In Defense of Donald Trump’s Slam on John McCain

Published on
A New Domain

In Defense of Donald Trump’s Slam on John McCain

(Photo: Getty)

John McCain is a prick. It’s true.

We have to acknowledge that out of the gate because media coverage of the controversy over Donald Trump’s slam on McCain omits the fact that McCain baited Trump. McCain started it.

McCain always starts it.

First McCain went after Trump’s anti-immigration supporters, calling them “crazies.” McCain has a long history of denigrating his political opponents’ mental health.

For many years his phrase of choice was “wacko birds,” or just wackos for short.

The fact that McCain has gotten away with his slurs for so many years is a tribute to how non-litigious American society really is. Libel lawyers love it when someone calls their clients crazy. It’s one of those classic defamatory attacks that makes a libel lawsuit a cakewalk. This pays off a lot of lawyers’ yachts.

What’s amazing is that John McCain never gotten sued.

This essay is in defense of Donald Trump’s slam on McCain and other comments about the Vietnam War that Trump made this weekend.

The Donald Trump vs. John McCain battle was inevitable.

John McCain starts fights and never apologizes. Donald Trump, in this case, fights back and never apologizes. Game on!

 I’m not going to join the national pile-on over Trump’s ad-lib speaking style, his refusal to hire a professional campaign staff, his hair or his nativist remarks about Mexican rapists. Mainstream corporate media has that well in hand.

But the media is declaring Trump politically dead, even though he is running No. 1 in the polls.

Worse, the media is always hard-pressing a meme I find disturbing: that no one should cover his campaign for president. Or that it ought to be relegated, as the Huffington Post has officially done, to the entertainment section of the news.


Pot, meet kettle. Arianna Huffington, meet Donald Trump.

Trump’s comment was that McCain isn’t a war hero because he allowed himself to be captured by the North Vietnamese. Trump’s refusal to apologize for what he said runs contrary to the “all of our sainted troops are glorious heroes” militarist narrative. 

Since 9/11, that narrative has been the gospel of both the Democratic and Republican parties, as well as the national news media.

Until Trump, no major public figure has dared to attack a high-profile military veteran, especially an A-lister like John McCain. McCain won a Silver Star after suffering torture, permanent physical injuries and more than five years of captivity as a POW in the infamous “Hanoi Hilton.”

No matter what you think about Trump’s puerile critique of McCain’s combat chops – what was McCain supposed to do, swallow a cyanide pill after his plane was shot down over Hanoi? — Americans have never been much into that Japanese-style “fight to the death” thing. So attempting to undermine the century-old myth of McCain as a war hero is a radical departure.

It’s a radical departure from what Americans are used to seeing and hearing.

Even more interesting – thrilling, even – was to see a preeminent right wing Republican businessperson and politician (yes, Trump is a politician) state unreservedly that the Vietnam War was a disaster.

That Vietnam was wrong had been the MSM narrative from the fall of Saigon in 1975 until the election of Ronald Reagan in 1980.

But around the time of the release of “Rambo: First Blood Part II” in 1985, it has been off limits to publicly say what had previously been conventional wisdom: The United States had no business fighting that war.

Trump said:

I was not a big fan of the Vietnam War … I wasn’t a protester, but the Vietnam War was a disaster for our country. What did we get out of the Vietnam War other than death? We got nothing.”

In public life, truer words have rarely been spoken.

In the context of Trump’s attack on McCain, the broader critique of the Vietnam War brings up an important question. And it’s one that Americans rarely discuss.

Is it possible to be a war hero if history judges that the war in which you fought was unjust?

The same question came up briefly in the ongoing Confederate flag controversy following the mass shooting in a black church in Charleston, South Carolina.

Sam Peckinpah’s 1977 film “Cross of Iron,” which showcases personal bravery among Nazi troops fighting on the Eastern front during World War II, says the answer is yes. 

Personally, I’d argue that the answer is maybe.

But if you enlisted voluntarily and willingly, like McCain? No.

Millions of other Americans, recognizing that the Vietnam War was immoral and illegal, refused to go even when they were drafted.

McCain should have done the same.

Trump got out of military service due to “bone spurs” in his foot.

And good for him, I say.

If there’s anything to impugn about McCain’s service from a nationalistic viewpoint, it’s the fact that he ultimately caved in to his North Vietnamese torturers by signing a confession that he had committed war crimes.

Having never been in the position of being tortured — and being tortured with no hope of imminent release or even imminent death —  I can’t say what I would have done in the same position.

You’d like to think that you would spit in the faces of your captors and tell them to go to hell. But really, there’s no telling.

As he is wont to do, however, Trump just got silly when he claimed to be a veterans’ advocate.

“I’m with the veterans all the time,” he said.

Cue eye rolling.

Yet Trump scored back points when he went after McCain on one of America’s great shames, its long-standing failure to take proper care of those who serve in its wars. Trump said:

John McCain talks a lot, but he doesn’t do anything. I don’t like the job that John McCain is doing in the Senate because he’s not taking care of our veterans. Some of these people wait four or five days just to see a doctor. They sit in a reception room, which is dirty and filthy and disgusting.”

This is all true.

It is fascinating to watch how Trump has managed to attack militarism from the right.

In his USA Today opinion piece explaining his comments about McCain and Vietnam, Trump wrote:

John McCain the politician has made America less safe and sent our brave soldiers into wrong-headed foreign adventures.”

Who could have imagined, even a week ago, that a right wing, Silver Star-winning media darling like McCain could successfully be attacked for his repeated votes in favor of war? Not to mention his belligerence against other countries, like Iran?

This morning on the Today show, Trump told host Matt Lauer that he never said John McCain wasn’t a hero. Trump reaffirmed comments he’d made saying that McCain really owed veterans an apology.

“I’m not a fan of John McCain,” the Republican presidential contender told Lauer in a phone interview. “He’s done a horrible job for the vets.”

Trump may be inconsistent, bombastic, egotistical, and evasive on the issue of his personal wealth, but he is bringing up important issues and a refreshing point of view which has been suppressed far too long.

That’s good for all of us.

Ted Rall

Ted Rall is the author of the new books "Silk Road to Ruin: Is Central Asia the New Middle East?," and "The Anti-American Manifesto" . His website is

Share This Article