There was that graduation at West Point long ago. Colin Powell spoke – he was fine. The Soviet Union had just collapsed and we had no enemies now. In fact, our idea of how societies should be organized had won. Our form of democracy was the only thing that actually worked. Francis Fukuyama had called it The End of History – but we would still need a military, and need thoughtful military leaders, to keep the peace and manage things and inspire others. That was Powell’s message, and those young men and women were amazing – Duty, Honor, Country – the real deal. They could pull that off.
Everyone should attend a graduation at West Point, especially those of us who were part of the late-sixties long-haired left who had turned into middle-aged bleeding-heart liberals. Powell and Fukuyama were wrong. Saddam Hussein soon tried to grab Kuwait and had to be tossed out of there – and later September 11 happened and we had our wars. We’re living through what had to follow those – perpetual proxy wars all across the Middle East, where our friends are sometimes our enemies and our enemies are sometimes our friends, with associated terrorist attacks around the world. That means that Powell was actually right. We need thoughtful military leaders more than ever. There’s a lot to sort out, that won’t stay sorted out. Attend a graduation at West Point. There’s hope.
There’s also Donald Trump, and there’s another graduation at hand, and there’s Stephen Wrage, a professor in the political science department at our Naval Academy in Annapolis. He says Trump has made this graduation different:
The day it was announced that President Trump would speak at the U.S. Naval Academy graduation, I received startling emails from several midshipmen, written to my private email account from their private accounts. One message said: “We are under no obligation to clap for Donald Trump. Trump wants the image of young service members cheering him on and we can deny him that image.” Another proposed an online petition on social media, pledging not to applaud Trump at commissioning. There were four more with similar themes: “We are taught selflessness; he practices narcissism.” “If he is a role model, it is only in the exact opposite.”
This sort of defiance was new to me, even after 25 years of teaching at the academy. Their complaints centered on the president’s character.
Wrage worked that out. The midshipmen agreed that there’d be no protests or anything that would ruin the day. Trump himself would have to do that, and they do know what to do:
The midshipmen found a better model in Defense Secretary Jim Mattis – a better model of a leader and a better way to conduct themselves. At Trump’s first full Cabinet meeting, when he went around the table demanding expressions of adulation, Mattis didn’t comply. The retired Marine Corps general performed what one mid admiringly called “the Mattis sidestep.” Mattis countered with respect for the people he leads: “Mr. President, it’s an honor to represent the men and women of the Department of Defense. We are grateful for the sacrifices our people are making in order to strengthen our military, so our diplomats always negotiate from a position of strength.”
The midshipmen will sidestep Trump.
They will show no sign of disrespect, and neither will anyone else:
Trump is needy, and military events such as the parade in Paris excite him. There are some midshipmen who will be thrilled by him, and some parents from red states will be tempted to treat the ceremony like a rally, but most will sense how much the day means to their daughters and sons and will restrain themselves. Some faculty will want to turn their backs or walk out when Trump speaks, but most who would protest will just stay home.
There is no question, however, how the officers whom the midshipmen report to will behave: They will offer the quiet deference they owe to the office of the president. They speak with full academic freedom in their classrooms, but they maintain military decorum at a ceremony.
There is duty and honor and country. Those don’t require cheering. Those are quiet virtues, and Wrage adds this:
Decades later, officers remember their commissioning. One Marine I know recalled whole passages he heard from the speech at his graduation in 1993, 25 years ago. That year, John McCain came to speak and, as they say, he killed it.
McCain told them, “As ensigns and second lieutenants, the character of the young sailors and Marines entrusted to your care will be formed in large part by their appreciation of your character. You are where leadership begins. You are the models who stand just past the sergeants and chiefs, and those under your command will derive from your behavior the direction of their own lives. Their firm respect for you, on which their lives and our security will depend, will be determined by how faithfully you keep, on duty and off, the code you learned here.”
McCain was telling them something they had learned every day for four years. Former Joint Chiefs of Staff chair Martin E. Dempsey tweeted a similar message just last week: “Character matters. Always. In everything. Period.”
Trump had better not try that:
When McCain said it, it was unforgettable. If Trump says the same things, the midshipmen will cringe. They know about Trump’s bone spurs. They know what McCain suffered in Hanoi, and they know Trump told Howard Stern that risking sexually transmitted diseases “like a great and very brave soldier” was his “personal Vietnam.”
McCain even addressed the matter on the minds of many midshipmen right now: how to respond to a president morally unfit to command. Bill Clinton, who had taken office just four months before, was scorned by many academy graduates for taking ROTC support but evading service. McCain said, “When the American people elect a leader to govern the affairs of our great nation, our respect for their authority must remain inviolate – for it is that respect from which our profession derives so much of its nobility in a democracy. Your commanders and instructors have worked hard to impart these lessons to you.”
The world changed – all of this is harder now – but these young men and women won’t change:
In Annapolis, Trump won’t find sycophants such as the ones he packed into his Cabinet. He will find officers. That’s what the Naval Academy produces. They will show the measured respect his office requires, but he shouldn’t imagine that he is leading them. Trump is no McCain. The word “character” should be off-limits for Trump.
There’s hope, and there’s still John McCain:
Republican Senator John McCain rips into President Donald Trump in his new book The Restless Wave, accusing him of not caring about Russian election interference while questioning his general convictions.
“Trump seems to vary from refusing to believe what Russian President Vladimir Putin is doing to just not caring about it,” McCain wrote.
Taking aim at one of Trump’s primary slogans, McCain added that there’s nothing “America First” about “taking the word of a KGB colonel over that of the American intelligence community.”
But wait, there’s more:
In addition to attacking Trump on the issue of Russian election interference, McCain went after the president’s core beliefs.
“I’m not sure what to make of President Trump’s convictions,” McCain wrote. “The appearance of toughness or a reality show facsimile of toughness seems to matter more than any of our values.”
In the Arizona senator’s view, Trump seems to “mock the idea that America has any business at all promoting its values abroad.”
But wait, there’s more:
McCain wrote that Trump’s “lack of empathy” for refugees is particularly “disturbing.”
“The way he speaks about them is appalling, as if welfare or terrorism were the only purposes they could have in coming to our country,” the six-term senator added.
McCain said Trump essentially mimics “autocrats” in his attacks on the free press and he further accused the president of showering “some of the world’s worst tyrants” with praise, including Putin and Chinese President Xi Jinping.
Trump’s apparent disregard for human rights is especially unsettling to McCain.
“The world expects us to be concerned with the condition of humanity. We should be proud of that reputation. I’m not sure the president understands that,” he wrote…
McCain graduated from Annapolis. So did his father, the admiral. There is duty and honor and country, and then there’s Donald Trump.
Donald Trump doesn’t get some basic stuff about this country, as Erik Wemple reports here:
President Trump routinely attempts to convince his followers that the media is out to get him; that it doesn’t actually have any sources for all those White House scoops; that it lies; that it’s the enemy of the people; that it traffics in “fake news” – among other offenses carefully outlined in tweet after tweet. Sometimes the fake-news smear is conveyed in all-caps, connoting seriousness.
Ah, but it’s all a show. That’s what the president reportedly told Lesley Stahl of CBS News before her interview with the president-elect shortly after his victory in November 2016. In a conversation with Judy Woodruff for the Deadline Club Awards 2018, Stahl mentioned her conversation at Trump Tower with the politician prior to the interview.
She reported this:
At one point he started to attack the press. And it’s just me and my boss and him, and he has a huge office. And he’s attacking the press, and there were no cameras, there was nothing going on. And I said, “You know, that is getting tired. Why are you doing this? You’re doing it over and over, and it’s boring, and it’s time to end that, and you’ve won the nomination. And why do you keep hammering at this?” And he said, “You know why I do it? I do it to discredit you all and demean you all so when you write negative stories about me, no one will believe it.”
That was two years ago. He never stopped hammering at this – the press is the enemy of the people (and him) – and that might explain this:
Urged on by influential figures such as U.S. President Donald Trump, a growing number of world leaders are openly encouraging hostility toward the news media as journalists across the globe face increasing animosity for their work, according to a report by an international press watchdog organization.
That is the conclusion from the 2018 World Press Freedom Index compiled by Reporters Without Borders, or RSF. The annual ranking, released on Wednesday and which also showed a big decline in freedom of speech across the world, dropped the U.S. two positions from its 2017 position, to No. 45 overall.
Things were bad here but now they’re two places worse:
“More and more democratically elected leaders no longer see the media as part of democracy’s essential underpinning, but as an adversary to which they openly display their aversion,” RSF said in a statement accompanying the release of its rankings. “A media-bashing enthusiast, Trump has referred to reporters as ‘enemies of the people,’ the term once used by (former Soviet leader) Joseph Stalin.”
These folks must have been talking to John McCain and for the record:
Much like in 2017, European nations dominate the RSF rankings for having the most press freedom. Norway ranked No. 1 and Sweden finished No. 2 in the list.
Both of those nations are high-tax “socialist” nations with virtually free universal health care and free college and first-rate infrastructures, and vibrant capitalist economies where entrepreneurs find it easy start any kind of business and make a lot of money, and rate at the top of all those “happiness” indexes too – or as American conservatives call them, hellholes. That may be because they have the most press freedom. People there can say anything they want.
We’re leading the charge in the other direction:
Statements by Trump are also responsible for the decline in media freedom around the world, the organization said. After Trump called CNN a fake news organization, some Libyan media outlets questioned the cable network’s report on modern slave auctions in the country last year.
“The U.S.’ decline in press freedom is not simply bad news for journalists working inside the country; the downward trend has drastic consequences at the international level,” RSF said. “‘Fake news’ is now a trademark excuse for media repression, in both democratic and authoritarian regimes.”
Earlier this month, April Ryan – the Washington, D.C. bureau chief for American Urban Radio Networks and a political analyst for CNN – said she had received death threats after asking press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders whether Trump had considered resigning.
In that case, some of Trump’s civilian supporters took him far too seriously about this stuff, but Trump is playing with fire here, and the administration’s war on the press is real enough:
Officials at the Environmental Protection Agency barred reporters from three news organizations, allegedly shoving one out of the building, after they had sought to cover a meeting attended by other journalists Tuesday.
The incident occurred at a summit on water contamination at the EPA’s headquarters in Washington called by the agency’s administrator, Scott Pruitt.
Reporters from CNN, the Associated Press and the energy and environment publication E&E News were prevented from attending the meeting, which included about 200 representatives of regulatory and industry groups.
AP reporter Ellen Knickmeyer tweeted that EPA guards grabbed a reporter by the shoulders and “shoved” the journalist out of the building. Knickmeyer declined to identify herself as the reporter, but AP later confirmed that she was the one excluded.
Scott Pruitt is more Trump than Trump dares to be. His guards grabbed the reporter by the shoulders and tossed her out, and then Scott Pruitt had second thoughts:
By midafternoon, the EPA reversed course and permitted Knickmeyer to cover the conference’s afternoon session. Knickmeyer said an adviser to Pruitt called to apologize to her and that officials were looking into the shoving incident, according to AP.
That wasn’t good enough:
In a statement, Knickmeyer’s boss, AP Executive Editor Sally Buzbee, called the episode “alarming and a direct threat to the public’s right to know about what is happening inside their government.” She added, “It is particularly distressing that any journalist trying to cover an event in the public interest would be forcibly removed.”
CNN reporter Rene Marsh was also prevented from attending, a network spokeswoman said, after “multiple attempts to attend.” The spokeswoman said EPA “selectively excluded” the network and others. “We understand the importance of an open and free press, and we hope the EPA does, too,” she said.
Don’t count on it:
Reporters and people at the EPA said agency officials have complained about the three news organizations in the past. The agency removed the AP’s environmental reporter, Michael Biesecker, from its master email list last summer after complaining about the fairness of Biesecker’s coverage of Pruitt, who has become embroiled in a series of ethical scandals.
This isn’t Norway or Sweden after all:
Although the White House and Trump administration agencies have generally accommodated reporters at public events, journalists protested last year when the White House barred reporters from several news organizations from an informal briefing. CNN, the New York Times, Politico, the Los Angeles Times and BuzzFeed were excluded from the meeting with then-press secretary Sean Spicer, who handpicked representatives from several conservative outlets. Time magazine and AP boycotted the meeting in protest of the exclusion of other news outlets.
That’s why the United States is in forty-fifth place in these matters, but Miranda Green reports on the particulars of this EPA event:
The meeting on Tuesday was significant due to the hot-button topic of PFAS [Polyfluoroalkyl Substances, hazardous chemicals linked to cancer] as debate rages between the EPA and the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) over acceptable levels of the chemicals in drinking water.
Reports last week indicated that the EPA is fearing a “public relations nightmare” following expected new recommendations from the Department of Health and Human Services that acceptable drinking water levels for PFAS are much lower than the EPA’s current standards. The chemical has been linked to thyroid disease and testicular cancer.
There are the EPA’s current standards. There is the science. Someone was going to ask Pruitt what he’s got against science. Pruitt didn’t want to answer that question, but there’s nothing new here:
The agency has come under fire in the past for limiting reporter involvement. The administration did not invite reporters to the agency’s rollout of its new science transparency rule at the end of April at EPA headquarters. Earlier in the month Pruitt also avoided reporter scrutiny by barring most outlets from attending a highly anticipated announcement at the White House that the administration would be reconsidering Obama-era vehicle emission standards.
Pruitt rarely grants one-on-one interviews with reporters outside of right-wing media or local outlets. Additionally, reporters are rarely notified of Pruitt’s meeting and trips outside of D.C., frequently only learning of them through his Twitter account.
It seems citizens don’t have the right to know what the government is doing, or not doing, about things that might kill them. There’s duty. There’s honor. There’s country. And then there’s Scott Pruitt, and behind him, Donald Trump. But there are still Annapolis graduates:
Amy McGrath, who packaged her biography as the first female Marine to fly in an F-18 fighter jet in combat with a powerful anti-Washington message, won the Democratic House primary in Kentucky’s sixth congressional district Tuesday, according to The Associated Press.
Ms. McGrath, 42, campaigned vigorously in all 19 counties in the district that stretch into deeply Republican rural areas, and was able to raise an extraordinary amount of money without the backing of national Democrats…
“Yes, I am a Democrat, but I am an American first,” she said.
She may go on to beat the Republican in the general election, because she’s an Annapolis gal:
McGrath’s service record has been at the center of her campaign since she entered the race with her viral introductory video, a two-minute biographical spot that doubled as a sort of superhero origin story for the Resistance crowd. In the video, McGrath, in a bomber jacket, explains that she grew up wanting to “fly fighter jets and land on aircraft carriers.” At the age of 12, she wrote to her congressman, senators, and the House and Senate armed services committees, asking them to lift the prohibition on female fighter pilots. Sen. Mitch McConnell never wrote back. Other Republicans told her “no.” McGrath would get her wish, though, just before she became an Annapolis cadet, when President Bill Clinton ended the ban.
“Democrats wanted to give me a chance, and all the Republicans wanted to say ‘No, you’re Amy, not Andy, go be a nurse,'” she told me.
Now she’ll do what she can to fix things in Washington. She has to. There’s duty. There’s honor. There’s country. And there’s Amy McGrath. And there’s hope.
And there’s the Annapolis graduation. Trump will speak. He’ll boast and brag and whine about this and that. The midshipmen will offer the quiet deference they owe to the office of the president, but no more. They’re the hope now.