Opinion

Renée Graham

Alexander Vindman faces unfriendly fire from his commander in chief

Army Lieutenant Colonel Alexander S. Vindman departed the Capitol on Tuesday after testifying before House members conducting the impeachment inquiry.
Patrick Semansky/Associated Press
Army Lieutenant Colonel Alexander S. Vindman departed the Capitol on Tuesday after testifying before House members conducting the impeachment inquiry.

THE COMMANDER IN Chief is attacking a decorated member of the military. Remember that the next time he falsely accuses anyone else of disrespecting the troops.

For this man with no scruples, there is no lie too scurrilous in his manic scramble to save his presidency. Trump’s attempt to impugn the reputation of Lieutenant Colonel Alexander S. Vindman, the top Ukraine expert on the National Security Council, is a spectacular low in a presidency that keeps finding disturbing new depths nearly every day.

Trump is furious because Vindman did something anathema to this president — he told the truth. Vindman told House impeachment investigators that he heard firsthand Trump’s July call to Ukraine president Volodymyr Zelensky. He “did not think it was proper” when Trump asked Zelensky to investigate Hunter Biden, the son of former vice president Joe Biden, a Democratic presidential candidate, in exchange for military aid. Vindman also testified that the White House transcript of the call scrubbed certain words and that his efforts to restore them were thwarted.

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With no evidence whatsoever, Trump is denouncing the Iraq war veteran as a “Never Trumper,” while his right-wing toadies are questioning Vindman’s loyalties to this country. Though he has lived in America since childhood, Vindman was brought here from Ukraine by his father and grandmother, both Jewish refugees.

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When these people discuss loyalty, they mean devotion to Trump, first and last.

As much as Trump likes to yap about the military — or “my military,” as he has been known to say — he does not respect its members. During his presidential campaign, Trump set his disdainful tone early when he said Senator John McCain was considered a war hero only because he was captured: “I like people who weren’t captured.”

During the Vietnam War, McCain spent more than five years in an infamous North Vietnamese prison. Trump, his four deferments, and one medical disqualification for alleged bone spurs, stayed home.

Like the dictators he admires, Trump loves the optics of military power. That’s why he was so eager for that ego-masssaging dud of a parade last July 4. It’s also why he stacked his cabinet with retired generals — Michael Flynn (now a convicted felon), H.R. McMaster, James Mattis, and John Kelly. Trump used to call them “my generals,” as if they were favored pieces in his personal collection.

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All have resigned. Predictably, Trump now says Mattis, his former defense secretary, is “the world’s most overrated general.” And White House spokesperson Stephanie Grisham said Kelly, the former chief of staff, was “totally unequipped to handle the genius of our great President.”

Grisham went with “great president” because the “supreme leader” is already in use in North Korea.

Trump bashes former and current members of the military because, to a pathological narcissist, service to your country, instead of yourself, seems like a sucker’s bet. He’s demeaned a Gold Star family; he spoke with indifference to a Gold Star widow about her husband’s death in Niger. He told a veteran who gave Trump his own Purple Heart, “this was much easier” than serving in combat. He banned transgender men and women from serving openly in the military.

Trump’s love of the military goes only so far — as long as it makes him look like a tough guy or he can use it as a prop to stifle dissent. He knew that athletes kneeling during the national anthem had everything to do with protesting racial injustice, and nothing to do with the troops. Still, he used the issue to question black patriotism, despite the fact that black people have fought for this nation in every war in which it has engaged.

That includes five members of my own family, dating back nearly seven decades.

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When he testified, Vindman, a Purple Heart recipient, said he did so out of a “sense of duty,” bolstered by his military service. “I am a patriot, and it is my sacred duty and honor to advance and defend our country irrespective of party or politics.”

Trump is not a patriot. He has no honor, sacred or otherwise. His only duty is to his own self-interest. He places himself above all else — the nation, the Constitution, and democracy — and denounces any loyalty that does not stop at his feet.

In a statement, an Army spokesperson said Vindman has “a long history of selfless service to his country.” That’s something no one will ever say about the current commander in chief who, to save himself, will keep putting service members in his crosshairs.

Renée Graham can be reached at renee.graham@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @reneeygraham.