In one particular way, Trump is the ultimate American role model. Every day, he reminds us that cherishing free speech means tolerating objectionable commentary from the hateful, the uninformed, and the misguided. It’s an ironic form of example, but then again Donald is pretty much the ultimate walking contradiction.
When it comes to Bowe Bergdahl, Trump needs to set aside his commitment to undisciplined yammering and just shut the hell up. There are a thousand reasons why, but here are the three most relevant.
First, Trump’s Remarks are Unlawful. If you’re in the crowd who believe Bergdahl was given too lenient a sentence, you have the President to blame for it. By calling for Bergdahl to be executed and making a slew of other prejudicial statements, Trump — who is part of the military chain of command — exerted unlawful command influence. This put judge Jeffrey Nance in a position where he felt obliged to go easier on Bergdahl than he might have … for no other reason than to show political pressure could not make the sentence unduly severe.
Presidents are supposed to champion and safeguard due process for all of us. It’s right for a president to express confidence in the system and even to push for the process to be properly followed. To go any further distorts that process, and is not acceptable.
Bear in mind that since Bergdahl was given a dishonorable discharge, his case will be automatically appealed. Thus, further remarks will matter.
Second, Trump’s comments are inappropriate. There is something unseemly about the most powerful man in the world going around calling for the head of an individual citizen. This is like an episode out of an old monarchy … back when we were unenlightened enough to believe one man capable of judging another without a reasoned and fair finding of fact. Trump singling out Bergdahl is bullying of the highest order that also manages to degrade the stature of the presidency. This is Trump making an admitted deserter — a disgraced and dishonored loser — important enough to deserve chief executive comment. That he’s doing it to whip his political base into a red-eyed rage restores none of that surrendered stature.
The President has failed to adapt his style of speech since taking office. What was acceptable to say as an outside observer with no authority is sometimes not OK once you’ve been vested with special legal authority. What was merely distasteful then is now totally outside the guardrails.
Trump lacks the credibility to make comments about Bergdahl. Now, to be clear, no one needs to be a rifle-toting parachutist to comment on the Bergdahl debacle. There are sufficient facts available in public for ordinary citizens to join learned soldiers in forming a judgment. But we can probably all agree that certain exceptional voices should be ignored on this issue … among them those emanating from draft dodgers and other professional cowards.
Trump had his chance to serve in Vietnam and actively avoided doing so. Bergdahl, while ultimately a braying jackass deserving of a fair share of contempt, was at least driven to serve and willing to put himself into the fighting environment. He failed as a soldier (and a Coast Guardsman before that), but he didn’t steer a wide berth around danger. Trump did, which means he has no service record to compare with Bergdahl’s.
There is a legal distinction between draft-dodging and desertion, but not a moral one. For those rightly resentful of Bergdahl’s buffoonery, reserve some of your anger for a critic-in-chief whose courage extends no further than the nearest megaphone.