When Donald Gets Gonged

Donald Trump is an embarrassment. He’s been serving a purpose, in a perverse way, but now it’s time for him to exit stage left and serve a purpose in a different way.

Trump’s recent comments about John McCain are inexcusable. Obviously, it’s perfectly acceptable for anyone to disagree with Senator McCain about immigration. It’s not an easy issue, and it covers a lot of different big picture items, from employment to trade to national security against potential terrorist incursions. In America, there is room for many different positions along the political spectrum about immigration.

It isn’t appropriate, however, to question McCain’s patriotism, or his service, or to casually dismiss the meaning and impact of McCain’s POW experience. It not only is unfair to the man who was tortured and forced to live as a captive in a North Vietnam prison, it also shows an appalling lack of respect for all of those who have served in our armed forces and put their lives and personal security on the line. The reality of war is that some members of the military may get captured by the enemy, through no fault of their own. When that happens, those members of the military deserve our support, and when they bear up through their POW experience with the courage and dignity and fortitude shown by John McCain, they deserve to be called heroes. This is not a hard question — but apparently it is beyond Donald Trump.

Trump’s entry into the presidential race has been serving a purpose, in a perverse way — he’s been demonstrating by omission the qualities we should be looking for in a President. Do we want someone who responds to every criticism by lashing out with anger and insult humor, or do we want someone who is thick-skinned and capable of responding with grace and intelligence? Do we want a boastful schoolyard bully who never tires of touting his own wealth and accomplishments, or do we want a mature adult who has the skills to build a consensus around a reasoned position? Do we want someone so self-absorbed that he’ll say whatever is necessary to grab another headline, or do we want someone with the self-assurance to work behind the scenes in order to get the job done? In many ways, Donald Trump exemplifies all of the qualities of the anti-President; standing next to him, virtually any candidate would look like a thoughtful statesman.

As a society, we tend to tolerate people like Trump. He’s like a contestant on The Gong Show whose act is so bizarre that it briefly entertains through shock value — but quickly becomes tiresome and uncomfortable. With his comments on John McCain, Trump has crossed into gong territory. I’m glad to see that there seems to be a growing, uniform sentiment that Trump’s comments about Senator McCain are inexcusable. Trump may be serving a purpose in another way: by showing that, in our divided country, it is still possible to develop a true consensus about something.

Let’s Go Slow On Bowe

Private First Class Bowe Bergdahl, who had been held captive in Afghanistan for five years, was released from captivity by the Taliban over the weekend, in exchange for the release of five prisoners from the U.S. base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

The story of the circumstances of Bergdahl’s captivity is unclear, but what is being reported is both  curious and interesting.  Already, there are questions being raised about precisely how he was captured and whether he was responsible in some fashion for his own situation.  A former soldier in Bergdahl’s battalion has contended that he left his post voluntarily and that other American soldiers were killed while trying to find and rescue him. The Washington Post reports that some of his fellow soldiers consider Bergdahl to be a deserter who had become disillusioned with the war in Afghanistan and should be held accountable for his actions.

If there are questions about what Bergdahl did and didn’t do — and the stories being reported certainly suggest that there are — they should be investigated.  The determination of whether a soldier is a deserter is one reserved to the military, under the Uniform Code of Military Justice.  I think we should leave that question to those authorities, and in the meantime refrain from rushing to judgment, one way or the other, about Bergdahl.  We can all, at least, be happy for his parents that their son has been freed from captivity.

It’s also reasonable for Congress to examine the circumstances of the swap of Bergdahl for the Taliban prisoners.  What assurances did the Administration give, and what did they receive?  Was this situation one that was treated as an effort to free a POW, or was it more like negotiating to free a hostage?  Did the Administration’s approach signal a change in American policy, or not?  These are not empty, political questions; they are important, practical inquiries that are worth careful examination in a real world that unfortunately is full of terrorism and potential dangers.  Here, too, however, it is important not to leap to conclusions.  In a world of throwaway sound bites, this is an issue that cries out for careful, dispassionate consideration after all of the facts have been marshaled.