Senator John McCain died this weekend, succumbing to brain cancer after a fierce, yearlong battle with the disease. He had served his country for decades, both as a naval officer and prisoner of war, and then as a congressman and senator from Arizona. Fittingly, flags across the nation were lowered to half-staff to honor this man who had given so much of himself for the rest of us. And while most of those flags remain lowered from the time of the announcement of his passing and will remain so for the next few days, the flag atop the White House conspicuously was raised to full mast after just a few short hours.
It is well known that Donald Trump and John McCain did not care for each other personally, oftentimes spilling their feud out into the public sphere for the nation to witness. And so we have the petty last gesture of Trump in choosing to insult McCain’s legacy by not keeping the White House flag at mid-mast. In doing so, he not only refused to honor McCain, but refused to honor all of the brave men and women in uniform who have sacrificed life and limb, literally, for this country’s defense. The White House flag was lowered again and a tepid, perfunctory proclamation issued only after the American Legion and the VFW exerted pressure on the administration to make it right, but the damage had already been done.
This is not the first time the President has acted in such a deplorable manner. When Trump was seeking the Republican nomination, he famously called into question John McCain’s war hero bona fides, claiming that he was not a hero because he had been captured by the North Vietnamese.
Let me tell you a little about what Lt. Commander McCain endured at the hands of his North Vietnam captors. In 1967, his Skyhawk was shot down over Hanoi and he suffered two broken arms and a broken leg when he parachuted into a lake. Nearly drowning, he was pulled ashore by North Vietnamese soldiers, and they stripped him as locals gathered around and kicked and spit at him. They smashed his shoulder with a rifle butt and jabbed a bayonet through his foot.
Taken to a prison, he was beaten and not allowed any medical treatment for his severe injuries. Days later and near death, they finally treated his wounds after finding out that his father was a powerful admiral. The hospital was filthy, and McCain’s bed sat in an inch of dirty rainwater on the floor.
Six weeks later he was moved back to prison. By this time his weight was down to 100 pounds. The other prisoners didn’t expect McCain to live a week. He did survive and was placed into solitary confinement for a period of two years. Finally, they told him that he was being released, but he refused to go unless all the men who were imprisoned there before him were first released. This infuriated his captors and that’s when the real torture began. For four days, he was kicked and thrown around the room. He was beaten every three hours, had his knees jumped up and down upon, and forced to stand for hours on a stool. His arm was so broken he couldn’t get off the floor and his bowels were racked with severe chronic, dysentery. These beatings continued three or four times a week for years. Finally, after more than five years of hell, John McCain was released, his arms so badly damaged that he’d never again be able to raise them over his head. He was unable to even comb his own hair.
Donald Trump has the temerity to say that he doesn’t think people who are captured should be considered heroes. McCain’s capture and torture was occurring, of course, at the same time Trump was getting his deferment from going to Vietnam due to a bone spur in his foot.
Just a few weeks ago, as McCain was near the end of his battle with cancer, the President did it again. A recent defense bill signed by the President is formally known as the John S. McCain National Defense Authorization Act, but throughout the entire signing ceremony, the Commander-in-Chief never uttered John McCain’s name a single time. The disrespect is astounding.
Despite all of this, John McCain, selfless to the end, would not have taken offense to the attacks on his personal honor and service. He realized the issue was not about himself, but about all those who have served and who still serve in our military.
However, what the Trump Administration is planning to do now, that will affect the well-being of thousands upon thousands of soldiers and sailors of the U.S. Armed Forces, would have rankled the Arizonian beyond words. They are set to gut The Military Lending Act, a law that protects soldiers and their families from predatory loans, financial fraud, and credit gouging. It allows the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau to act as a watchdog over lenders who would try to take advantage of the financial inexperience of many young members of our armed forces.
These cover shady businesses that offer payday loans, vehicle title loans, tax refund anticipation loans, and credit cards with usury-level interest rates and deceitful terms. They often cluster around the entrances of army posts and naval bases, waiting like vultures to exploit unsuspecting and desperate soldiers and sailors who often have trouble managing their finances well, due to inexperience. It’s often a young service member’s first time away from home, and they haven’t had to deal with the realities of budget management or bills.
These brave citizens already have to deal with enemies on the battlefield. Why should they have their lives ruined by these new enemies lurking just beyond the front gates of the fort? They are four times as likely to be targeted for these unfair loans and are subject to reprehensible tactics such as coercion and lying about the lending terms.
The law is a good one. Lenders can’t push military members into forced arbitration, they can’t force them to allot portions of their paychecks for loan payback, they can’t charge annual interest of more than 36 percent (still exorbitant), they and can’t charge a penalty for early repayment of a loan.
And Trump wants to take these protections away?
That’s not all. The administration has also sent a proposal to the Defense Department asking them to revise the rules involving so-called “gap insurance” when purchasing a car. Gap insurance is an add-on to regular car insurance that covers the difference between the car’s actual value and how much is still owed on the car. It’s usually about 25 dollars or so annually from an insurance company, but unscrupulous auto dealers will sell it for hundreds of dollars. The current DOD rules prevent dealers from selling it to military members, but now Trump is trying to strip our soldiers of this protection as well.
I guess lining his friends’ pockets is more important than making sure our men and women in uniform and their families are treated with respect.
That’s what it all comes down to ultimately, isn’t it? Respect. Or lack of it. Whether it be for the war hero or for your average GI trying to make his way in the world, Donald Trump obviously feels nothing for them, and will use them and their stories to aggrandize himself when necessary, but will turn on them in an instant when either his greed, or his ambition, or his thinnest of skins gets in the way. Their sacrifice becomes secondary to his all-encompassing, destructive ego.
Christopher Fairchild is the editor of Panacea magazine and Welcome to Fayette magazine, and works as a photographer and graphic designer for Fayette Newspapers.