Over the past few months, President Donald Trump’s performance has been both unprecedented and unpresidential.
He’s endangered those around him by trying to transform the pandemic into a culture war. He’s derided science, claiming facts are fiction and that his own beliefs should be considered canon. He’s stoked xenophobia without a second thought. And time after time, he’s shown that he neither understands nor respects the heroes protecting this country — the men and women defending it from enemies abroad and those others protecting it from a virus that’s already killed more than 220,000 Americans.
While we can never tolerate or grow numb to Trump’s behavior, the sad reality is that it is no longer surprising. This is who he is.
Trump disdain for soldiers and workers
Last month, The Atlantic reported that Trump reportedly called those who’ve been killed or wounded in battle “suckers” and “losers,” while also telling those around him that “nobody wants to see” those who’ve lost limbs fighting for their nation, echoing comments he’s made publicly over and over again when he’s slandered war heroes like John McCain and Gold Star families like the Khans.
But Trump’s ignorance toward those who serve our nation is not limited to those in uniform. His disdain for those he views as beneath him is also evident in how he treats those serving in hospitals, grocery stores and union workplaces who risk their health simply by going to work every day — Americans desperate for relief as the pandemic and recession rage on with no end in sight. This president is too busy politicizing, lying about or flat-out ignoring the emergencies they’re facing to lift a finger to push forward legislation that could be our lifeboat.
Trump’s fantasy of restarting the economy to end the pandemic is exactly backward. Americans cannot untangle the economic and public health crises that are putting us in danger at our workplaces or leaving us without jobs until we first get the virus under control.
On the long list of industrialized countries, the United States has done one of the worst jobs of containing the virus and remains one of the furthest away from recovery — despite Trump’s lies that he alone has saved us. The reason for that is simple: Other leaders listened to the experts and protected those under their charge.
Meanwhile, Donald Trump misled the American people, warning a Washington reporter in private about how deadly and contagious COVID-19 was while dismissing the threat in public, refusing to take any responsibility. Worse, his reckless actions are directly contributing to the spread of this deadly virus as he continues holding in-person rallies with thousands of mask-less supporters and even hosting what now appears to have been a super-spreader event at the White House simply to tout his anti-healthcare Supreme Court nominee in the midst of a public health crisis.
Now, due in part to Trump’s negligence, his willful ignorance and his incompetence, Americans continue to die by the thousands and infections and hospitalizations are once again rising throughout the country.
No understanding of sacrifice
So despite holding the highest office in the free world, despite technically being a “public servant,” the reality is that Donald Trump has absolutely no understanding of the true meaning of service or sacrifice. He thinks one’s character is measured by the size of their wallet, unable to fathom the idea of fighting for something greater than himself or serving anyone but himself.
These beliefs he holds are antithetical to what one learns when flying a Black Hawk helicopter high over a combat zone or working in a coal mine thousands of feet below our heartland.
In the Army, the Soldier’s Creed demands that we never leave a fallen comrade behind. And it is critical to mission success, troop morale, troop readiness — everything — that every servicemember in every warzone the world over knows that if the worst happens, the troops around them will do all in their power to get them back to safety, with little regard for their own personal well-being.
In a union, when you’ve been laboring alongside your fellow workers, when you’ve been watching each other’s backs and fighting together for your rights and benefits, you inherently have to place your trust in and devote yourself to one another. You must be committed to bringing economic justice to every workplace and guaranteeing social justice for every American, regardless of whether they carry a union card.
Service can take many forms in America. It’s answering the call of duty, wearing our nation’s uniform and sacrificing for it. It’s putting one’s own life at risk to fight fires, teach our children or tend to our ill. It’s showing appreciation through action for those who protect our country in uniform — and the workers in civilian clothes who help strengthen it as well.
But Donald Trump will never get that. To Donald Trump, the idea of sacrifice will always be about what other people can sacrifice for him. And when this president degrades military service or the dignity of work, he degrades every American who has sacrificed for something greater than themselves — every American who has been on the frontlines of this pandemic, from the nurses and janitors in our hospitals to the folks delivering our mail and the attendants in our loved ones’ nursing homes.
The meaning of service
When our country is grappling with a deadly pandemic, how are we supposed to trust the leadership of a supposed public servant who fundamentally cannot comprehend the meaning of service? A president who consistently shows breathtakingly poor judgement and callous disregard for the lives of others? Good, effective leaders don’t knowingly put those they’re supposed to represent at risk. Good, effective leaders tell the truth, even when it’s inconvenient.
For the sake of this country, it is well past time that the person sitting behind the Resolute Desk grasps the true meaning of American service.
Tammy Duckworth, a Democrat, is the junior senator from Illinois. Richard Trumka is president of the AFL-CIO.
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