or steal or tolerate among us anyone who does.”
But these cadets will know, as those of us who served in the past know, their commencement speaker fails when measured against the standards that have governed their schooling. He is unfit to hold the nation’s highest constitutional military title. They have already been forewarned of his disrespect for the Constitution by former high-ranking military and Pentagon leaders — harsh critics who were once young soldiers like themselves.
Most recently, it was retired four-star General and former Secretary of Defense James Mattis who rebuked Mr. Trump, calling him a leader who seeks ways to divide the nation during times of national trauma.
Others, such as former soldier and statesman Colin Powell, have come forward to echo the warnings of Secretary Mattis. In recent days, the graduating West Point cadets heard their commander-in-chief’s troubling announcement of an intention to deploy active-duty soldiers into the streets of America’s cities to “dominate” their fellow citizens.
Since Mr. Trump’s presidential campaign coincided with their entry year as cadets, it is reasonable to assume the concerns about Mr. Trump’s fitness have been in their minds from the start. Already, before his election, the nation knew he was a serial liar; that he was a self-admitted sexual predator, a deprecator of women, and one who shamefully mocked disabled persons.
A draft-dodger himself, candidate Trump openly ridiculed one of America’s war heroes, the late Sen. John McCain, because the former Navy pilot had allowed himself to be captured, tortured and held as a POW. The graduating cadets will remember their commencement speaker’s disrespectful and unapologetic attack on the Gold Star parents of a fallen American Muslim soldier. And most troublesome, the cadets will know that since their speaker became commander-in-chief, our nation’s constitutional and democratic principles, our rule of law, our humanitarian endeavors, our moral values and our sense of decency have been placed under siege as never before.
While students, the cadets undoubtedly watched in horror while Commander-in-Chief Trump stood on foreign soil and declared to the world that he preferred the word of a foreign dictator over that of the nation’s own defense and intelligence community.
They watched him verbally attack longstanding NATO allies, those whose troops stood side by side with American soldiers in earlier wars. They saw him pander to world thugs, the type who imprison and kill political enemies. They heard him moronically describe his admiration for North Korea’s bully dictator as coming after the two of them “fell in love.”
Whatever his speechwriters have written for him to say about respect for those who wear the military uniform, the words will prove hollow.
The nation has already seen this commander-in-chief smear persons like distinguished Ambassador William Taylor, a West Point graduate and war hero, who testified about Mr. Trump’s attempt to interfere in America’s free elections by withholding aid to a foreign country; and Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, another combat veteran, who honorably raised concerns about withholding authorized foreign aid as a method of interfering in a future presidential election.
And they have watched as Trump targeted minority segments of America, to include transgender soldiers who were honorably serving their country. His teleprompter script will be unable to rebut his unfitness as commander-in-chief.
These graduates will enter a dangerously strange world. Our military allies no longer trust America. The free world has come to conclude that America’s leadership has unraveled in all matters — national defense, science, world aid, strategic advice, planning, pandemics, free elections, humanitarian assistance and morality.
We are a nation that has lost its way. Stung by his demonstrated ineptness in handling the coronavirus crisis, his diversionary impulses will surely seek out other ways to challenge America. As conservative columnist George Will has cautioned: “Assume that the worst is yet to come.”
Don Holladay, of Norman, served in the USAF Judge Advocate Corps between 1969 and 1975. He is a Vietnam veteran and served as the chief prosecutor for U.S. Air Force Europe. He graduated from the University of Oklahoma’s ROTC program.