Opinion: How the corruption of America begins

When the history of the Trump presidency is written, one incident will be remembered as the beginning of the foul corruption with which a supremely unqualified and immoral man infected the office and parts of the American people. It began in Ames, Iowa, in July 2015, when then-candidate Donald Trump addressed an audience of the Family Leadership Summit. Trump’s target was Sen. John McCain: “He’s not a war hero. He’s a war hero because he was captured. I like people that weren’t captured.”

Like many at the time, I thought that would be the end of the Trump candidacy. Would Republicans really nominate a draft dodger who, on “The Howard Stern Show” in 1997, described avoiding venereal diseases in the 1970s as his “personal Vietnam” and said he felt “like a great and very brave soldier” and then degraded a genuine patriot who was held captive for more than five years by the North Vietnamese?

But even with that and his mocking of a disabled reporter, his calling Mexicans rapists, his attacks on the physical appearance of countless women (including one of his challengers, Carly Fiorina, and the wife of another, Heidi Cruz), his encouragement of violence at his rallies and his complete ignorance of major policy, enough of the public was enthralled by his bombast to nominate and then elect him. And for the most part, Trump’s fellow Republicans embraced him once he was in office, making excuses for his moral transgressions because he was willing to nominate conservative judges, rein in regulations and lower taxes on business.

Recently, Trump returned to the theme of McCain’s service to the country — repeatedly. It began when Trump responded via Twitter to a comment by former Whitewater independent counsel Ken Starr. Trump’s gripe was that McCain turned over to the FBI 33 pages of the Steele “dossier” in December 2016, after the election, which first Starr and then Trump called a “dark stain against John McCain.” Really? A sitting senator receives a copy of a document put together by a respected former British intelligence officer alleging contacts between Trump campaign officials and Russian operatives and he shouldn’t turn it over to authorities? Of course, it turns out that Christopher Steele compiled the dossier first at the behest of one of Trump’s Republican rivals and then by the Democratic National Committee, which McCain may not even have known, but regardless, that shouldn’t stop a responsible patriot from turning over the material to the proper U.S. investigative authorities. But Trump couldn’t let it go with a simple attack on McCain for doing the right thing with respect to allegations of conspiracy between a foreign adversary and a presidential campaign. He kept it going all week.

He used a rally at a tank manufacturing company in Ohio to complain that he never got a thank-you for giving him “the kind of funeral that he wanted,” saying he had to approve it as president. Actually, the only parts of McCain’s funeral that the president had to approve were a military escort of the remains from Arizona to Washington, D.C., and military pallbearers and a military band.

But for Trump, everything is all about him. And that wasn’t all the pettiness. He just couldn’t let it go, despite reports from those at the event that the audience was growing increasingly uncomfortable with the president’s antics. “So I have to be honest, I’ve never liked him much. Hasn’t been for me,” the president said. He went on to claim that “McCain didn’t get the job done for our great vets and the VA, and they knew it,” which is as dishonest as it is unseemly. Not only was McCain the co-sponsor of a law that reformed the Department of Veterans Affairs’ medical system but the expansion of that law, which Trump signed, is named for the late senator and two other prominent veteran legislators. Trump still blames the late senator for casting the deciding vote on legislation that would have ended Obamacare — but the bill was fraught because it offered no replacement for the flawed system as promised by Trump and Republicans for years.

Sen. Johnny Isakson of Georgia summed up best what Donald Trump’s behavior means: “I just want to lay it on the line, that the country deserves better, the McCain family deserves better. I don’t care if he’s president of the United States, owns all the real estate in New York or is building the greatest immigration system in the world. Nothing is more important than the integrity of the country and those who fought and risked their lives for all of us.” Would that others in the Republican Party would speak so directly.

— Linda Chavez is a columnist with Creators Syndicate.

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