What It Means to be Patriotic in the Era of Trump

Last weekend the chairwoman of the Republican National Committee tweeted this:

It seemed to come out of the blue. There was no lead-in or follow-up regarding why she would challenge the patriotism of approximately one third of the people in this country.

Frankly, we’ve gotten too used to this kind of thing. George W. Bush told us “you are either with us or against us” when it came to his so-called “global war on terror.” We watched as people challenged, not just the patriotism of Barack Obama, but his actual citizenship. Yesterday, Franklin Graham tweeted this:

I’m not the kind of person whose patriotism is wrapped up in the symbols of flag-waving, parades and fireworks on the 4th of July. But I’ll tell you when I feel my love of country deep in my bones. It happens when I read something like this and experience an overwhelming sense of shame—as if someone in my family was talking openly about committing an unspeakable deed.

Trump came to office promising to give the Pentagon a free hand to unleash the full force of U.S. firepower. His impatience was evident on his first full day in office when he visited the CIA and was ushered up to the agency’s drone operations floor.

There agency officials showed him a feed from Syria, where Obama-era rules limited the agency to surveillance flights — part of a broader push by the previous administration to return the CIA to its core espionage mission and shift the job of killing terrorists to the military.

Trump urged the CIA to start arming its drones in Syria. “If you can do it in 10 days, get it done,” he said, according to two former officials familiar with the meeting.

Later, when the agency’s head of drone operations explained that the CIA had developed special munitions to limit civilian casualties, the president seemed unimpressed. Watching a previously recorded strike in which the agency held off on firing until the target had wandered away from a house with his family inside, Trump asked, “Why did you wait?” one participant in the meeting recalled.

On the campaign trail, Trump often said he would “take out” the families of terrorists.

Like all of you, I have many emotional reactions to the things that Donald Trump says and does. I’m not easily moved to hatred, so Ronna McDaniel’s tweet couldn’t be further from the truth. But one of the things I feel pretty often is an powerful sense of shame—at things like the president wondering why the CIA tried to avoid killing the family of someone they were targeting. It’s not simply that one incident. It’s what that exchange says about the man. I love my country enough to be ashamed that the President of the United States is so casually indifferent to the lives of innocent people.

Nancy LeTourneau

Nancy LeTourneau is a contributing writer for the Washington Monthly. Follow her on Twitter @Smartypants60 .