Trump Talks About the Military as if It’s His Praetorian Guard

President Donald Trump has a disturbing way of talking about the U.S. military. Consider the following Trump quotation about the recent attack on US troops in Niger:

“I have generals that are great generals,” Trump said. “I gave them authority to do what’s right so that we win. My generals and my military, they have decision-making ability. As far as the incident that we’re talking about [in Niger], I’ve been seeing it just like you’ve been seeing it. I’ve been getting reports.” [emphasis added]

For Trump, it’s not the American people’s military, it’s “my” military. Generals are not Congressionally-appointed officers, they’re “my” generals. Trump has a fundamental misunderstanding of his role as commander-in-chief, as well as the role of the US military. He sees himself as the big boss of “his” military, with generals as his personal employees whom he can order around and fire at will.

And by “order around,” I mean the issuance of orders regardless of their legality, a point Trump made back in March of 2016, in response to a debate question by Bret Baier:

BAIER: Mr. Trump, just yesterday, almost 100 foreign policy experts signed on to an open letter refusing to support you, saying your embracing expansive use of torture is inexcusable. General Michael Hayden, former CIA director, NSA director, and other experts have said that when you asked the US military to carry out some of your campaign promises, specifically targeting terrorists’ families, and also the use of interrogation methods more extreme than waterboarding, the military will refuse because they’ve been trained to turn down and refuse illegal orders.

So what would you do, as commander-in-chief, if the US military refused to carry out those orders?

TRUMP: They won’t refuse. They’re not going to refuse me. Believe me.

BAIER: But they’re illegal.

TRUMP: And – and – and – I’m a leader. I’m a leader. I’ve always been a leader. I’ve never had any problem leading people. If I say do it, they’re going to do it. That’s what leadership is all about.

As I wrote then, Trump’s fundamental misunderstanding of leadership, and especially his boasts about the military obeying his orders irrespective of their legality, disqualified him as a presidential candidate. Of course, Trump’s dictatorial statements didn’t deter his determined fans. Indeed, they elected him because they wanted a Strong Man, not because they feared one.

So here we are, with a dictator wannabe as president, treating the US military as if it’s his personal Praetorian Guard. If the Republic isn’t dead, its heartbeat is fading fast. Meanwhile, the sordid and corrupt Empire of Trump – just by its endurance – grows ever stronger.

William J. Astore is a retired lieutenant colonel (USAF). He taught history for fifteen years at military and civilian schools and blogs at Bracing Views. He can be reached at wastore@pct.edu. Reprinted from Bracing Views with the author’s permission.

8 thoughts on “Trump Talks About the Military as if It’s His Praetorian Guard”

  1. Trump is a pro forma president, he makes no decisions of any substance. Anybody notice the only thing that has sailed through DC was the military budget

  2. Since Truman’s decision to invade Korea the military has been treated as a Praetorian Guard by dictatorial presidents. Trump’s the first to openly declare what’s being done. For decades the Empire has been dead but, for the the dying.
    Hi, ho,
    Hi, ho,
    It’s over the cliff we go.

  3. Trump says this is his military and his generals. Let’s see if he wants to be put on the front lines in front of a military firing squad for supporting terrorism out of HIS MILITARY & GENERALS!

  4. It’s as close as he will get to being a soldier. But the only orders a soldier can follow are lawful ones. It was supposed to have been resolved after WW1 and again after WW2 and again ongoing about war crimes from Algeria, Vietnam, North Korea from start to never having been over with. We had MAS briefings in Basic and in Tech School reminding us that following an order you knew was unlawful is the same penalty and level of responsibility as if you just took it into your brain to just go off on a shooting/bombing/torturin’ spree. “Just following orders” isn’t even a mitigating factor at your Court Martial.

    When I left the Air Farts I LEFT. Took my DD214 and had to pick up my arse several times on the way out the gates because I kept laughing it off. And unlike Trump I’m not claiming to be Military and unlike him I WAS. Just not anymore. He’s going to either accept being judged as a Civilian, or as an unlawful combatant. If he wants to be an “army guy” he had a chance during Vietnam. And if he wants to pull that ‘Commander in Chief’ card he can jolly well be subject to a Court Martial and somebody should warn him the UCMJ has no statute of limitations.

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