Naval Academy graduates heard from President Trump today who mixed praise for the nation’s military with exaggerations about his own accomplishments as president.
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While several of the newly commissioned officers afterward told the Washington Post that they were honored the nation’s commander in chief spoke to them, not everyone was as pleased to have Trump show up and act as if he was a great supporter of the military.
In an op-ed published in the Baltimore Sun on the eve of Trump’s commencement address in Annapolis, Daniel Barkhuff and William Burke, both past graduates of the Naval Academy, who have now both served their time in the Navy with distinction, spoke out as the leaders of the group Veterans For Responsible Leadership.
“It is right and fitting that the president of the United States give a commencement address to a service academy’s graduating class,” wrote Barkjuff and Burke.
“It is also right and fitting that citizens of the democracy for which these graduates will soon be charged with protecting,” they added, “point out the personal cowardice, narcissism, and incompetency of the current president.”
Much of the opinion piece the two veterans published was given to hailing the great Naval heroes of the past and then contrasting their bravery, dedication and great sacrifice with the lack of significant accomplishments and hollow history of Donald Trump.
Their opening anecdote is about James Stockdale, a graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy, who spent seven years in a North Vietnamese prison camp.
In 1969, in the fourth year of his captivity, his captors wanted to use Stockdale in a propaganda piece. To prevent that, Stockdale, they recall, “chose to smash his own face in with a stool rather than give ‘aid and comfort’ to the enemy.”
Then they contrast that with what Trump was doing in the same period.
“The current president of the United States was enjoying the comforts of Wharton Business School,” they wrote “having received four draft deferments to attend college (he received another after graduation for supposedly having bone spurs in his heels).”
“He would later go on to make fun of POWs of that era,” they added, “claiming John McCain was not a war hero because he was captured.”
They also noted that after the attacks on America on Sept. 11, 2001, “thousands of graduates of the U.S. Naval Academy steeled themselves for a mission to bring violence to our enemies.”
“After the World Trade Center Towers fell,” they added, “Donald Trump bragged on TV that a building he owned was now the tallest in downtown Manhattan.”
They go on to cite other incidents where Naval Academy graduates gave service to America above and beyond the call of duty, while Trump was free to do as he pleased, including his now infamous comments on Access Hollywood about how as a “star,” he can do as he wants to women, kiss them, even “grab them by the pussy.”
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They then concluded by contrasting what Naval Academy graduates have accomplished, what they have sacrificed, and Trump’s sorry record.
“These are just a few of many examples,” they wrote, “of graduates of the U.S. Naval Academy making big choices laden with courage and self-sacrifice that come from a history of countless small choices: to be truthful, to stay committed to a code of honor and duty, and to choose a harder right over the easier wrong — even if the choice is contrary to their own short-term personal interests.”
“These are the choices that make one fit to lead.”
“Contrast this,” they continued, “to the personal and professional honor of the sitting president of the United States, who time and again makes small choices guided by self-interest, ego, impulse and immediate self-gratification.”
“He could never do what we ask our U.S. Naval Academy graduates to do,” they noted. “He is a physical coward, a liar and no leader at all.”
In conclusion, the authors ask America’s veterans to demand better in the future.
“Those of us who have served in this nation’s wars,” they wrote, “owe it to our new graduates to point out how better served we would all be if in 2020 our small choices as citizens added up to one big choice — one that will deliver us a leader whose personal choices and conduct are more in keeping with the honorable traditions of our alma mater.”
Now that is advice to the graduates on commencement that speaks to what really makes America great – and to how far below that standard the current White House occupant falls.