I’m almost embarrassed to say this but I think, if one picks one’s way through the misogynistic, racist, bombastic, ignorant and arrogant bollocks that characterise Donald Trump’s speeches and, worse, proposed policies, he does, sometimes, get something a bit right. But then he usually goes and spoils it by reverting to type.
In 2013, in circumstances that don’t matter, Trump drew attention to the fact that the incidence of sexual assault, including rape, in the US military was ballooning. Trump built his delusions (which have, incredibly, turned out to not be delusions) of grandeur via his Twitter account. He posted his thoughts, to all intents shallow, headline grabbing comments that displayed little thought) on all manner of subjects. He posted “26,000 unreported sexual assaults in the military-only 238 convictions. What did these geniuses expect when they put men and women together.”
This time, Trump has not spoiled it, at least not in principle, although he has undermined his own message by continuing to be shallow, following his apparent plan not to make plans that he can be accused of not implementing once he’s in office. After all, he’s going to be busy building a wall on the southern US border, chasing illegal immigrants across the USA, trying to decide whether the UK’s exit from the EU is a good thing or a bad thing and whether to be on either, both or no side once it happens.
Trump’s biggest credibility problem is that he can’t shut up. When the 2013 tweet was put to him in a public head to head debate with Clinton this week, he said “it’s a correct tweet.” The audience was made up of former military personnel. But then he issued a Trumpism: he said “many people think it’s correct.”
Unsupported, vague statements are amongst the most powerful weapons Trump has deployed in his campaign so far: almost every speech contains a reference to a nebulous “many people” or “most people.” But we never find out who those people are. Trump’s hidden ace is that it turns out that those people, who may or may not exist when he says it, become those people, become those voters, when they come to pop their chad. He creates, in a sense that is disturbingly close to the literal meaning, a tsunami of almost robot voters, of lemmings that join in just because there is someone leading, they know not where or into what.
American media is not asking the American people the correct questions, nor giving them the correct answers. It is relying on 140 character policy statements or comments and then republishing page after page of them as if they carry weight. Lazy, sloppy journalism has turned the US presidential race into the adult equivalent of the school sack race. The fact is that the wider media serves Clinton’s interests by remaining shallow: socialism is best explained in words of one syllable, so socialists don’t do that. They obfuscate, they change the meaning of words, they confuse language because confused voters decide that the people who they can’t understand must know better than them.
Trump, for all the tosh he talks, speaks plainly. And for all the shallowness of his usual speeches, he does sometimes come across with a surprising modesty. And for all the incendiary crap he spouts, there is one characteristic he displays every time: honesty. Sure, he’s not always been entirely “on the up” in his business dealings but in a lifelong career in business, everyone has the odd skeleton in their cupboard, things they would rather they had not done, things that they hope no one will remember or draw attention to. In this Trump is no different to any other candidate.
So when the interviewer asked him a follow up question, asking if women should no longer be allowed to serve in the military, Trump answered well: women should not be removed but “something has to happen. Right now, the problem is no one is getting prosecuted.”
Good answer. Shut up and wait for the next question. Of course, Trump did not do that. “”The best thing we can do is set up a court system within the military,” he said. “Right now the court system practically doesn’t exist. When you have somebody that does something so evil, so bad as that, there has to be consequences for that person, you have to go after that person. Right now, nobody is doing anything.”
This half-right. The part that’s wrong is that there is a courts martial system. What Trump should have said is that sexual assaults and rape should be investigated and prosecuted outside the military: that they should be considered civilian offences, not military offences, they they are crimes against the person, not, in effect, conduct unbecoming or a similar, military only, offence.
The reason is simple: there is a code of brotherhood (which includes women) serving in the military. While the military police do their best, ultimately, decisions to prosecute and to convict are in the hands of career army officers. There is a culture that to bring a prosecution is, in itself, likely to bring the military into disrepute. It’s best to cover it up.
This is not peculiar to the US military – it’s far and wide. It’s portrayed as racist, or misogynistic or whatever the current trend is but it’s not: those are symptoms, not causes.
Trump’s initial comment, revived by the interviewer Matt Lauer of NBC in this week’s debate, has allowed the broad left to shout and tweet. The BBC, which is increasingly, basing its reporting on what it finds on Twitter or can copy and paste from Reuters, has joined in saying that the comments were “sparking an immediate backlash” in social media, by which it means it had called up the relevant hashtag, driven by Trump’s opponents. It did not address the issues.
The issues are simple: Trump’s original tweet was after a Pentagon report said that there had been a significant and sudden increase in the number of sexual assaults reported – and significantly unreported – by both genders in the military. His comment was not worthy of criticism: in any large scale organisation. But the military, especially the American military, is designed to produce aggressive individuals, to drill into them a personality that results in the use of the language of violence long after their service is finished, a language that has now found its way into use by ordinary Americans who talk about “killing it” as if killing is normal. Ironically, those members of the military who have been involved in actual harsh conflict are more likely to be calm and eschew the militaristic approach than those who spend their time in a state of readiness but without release.
It is this culture of easy violence that leads to assaults, both sexual and otherwise. The US culture of “hazing” is rife, even though it’s illegal.
Trump, if only he’d learn when to stop talking, was heading in the right direction. He might have said “maybe we do need to reconsider whether we put mixed platoons in the front line.” But he didn’t: he said that that was not an option, but that the military needs to sort itself out, and sort out its internal disciplinary problems, before the power to do so independently is reviewed.
Oddly, that makes a great deal of sense. It’s not Trump talking down the place of women in the military, as the left is trying to say and as most media is trying to claim. It’s Trump saying that the armed forces must be gender-neutral where personal rights and safety are concerned. What a shame he doesn’t have the vocabulary, or the available Twitter character- limit, to say that.
© 2016 Jefferson Galt
All rights reserved