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The Art of the Patriotic Con

“I will not disgrace my religion, my people or myself by becoming a tool to enslave those who are fighting for their own justice, freedom and equality.”

— Muhammad Ali

Military veterans are one of the most conned groups in America. Their exploitation resumed in full force with the 9/11 attacks against America. Those attacks allowed the George W. Bush administration to ramp up patriotic fever, justify launching a “global war on terrorism,” and continue the American empire’s capitalistic attempts to control other countries’ rulers and resources – which imperialism actually had provided the motivation for the 9/11 attacks. Bush himself conscripted the role of “President” into that of “Commander-in-Chief,” and with it the militarization of America was in full swing. Politicians, mainstream media, Hollywood, professional and college sporting programs, businesses, community institutions, and even religious groups accommodated, celebrated and worshipped the military uniform – with the American flag visible on the lapels of politicians and sportscasters. Shortly after the illegal, falsely-based invasion of defenseless Iraq in 2003, even a small hospital in New Hampshire displayed American flags and patriotic signs, such as “Support the Troops.” The patriotic con, which is undermining America’s morality and security, is now deeply ingrained in the status quo and readily seen in the 2016 presidential campaign.

Donald Trump’s ability to exploit the patriotism embedded in America’s status quo is a primary reason he was able to blitzkrieg 17 other Republican candidates and become the Party’s 2016 presumptive presidential nominee. Much of Trump’s primary campaign success can be attributed to his tapping into the patriotic biases and fears infecting America. With constantly repeated statements like, “Our veterans are being mistreated . . . and it’s not going to happen anymore.” “We’re going to take care of our veterans.” “We’re going to build our military, bigger and better and stronger than before. Nobody is going to mess with us. Nobody!” “I’m the most militaristic person there is.” “We’re going to knock the hell out of ISIS.” “We’re going to win and win and win”” In addition, Trump reinforces his audiences’ xenophobia in calling for Muslins to be barred from entering the country, and reportedly saying he was “open to the wholesale surveillance of Muslim Americans and warrantless searches of mosques,” and even “open to shutting down American mosques.” (“Donald Trump’s horrifying words about Muslims,” By Dean Obeidallah, CNN.com, Nov. 21, 2015)

The immorality of America’s entrenched patriotism is revealed by Donald Trump even urging the committing of war crimes, like deliberately killing women and children. To enthusiastic audiences, Donald Trump is quoted as declaring, “You have to take out their families, [as] these terrorists . . . care about their lives, don’t kid yourself.” (“Donald Trump on terrorists: ‘Take out their families,’” by Tom LoBianco, CNNPolitics.com, Dec. 3, 2015) Also, “I would bring back waterboarding, and I’d bring back a hell of a lot more than waterboarding.” (“Trump Leads GOP Charge Embracing Torture: ‘I’d bring back a hell of a lot worse than waterboarding,’” Democracy Now, Feb. 8, 2016) Such war crimes have already been committed by American military, creating countless enemies – and a Trump presidency would continue to create countless more.

Donald Trump demonstrates just how gullible and irrational patriotic zeal can be. As reported, his parents sent him to “the New York Military Academy, an expensive prep school . . . to correct poor behavior.” He said that experience “gave him ‘more training militarily than a lot of guys that go into the military.’” And even though he “received draft deferments through much of the Vietnam War . . . he nevertheless ‘always felt that I was in the military’ because of his education at a military-themed boarding school.” (“Donald Trump Likens His Schooling to Military Service in Book,” By Michael Barbaro, The New York Times, Sept. 8, 2015)

“More military training than a lot of guys that go into the military.” The greatest danger Donald Trump is quoted as facing in prep school – and during four deferments after that – was not being shot by the Viet Cong, but being infected with venereal disease from “sleeping with multiple women.” He faced not enemy fire, but “getting sexually transmitted diseases” from “sleeping around,” which he actually referred to as “his own ‘personal Vietnam.’” (“Draft-Dodger Trump Said Sleeping Around Was My ‘Personal Vietnam,’” By Tim Mah, The Daily Beast, Feb. 16, 2016)

The art of the patriotic con has worked well for the presumptive Republican presidential nominee.  In January, feuding with Fox News, Donald Trump boycotted the network’s Republican presidential debate in Iowa, and held his own nationally televised fund-raiser for veterans the same night. “’Isn’t this better than that debate that’s going on?,’” Trump said to a reported “700 people – many veterans – at a raucous rally he orchestrated.” Also reported, “The event began with a prayer, the Pledge of Allegiance and the national anthem, and it highlighted veterans throughout.” The climax was Trump telling “the group that they had just cracked $6 million in donations — $1 million of which Trump said he donated himself.” And “ the plan, he said, is to spread the money across a number of charities, which he did not name.” (”Trump on rally: Isn’t this better than the debate?,” Brianne Pfannenstiel, www.demoinesregister.com, Jan. 29, 2016)

Donald Trump received considerable political mileage from that fund-raiser for veterans. In the days ahead, he repeatedly reminded campaign rally audiences of the $6 million raised, including his gift of $1 million.

But it took four months for Donald Trump to finally put his money where his mouth repeatedly was. Under intense media scrutiny, Trump finally accounted for and give the actually amount raised to veterans groups. The reported total was $5.5 million, not $6 million. And only after reporters dogged him for months, did Donald Trump finally donate the money, including his $1 million, to veterans’ groups. In the process, Trump is quoted as saying “he never actually promised that the fundraiser had raised $6 million. ‘I didn’t say six,’ he said.” But the video didn’t lie: “Trump tells the crowd, ‘We just cracked $6 million! Right? $6 million.” (“Four months after fundraiser, Trump says he gave $1 million to veterans group,” By David A. Fahrenthold, The Washington Post, May 24, 2016)

To cover his patriotic con, Donald Trump held a press conference on May 31, surrounded himself with veterans and the American flag, and finally listed the names of the service organizations receiving money and the amount each received. During this litany, he interrupted himself repeatedly to castigate reporters for demanding such transparency from him. He called one a “sleaze. And another“ a beauty.”   He said “the press should be ashamed of themselves,” and also “hurled insults at reporters in the audience.” (“Trump rails against scrutiny over delayed donations to veterans groups,” By Jose A. DelReal and David A. Fahrenthold, The Washington Post, May 31, 2016)

Donald Trump actually hates the media for exposing his use of veterans as a political football to score points with them and other voters. The art of the patriotic con is seen in his reported reason for holding the May 31 press conference: “I wasn’t looking for the credit, but I had no choice but to do this because the press was saying I didn’t raise any money for them.” (Ibid) The gift of $1 million to a veterans group is a drop in the billionaire’s bucket – while netting him millions in media self-promotion.

In a democratic society, a key role of the press is to scrutinize the words and behavior of political and other leaders. Such transparency is a mortal threat to patriotic con artists. That is why Donald Trump repeatedly denigrates the media every chance he gets. He constantly tells his audiences that reporters are “disgraceful.” “Shameless.” “Dishonest.” “The most dishonest people I have ever met.” “They are unbelievable.” And that’s the message Trump wants enough voters to believe. The more he demonizes the media, the more his supporters come to believe him, not them. Thus, today, the media’s critical role of providing transparency and exposing Trump’s pathological lies is falling on indoctrinated ears.

Donald Trump’s patriotic con sounds like it was inspired by Joseph Goebbels, who made Nazi Germany’s genocide of six million Jews — and other “unpure” minorities – palatable to Germans with the “big lie.” As Goebbels said, “If you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it.” (“Joseph Goebbels: On the ‘Big Lie,’” Jewish Virtual Library)

Donald Trump’s patriotic con is wrapped in his constant self-proclaimed greatness. “I will be the greatest jobs president that God ever created.” “I will be so good at the military your head will spin.” “I know more about ISIS than the generals do. Believe me.” “I’ve always had a great relationship with the blacks.” “I have a great relationship with the Mexican people. They love me, I love them.” “Nobody respects women more than I do.”

True greatness is embodied in a man who backed up proclaiming “I am the greatest!” with an integrity that honored the inherent worth of other human beings. That man is the just deceased and widely beloved Muslim Muhammad Ali, who said” No!” to the patriotic con by refusing to be inducted into the Armed Forces in 1967 at the height of the Vietnam War. Risking his boxing career and freedom, Ali declared,

Why should they ask me to put on a uniform and go 10,000 miles from home and drop bombs and bullets on Brown people in Vietnam while so-called Negro people in Louisville are treated like dogs and denied simple human rights? No I’m not going 10,000 miles from home to help murder and burn another poor nation simply to continue the domination of white slave masters of the darker people the world over.

This is the day when such evils must come to an end. I have been warned that to take such a stand would cost me millions of dollars. But I have said it once and I will say it again. The real enemy of my people is here. I will not disgrace my religion, my people or myself by becoming a tool to enslave those who are fighting for their own justice, freedom and equality. . . . If I thought the war was going to bring freedom and equality to 22 million of my people they wouldn’t have to draft me. I’d join tomorrow. I have nothing to lose by standing up for my beliefs. So I’ll go to jail, so what? We’ve been in  jail for 400 years. (“’I Just Wanted to Be Free’: The Radical Reverberations of Muhammad Ali,” By David Zirin, www.thenation.com, June 3, 2016)

Muhammad Ali provides a powerful commentary on the patriotic con. And in so doing, he has left a greatly needed model for political leaders, journalists, educators, athletes, and people of faith alike. He inspires universal bonds of humanness, not bans and barriers and bombs.

More articles by:

Rev. William E. Alberts, Ph.D., a former hospital chaplain at Boston Medical Center, is both a Unitarian Universalist and United Methodist minister. His new book, The Counterpunching Minister (who couldn’t be “preyed” away) is now published and available on Amazon.com. The book’s Foreword, Drawing the Line, is written by Counterpunch editor, Jeffrey St. Clair. Alberts is also author of A Hospital Chaplain at the Crossroads of Humanity, which “demonstrates what top-notch pastoral care looks like, feels like, maybe even smells like,” states the review in the Journal of Pastoral Care & Counseling. His e-mail address is wm.alberts@gmail.com.

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