I’m reluctant to throw stones at Donald Trump for his gratuitous but certainly mendacious comment that with or without a gun, he would have stormed into Majory Stoneman Douglas High School (MSD) to protect the high school students being mowed down by Nicholas Cruz’s AR-15 assault weapon. My hesitation to condemn Trump comes because I would never do such a thing, as I am at heart a coward, afraid of guns and of death. I would certainly intervene in a knife fight or if thugs were threatening someone with words or fists in the subway or another public place. My confidence that I would help the victim in a gunless situation derives from having done so in the past.
Once a gun appeared or a shot rang out, however, I would run for cover. I admit my cowardice and therefore appreciate those willing to put themselves in harm’s way to protect society, as long as they treat everyone they encounter with respect and without illegal brutality. The failure of a security guard to perform his job at MSD is disappointing, as he was a professional (not a civilian) paid to intervene and protect. But it’s no more disappointing than the countless instances of racial profiling or unnecessary violence to subdue a suspect.
Trump’s reference to imagined bravery is particularly odious, even for the master of the inappropriate, for a few reasons. First of all, as virtually all mainstream media stories about his bold declaration point out, is Trump’s inherent hypocrisy. He did, after all, use a medical deferment for bone spurs to avoid serving in the military during the Viet Nam war. Now let’s be clear, I’m not condemning his use of a minor and temporary injury to avoid military service. To avoid military service, I documented a case of migraine headaches and as a back-up compiled a dossier supporting that I was a conscientious objector to all war in case I did end up classified as physically fit to serve. Turns out all that work was unnecessary, as my congenital flat feet disqualified me from military service except, as the desk sergeant told me, “after a nuclear war and then, only in a desk job.” So I have no problem with Trump’s having documented a physical ailment to avoid the draft. I’m even okay with the fact that his father’s riches gave him easy access to physicians to document the agony of bone spurs. After all, there was a war going on, one that was obviously a senseless exercise in imperialism.
It’s not that Trump was a draft dodger then. It’s that he’s now making self-serving and self-gratifying statements about his imagined bravery, an obvious hypocrisy.
More disgraceful than the hypocrisy is the fact that Trump has tried to set a moral bar for action. He has used the bully pulpit that all occupants of the oval office have to advocate that civilians should engage in suicide missions. He tried to promote sacrificing one’s life pointlessly as the first and logical choice that most people would make in the given situation—outside a building, armed or unarmed, it doesn’t matter—and you know an active shooter is getting off round after round of rapid fire. He tried to make the audience of state governors complicit in setting this standard by saying, “but I really believe I’d run in there even if I didn’t have a weapon and I think most of the people in this room would’ve done that too.”
Of course, that’s a false assumption: Most people would seek cover and then use their cell phone, first to call 911 and then to try to contact anyone they knew to be inside the building.
Trump’s empty boast that he would bravely jump into the fray like Bruce Willis or Jackie Chan going against a horde of bad guys is as harmful to American society as his boldfaced lie that he knew someone whose child contracted autism after having a vaccination or his assertion that good people existed among the white supremacists marching in Charlottesville, and for the same reason. It’s an untruth that also sets a suspect standard of behavior. I can imagine benighted Trump supporters invoking his statement when deciding not to vaccinate their infants. Certainly many thought Trump’s Charlottesville comments normalized the behavior of the neo-Nazis while equating it with the actions and ethics of their victims.
To create a moral imperative to walk towards gunfire fits nicely into the solution to gun violence proposed by Trump and the National Rifle Association: arm teachers. Both propose to fight gun violence with actions that promote more gun violence and which enlarge the battlefield. Both cheapen the value of human life through an implicit glorification of guns. Most importantly, both make no sense whatsoever. Good guys without guns are just more cannon fodder for the bad guys. Good guys shooting a gun tend to be inaccurate and could likely hurt innocent bystanders in the crossfire—even the police hit their target less than 50% of the time, as many reporters have already pointed out. Furthermore, when the authorities get there, they won’t be able to tell the good guys from the bad guys. Finally, gun deaths and injuries are always and everywhere a function of the number of guns in society. By giving teachers guns, we will without a doubt increase the number of gun deaths and injuries. The inanity of running towards gunfire prepares the public for the even more inane notion of army teachers.
In the case of Trump’s empty boast, the moral bar is a senseless suicide mission. Contrast with the training and indoctrination that soldiers get. In a traditional war, the casualties among front-line soldiers are terrifying. Generals know that upwards of 70% of those at the front of a traditional battle will die or be injured. That’s why army indoctrination stresses the chain of command. Following orders is the highest value. Frankly, I don’t know how any general can sleep at night without the benefit of alcohol or some other artificial assuagement. It makes sense that Grant was an alcoholic—it was how he dealt with the death sentence he knew he was imposing on many of his soldiers.
But Grant, and every other general, had a purpose, a goal and a plan that involved the coordination of many combatants. There can be no goal in running towards fire in a spontaneous situation, with or without a weapon, unless you are a trained professional who has reconnoitered the facility and terrain. That Trump, the quintessential “summer soldier,” wants us to believe otherwise is unconscionable. That he does so to satisfy his weak ego’s need to always be a hero honored and loved is pathetic. That his statement serves as an object lesson to the American citizenry is a moral outrage.