For very good reasons, the Pentagon has long forbidden U.S. troops from engaging in political activity while in uniform. They are in uniform to serve their country and obey the orders of their commander in chief regardless of who that commander is and which party he or she might represent. Any hint of partisan favor suggests the military could, at some time, be used against Americans who hold opposing political views.
Leaders of all political persuasions must agree on this simple, unbendable standard. Which means those leaders need to stand up and warn President Donald Trump that he’s crossing the line with his blatant use of visits to U.S. troops to promote his political campaign — complete with allowing uniforms to be modified with pro-Trump badges and blocking event participation of sailors whose ship was named after a senator Trump didn’t like.
Whether the White House is directly involved in distributing the badges or blocking the USS John McCain from Trump’s view isn’t the point. With a wink and a nod, the Trump administration appears to be giving troops the go-ahead to be politically active in uniform — as long as they’re supporting Trump.
In Japan last week, sailors from the USS John McCain were blocked from attending a Trump appearance while service members aboard the USS Wasp applied red Velcro-style patches directly to their uniforms. The patches bore Trump’s image. Instead of his campaign slogan, “Make America Great Again,” the words were changed to: “Make Aircrew Great Again.”
With the unmistakable Trump image, the patch clearly constituted a political statement. Any commander in chief worth his or her status would have issued an unequivocal rebuke not only to the crew members involved but to their commanding officers for tolerating this abuse of the uniform.
“They’re inappropriate & against regulation,” tweeted retired Army Lt. Gen. Mark Hertling.
Former Navy Chief Petty Officer Malcolm Nance tweeted: “That unauthorized ‘novelty’ needs to be secured RIGHT HERE!! RIGHT NOW!! Secure it before 60% of the country thinks our beloved @USNavy serves a man & not the Constitution!”
In Iraq just after Christmas, Trump turned a gathering with U.S. troops into a campaign rally complete with the same theme songs he used during his 2016 campaign. He signed contraband political hats bearing the “MAGA” slogan and used his appearance to take political shots at Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who is second only to Vice President Mike Pence in the line of succession as commander in chief.
Trump tried similar attacks on Pelosi during a Pentagon visit in January, but he was met — appropriately — with dead silence.
Trump needs to hear from the GOP leadership that America’s armed forces are off limits for his ego-feeding political activities. And the uniform is never to be sullied with any political image, no matter who the president is.