Saturday, December 19, 2020

Veterans Against Trumpism And How trump Lost Their Support...


The Veterans Organizing to Stop Trumpism

A former Navy SEAL oversaw the creation of a new code of conduct that puts loyalty to democracy above politics.

The following article begins with the history of the Korean War's American prisoners of war and the horrific torture and lack of nourishment and decent hygiene they experienced. I have left that out of this reproduction to shorten the article a bit and moved right to the era of trump and Trumpism. For those who would prefer to revisit that historical background simply click on the highlighted headline above,

What these veterans are doing and the American and Constitutional values they hold are the kind of patriotic acts and value that all Americans should stand behind and give their full support to. 

Working to end, and destroy every vestige of Trumpism is work worthy of ALL truly patriotic Americans.

trump's stench and his incompetence will leave marks that will take time and a lot of energy and work to blot out. But the effort will be worth the reward.

On to the article...

The New Yorker ... Barkhuff is a conservative. He voted Republican until 2016, when he saw insurmountable character deficiencies in Donald Trump. He noted that, as Stockdale endured torture as a P.O.W., Trump, who dodged the draft, was “enjoying the comforts” of the Wharton School of Finance and Commerce. As troops risked their lives in Afghanistan after 9/11, Trump was bragging about grabbing women “by the pussy.” The thought of Trump becoming President disgraced the friends that Barkhuff had lost to combat and the peers he had watched make “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.” Barkhuff thought it reasonable to expect any leader to respect courage, self-sacrifice, and service. He did not vote for Trump.

When Trump took office, Barkhuff decided to give him a chance, hoping that the President “would rise to the level of the office.” But, Barkhuff told me, Trump was “worse than I thought he would be—and I thought he was going to be terrible.” Barkhuff often expressed his dismay on Facebook, where his posts were seen only by his relatives and Navy pals. When he discovered that other veterans shared his concerns, he created a page—Veterans for Responsible Leadership—where like-minded members could vent.

Service members are trained to remain apolitical when in uniform, but veterans are free to espouse their views. The V.F.R.L. members chatted online about diversity in the military (“transgender people should obviously be allowed to serve”), athletes kneeling during the national anthem to protest racial injustice (kneeling “is NOT disrespectful to our troops”), and the President’s divisiveness (“Trump wins only by creating controversy and firing up people. . . . It’s dictatorship 101”). Most of the members were Navy vets, yet V.F.R.L. hoped to recruit from all branches and ranks. Glenn Schatz, one of the V.F.R.L. leaders and a former nuclear-submarine officer, told me that the Trump Administration’s assault on established norms called veterans back to service. “Once you’re out of uniform it’s your obligation to speak up when you see the Constitution being violated,” he said.

In June, 2017, Barkhuff registered Veterans for Responsible Leadership as a political-action committee. He seeded the organization himself, with five hundred dollars. The group had three fundamental goals: to “promote integrity and rational thought in politics,” to “support veterans who demonstrate these qualities as they run for office,” and to “defeat candidates who don’t show these qualities, the most obvious of which is Donald Trump.” When one member complained, on Facebook, that V.F.R.L. seemed “solely aligned with the Democratic Party,” Barkhuff replied, “Not aligned with either party. In fact most of the early interest in our group is from Republicans disgusted with Trump.”

Barkhuff wanted V.F.R.L. to be a group that lauded candidates who chose “the harder right.” He often thought of Cincinnatus, “the guy who doesn’t want to run for office, and is out with his plow, when people come to him and say, ‘You need to do this.’ ” Barkhuff could acknowledge that politics was professionalized, but he thought it reasonable to expect service to outweigh financial and political self-interest.

In the 2018 midterms, V.F.R.L. backed one candidate, Dan McCready, a Democrat and former Marine Corps captain, in North Carolina, who ultimately lost his congressional race. By 2020, “there were no Republicans left to support,” Barkhuff told me. “They had all gone all in on Trump.” V.F.R.L. did not endorse the high-profile veterans Tom Cotton, of Arkansas, or Dan Crenshaw, of Texas, because, the organization argued, by aligning themselves with Trump, they had “sacrificed foundational principles for political expediency.”

Barkhuff and the other V.F.R.L. members often discussed why service members continued to embrace Trump. At a panel discussion at M.I.T., titled “Republican Resistance in the Age of Trump,” Barkhuff theorized that in geographic regions that disproportionately populate the military, such as the South, there is “much more comfort with combat, with these notions of masculinity that, for better or worse, exist.” Such voters seemed to like candidates with “a chip on their shoulder,” he said, adding that, for them, the 2016 election, in some ways, was “one big eff-you to the establishment.” On Facebook, one V.F.R.L. member wrote, “These folks support this asshole because it provides them a social group, a tribe.” Barkhuff replied, “The idea of V.F.R.L. is we provide a tribe to compete with the white nationalism of Trump.”

On July 3rd, Barkhuff, in a post on V.F.R.L.’s Facebook page, tried to capture the scope of the criticism surrounding Trump’s handling of military issues: “Since his inauguration Donald Trump has, in no particular order: lost active duty troops on missions he personally approved and blamed it on ‘his’ generals . . . , refused to believe the intelligence reports given to him by the Central Intelligence Agency . . . , minimized the TBI’s (traumatic brain injuries) sustained by troops in Iraq during an Iranian missile attack as ‘headaches’, deployed active duty troops to our southern border to stop a ‘caravan’ of migrants immediately before the midterm elections, called a collection of his generals including General Mattis a bunch of ‘dopes and babies.’ ”

Barkhuff asked if he had forgotten anything. Dozens of replies piled up, highlighting other affronts: Trump had disparaged Gold Star families; publicly ridiculed Senator John McCain, a former P.O.W., for being captured in Vietnam; appeared to make unilateral policy decisions by tweet; asked for a military parade; and inappropriately involved Army General Mark Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, in a photo op. Later discussions would mention Trump retweeting a post from an account linked to QAnon conspiracy theories, alleging that the seals never killed Osama bin Laden. (Robert O’Neill, the former seal who said he fired the kill shot, had to tweet assurances that the bin Laden operation had happened, and that the target was dead.)

Barkhuff had started V.F.R.L. right before joining the faculty of the University of Vermont, where he is the director of trauma and mass-casualty-incident education. His op-eds appeared in outlets like the Daily Beast and the Baltimore Sun, but, in November, 2019, he turned to a new medium. “We need to identify (hopefully in our group) vets willing to go on camera and talk about why we shouldn’t reelect this clown,” Barkhuff told the group. “The perfect candidate would be a red state combat vet who voted for Trump in 2016 and now realizes it can’t happen again. Anybody know anybody?”

Combat veterans learn that there are two kinds of courage—physical and moral. “Many military people are great at the physical courage, but the moral courage is harder to find,” Barkhuff told me. “Physical courage, you’re motivated by a group bond; moral courage requires breaking that bond, in some aspects.” Stockdale, after surviving imprisonment and torture, had tried to understand what he called “the rising of the few.” Barkhuff similarly believed that “leadership requires personal risk, and a willingness to go first.” Veterans had a unique responsibility to step forward, denounce Trump, and stop the degradation of the constitutional principles that they had fought to protect.

Barkhuff eventually decided to appear in an anti-Trump spot himself. He had been working with Sarah Longwell, the founder of Republican Voters Against Trump, and also had become friendly with Stuart Stevens, the veteran G.O.P. operative who had served as Mitt Romney’s chief strategist in 2012. Like Barkhuff, Stevens lived in Vermont; both wound up working with the Lincoln Project, an anti-Trump super pac whose leaders were former and current Republicans.

The Lincoln Project’s ads were going viral. Barkhuff—square-jawed, dark-haired, and blunt—made two spots. In “Betrayed,” he “basically looked President Trump in the eye and called him a coward,” as Schatz put it, for doing nothing about the fact that Russia, working with the Taliban, reportedly placed bounties on the heads of American troops in Afghanistan. In “Conservative,” Barkhuff declared Trump “the most easily fixable problem in America today,” and said that Joe Biden, the Democratic contender, could be trusted to conserve the Constitution and the rule of law.

On YouTube alone, Barkhuff’s ads have been viewed nearly three million times. Veterans for Responsible Leadership received a flurry of individual donations: the group has taken in nearly four hundred thousand dollars, most of it recently. During the 2020 Presidential campaign cycle, V.F.R.L. spent almost a hundred thousand dollars supporting Biden and seventy-seven thousand dollars actively opposing Trump, largely via ads and billboards.

Membership in V.F.R.L. swelled, to more than two thousand. Trump’s Presidency had “caused a real crisis of patriotism,” Mike Smith, V.F.R.L.’s director of operations, and a former F/A-18 pilot, told me. He recalled Brian Jopek, a member whose son Ryan was killed, in 2006, in Iraq, where Brian had himself been deployed two years earlier. “When somebody has given that much to their country and they don’t really understand where their country’s going, it’s important for them to find a home,” Smith said.

Smith and I were talking this summer, by Zoom, along with Schatz, who is the V.F.R.L. vice-president, and Fred Wellman, a Iraq combat veteran who had just joined the Lincoln Project. Schatz and Smith said that, initially, V.F.R.L.’s leaders saw their organization as an outlet for “veterans who were a little bit disaffected with politics.” The group had become a place to discuss how to explain to the Trump supporters they knew that the President threatened the very principles that they had risked their lives defending.

Trump’s support within the military community was slipping. Over the summer, a poll by the Military Times showed that thirty-eight per cent of those on active duty supported the President, down from forty-six per cent in 2017. In September, a Morning Consult poll showed that Trump’s support among military households had dropped from fifty-seven per cent to fifty-two per cent since 2016. In November, exit polling showed that just over half of registered veterans and active-duty service members voted for Trump, but that forty-five per cent had chosen Biden—a far narrower margin than in the 2016 race.

Since Election Day, Trump has raised more than two hundred million dollars by claiming, baselessly, that the election was stolen. Despite the definitive loss, Trump’s campaign grinds on. His fund-raising texts read like a parody of QVC (“Pres. Trump has authorized a 1000% IMPACT for the NEXT HR to help CRUSH our End-of-Month goal!”) laced with stalker-y menace (“I texted you. My sons texted you. Now I’m texting you AGAIN”).

Donors may have believed that they were contributing to an election-defense fund, when, in reality, as my colleague John Cassidy noted, seventy-five per cent of each contribution goes to a new so-called leadership political-action committee, whose monies can be applied to Trump’s future political activities. The fact that more than seventy million people voted for Trump—some of whom continue to send him money, even in defeat—shows “that Trumpism is alive and well,” Gary Lawson, a V.F.R.L. member and former Marine infantry platoon commander, told me.

Trump may decide not to run in 2024, but his acolytes will assuredly be around. V.F.R.L. plans to oppose them and to support down-ballot candidates whom they deem credible, especially veterans. “We want to politically punish Trump’s enablers,” Barkhuff said. “Marco Rubio—I don’t think he belongs in prison for the rest of his life, but he’s lost the right to lead our country.” Lawson, a lifelong conservative, told me that V.F.R.L. wants candidates “who are thinking about the real, practical needs of the people they’re there to serve,” not “manipulating the process so you can have a forty-year career in the Senate.”

It is unclear how many veterans serve in state and local elected office, but in Washington their numbers are dropping. In 1973, about seventy-three per cent of Congress, or three hundred and ninety representatives and senators, had “some type of military experience,” the Military Times recently reported; in 2011, the number of veterans in Congress dropped to a hundred and eighteen. On January 3rd, when the 117th Congress is sworn in, the number of veterans serving in the House and Senate will fall again, to ninety-one—the lowest level since the Second World War.

The V.F.R.L. members are working on a plan to address what Barkhuff calls the “segregation” of civilian and military society. After Vietnam, he said, “everything changed” as the military adjusted to an all-volunteer force and several Ivy League schools “shit-canned” or downgraded their R.O.T.C. programs. The idea of a military is neither conservative nor liberal—it’s Constitutional—and it frustrates Barkhuff that the Democrats “have just conceded the military.” Likewise, the group wants to diminish the growing division between college-educated and working-class Americans. “One of the big dividing lines in our culture is a college education,” Barkhuff said. He envisions a sort of exchange program in which “a kid from the University of Vermont perhaps could work on a project with a kid who works in a factory. That could go a long way toward fixing this distrust of experts, this distrust of the university system—these deeper chasms in our society.”

Lawson, an honors graduate in history from the Naval Academy, said that Trump, taking advantage of enormous, rapid technological changes, had used media outlets like Fox News, OANN, Newsmax, and Facebook to drive tribalism, paranoia, and conspiracy nonsense. Trumpism is “grievance, above all else,” Lawson told me. “It’s denial of rational, analytical thought,” such as “seeking out evidence, vetting that evidence, coming to rational conclusions. If we cannot get our arms around that, it’s really hard to see how we can bring the country back again.”

In October, Lawson recommended that V.F.R.L. create a Veteran Code of Conduct, signifying that responsibility and honor do not end with discharge. The code, modelled on the Code of Conduct that was issued in 1955, consists of six brief articles, and begins, “I am an American veteran, standing with my fellow citizens to serve my country and our way of life.” The code places “loyalty to the United States above political party.” It expressly supports “the peaceful transfer of power,” and asks adherents to vow not to “take up arms against the lawful government.” Veterans can pledge to “continue to honor my Oath to the Constitution” by promising to “stand for the equality and dignity of all” and to “hold myself and all servants of the public trust, including elected leaders, government servants, and law enforcement, to the highest moral, ethical, and professional standards.” V.F.R.L. released the Veteran Code on its Web site in November.

In a YouTube video, the group explains that transitioning from military to civilian life can be “jarring,” causing some veterans to “lose their way.” The group specifically cautions against veterans joining extremist organizations. Lately, a sobering number of former or active-duty service members have been connected to militias, or to plots or crimes related to public safety. Two of the men who have been charged in connection with a thwarted scheme to kidnap the governor of Michigan, Gretchen Whitmer, had served in the military; one, a former marine, reportedly co-founded the militia group Wolverine Watchmen. In June, in Las Vegas, an Army reservist and two other men, who reportedly had served in the Air Force and Navy, were indicted on charges of plotting to throw Molotov cocktails at police during a Black Lives Matter protest; the defendants allegedly were members of the Boogaloo movement, and had told an F.B.I. informant that their group was “for people who wanted to violently overthrow the United States government.” In Missouri, a man claiming to be a Navy veteran, who died in a shootout with the F.B.I., in March, had planned to bomb or attack one or more possible sites—a nuclear plant, houses of worship, a hospital, Walmart headquarters, a predominantly Black elementary school. Last year, an active-duty Coast Guard member, who was later convicted of drug and firearms charges, kept a hit list of “traitors,” including Democratic politicians and well-known news anchors, and had written a letter calling for the establishment of a “white homeland” through “focused violence.”

Only a small fraction of the country’s twenty million veterans wind up involved in the nation’s three hundred or so militia groups, as the Times recently reported. But Lawson told me that “nefarious forces on the fringe” try to “exploit vulnerabilities that exist in people that served and then got out.” Leaving the military means losing support structures, cultural norms, and enforcement mechanisms that, for some veterans, do not exist in civilian life. On average, seventeen veterans commit suicide each day. Militia leaders, Lawson said, can “take a morsel of principle,” such as resisting tyranny, and “redefine it in a way that’s irrational and not fact based.”

In 1955, Admiral Arthur Radford, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said, in a speech, that the newly created Code of Conduct “could very well be a part of every American’s attitude.” It was not enough to memorize the Declaration of Independence and the Bill of Rights, he declared, “for you could teach a parrot to do that.” Radford warned that unless every American assumed individual responsibility for understanding and upholding the true “meaning of liberty,” the country was “apt to fall prey to tyrannical forces, from within as well as from without.” Barkhuff thinks of the Veteran Code as an urgent affirmation that the “rules of the game” aren’t just fair play: they’re existential.


  1. Trumpism will be alive for decades. Over 70 million Americans confirmed they believe in Trumpism last election.

    1. Yup. Over 70 million ignorant souls. And ya lost. Bigly.

  2. RN... over 70 million. And yet, they still lost.


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