I titled this column purposefully as an expression of my own opinion, I am not reporting a conclusion made by someone else. This is one of my rare Op-Eds. But if you read on, I promise I make a solid case.
I do believe that among all the scandals surrounding Trump – including a Yale Psychiatrist and leader of the World Mental Health Organization calling for Trump to be put on a psychiatric hold – as well as all the details wrapped-up in and around the impeachment question, the pardoning of Navy SEAL Eddie Gallagher will be the act that will cost Trump his credibility and perception of infallibility among the right, and thus cost him 2020.
I say that because details of Gallagher’s crimes, beyond the abhorrent ones of which we already know, are leaking out. They paint the picture of a true monster. In siding with that monster, Trump will necessarily take-on some of the same characteristics, and certainly become increasingly complicit in the crime, an accessory after the fact.
Moreover, I cannot think of any situation that more perfectly exemplifies Trump’s tendency to cover for the aggressor, the abuser, the law-breaker, while also making decisions without sufficient knowledge of the facts and – were that not enough – replacing the conclusions of real professionals, with his own instincts. As the public learns more about the type of person Trump saw fit to pardon, the public will impose those same reprehensible characteristics upon Trump.
In my opinion, this scandal paints the clearest divide, the least susceptible to counter-arguments, the one most impermeable to “both siderism” bullshit. In sum is not political, and therefore, powerful in a unique way.
The details are horrific. The New York Times obtained tapes of interviews of his own unit, tapes of SEALs who are not generally seen as a bunch of Elizabeth Warren-voting liberals, pacifists to the extreme. Yet they bore a special hatred for this man:
“The guy is freaking evil,” Special Operator First Class Craig Miller told an investigator. Miller then broke down in tears,“Sorry about this,” Miller said. “It’s the first time — I’m really broken up about this.”
Now think about what this guy Miller has seen, what he’s been trained to see and do, and imagine what it takes to break him down like this. It is just a taste of what we’re about to see and hear in the coming year.
“The guy was toxic,” Special Operator First Class Joshua Vriens, a sniper, said in a separate interview.
“You could tell he was perfectly okay with killing anybody that was moving,” Special Operator First Class Corey Scott, a medic in the platoon, told investigators.
“Perfectly okay with killing anybody that was moving.” We have a word for those types in this country, they are sociopathic mass-murderers.
It is not in the story from which I am quoting, and I want to be careful of fair use policy, but I recently read a first-hand report from a member of his unit which detailed an incident in which Gallagher was sighting in his rifle one day. From a great distance, he shot a young girl in the gut, she instantly grabbed her stomach and fell, while friends she had been walking with ran to get out of the fire, and get the girl help. Let that sink in. It is behavior such as this that led his unit to manipulate his scope, hoping he couldn’t shoot straight.
Think about that. As a unit, these people might have counted upon Gallagher saving their own lives by shooting down an enemy attacking the unit. But the unit believed that the greater danger was Gallagher sniping civilians than possibly defending the unit itself.
CNN confronted a Republican congressman Charlie Dent of Pennsylvania, about the new revelations and Trump’s decision to pardon Gallagher. One can see how this Trump decision is one of the few (perhaps the only one) that Trump’s Republican sycophants simply cannot defend:
“Look, if you are the president of the United States, you have a lot of power in terms of pardons and commutations and before one intervenes, he should get the facts, and he should listen to expert testimony,” Dent explained. “That’s one of the problems with this president. He operates on his gut and by intervening the way he did, he undermines the military and their processes and procedures.”
“Where they made some recommendations here, and the president simply ignored them,” he added. “He just simply knew better than those who spend a lot of time studying, considering all the facts of this case. and I think this is going to come back to bite the president.”
What Dent just said, without actually stating it expressly, is that it has already come back to bite the president in Dent’s mind. Dent is sickened by what happened, and has no defense for it. He will not defend Trump in the action, and likely feels less inclined to back Trump in any situation.
Remember, the military charged Gallagher with murder over stabbing a child – a 16 year old captee – one who had been subdued, arrested, tied up, defenseless. Gallagher stabbed him in the neck, killing him, then photographed the scene. The only reason that Gallagher was not convicted of murder was due to a sudden surprise at trial. A witness who had been given immunity to testify, one of Gallagher’s few friends in the unit (and someone likely scared of Gallagher) surprised everyone by stating he murdered the boy. His witness immunity protected Gallagher’s budy from being charged.
It was a lie, everyone knew it was a lie. But it was sufficient to get Gallagher off of on murder. But the reversal could not get Gallagher off from committing the war crime of publishing the picture, a crime for which he would have served significant time, and been stripped of his Trident. Trump went so far as to order the Navy to not strip Gallagher of his Trident. Gallagher will be able to collect military benefits from his service, Andrew McCabe was fired just in time (McCabe had already announced his retirement) to make McCabe ineligible to collect benefits from his service. McCabe didn’t stab a teen in the neck, he just upset Trump.
This is one of the few true Op-Eds you will ever see me write. I prefer analysis. But I believe that this is the case that will weigh on Trump with the voters – independent voters – more than any other.
As I said above, even more details will emerge. They will be more specific, more gruesome. The military had reason to keep some of those details under wraps when it was confident it would secure a murder conviction. Now that Gallagher is pardoned, the military will have every reason to both punish Trump for stepping into their process, threatening discipline, and preventing Trump from doing it again. The military will rob Trump of any political benefit Trump might believe he gained, just to ensure Trump isn’t tempted to do it again.
This situation is entirely black and white. There is no middle. This was a bad guy. Ask the good guys in the SEALs. Yes, a contingent of perhaps 20% of the public will see near nothing wrong with outright murder of Muslims halfway across the world. They were voting for Trump under any circumstances. We aren’t talking about that group. We are speaking of the reluctant Trumpers. Ones who might vote for Trump because of the economy or worry about the Democrat. They cannot forgive this, and will forever doubt Trump’s judgment.
Ultimately, the Democratic nominee must remind voters of the pardon as symbolizing all that Trump values. He loves killers, ruthless killers. He sides with evil. He is petulant, impulsive, reckless when it comes to war and peace, and will always trust his uneducated gut instinct over professionals who “know.” He also acted largely for political reasons. Trump only jumped to support Gallagher after Gallagher became a Fox celebrity (under a false narrative). In other words, Trump once again did the wrong thing because it benefitted him politically. It will be a powerful – and morally justified – tool in the Democratic nominee’s arsenal.
Last, Trump just made a lot of enemies within the Defense Department. The Defense Department has its own intelligence agencies, independent of the CIA and NSA, and they are damned good. They have intel, and will develop more. Some of it might be highly damaging to Trump. Do you suppose that some of it might find its way into the New York Times in the right situation? The military is also partly charged with guarding our elections. They have a lot of computing power. I suspect that they might put a bit extra effort into the endeavor now.
Trump just managed to put his biggest supporters in a bind. The two things Right-Wing evangelicals support without question are Trump and the military. In a way that only Trump could, Trump just managed to divide the Wingers’ two loyalties. It will not take that many cross-overs to have a massive impact on Trump’s election chances.
The Republicans have shamelessly colored the impeachment charge as nothing but another political fight. We have seen the two sides largely dig-in.
Republicans won’t be able to do any such thing in this matter, as we see from Charlie Dent’s interview.
The most lasting, damaging, Trump action in the year prior to the election will prove to be the inexcusable pardon of Navy SEAL Eddie Gallagher. Trump tied himself to the worst type of American, and in a way that seems both fitting and inevitable. Unlike Gallagher, Trump will be held responsible.
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