Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg has dedicated himself to public service. He voluntarily joined the U.S. Navy Reserve in 2009. During his first term as mayor of South Bend, Indiana, Buttigieg took a seven-month leave in 2014 to deploy to Afghanistan as a Navy intelligence officer as part of a team assigned to identify and disrupt terrorist finance networks.
Former President Donald Trump has dedicated himself to serving his own personal interests. In 1968, he received a questionable diagnosis of bone spurs from a podiatrist renting an office in a building owned by Trump’s father that enabled him to obtain a medical exemption from the draft and avoid serving in Vietnam.
And this contrast in their records was on full display when Buttigieg slammed Trump for suggesting that former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley had committed a treasonous act that could be punishable by death.
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In an interview with MSNBC’s Jen Psaki on Sunday, Buttigieg responded to a question about Trump implying that Milley should be executed. Buttigieg said:
“The level of disrespect for the American military, not to mention for the general, is both shocking and not shocking. This is part of a lifelong pattern with the former president that I would argue was first displayed when he faked a disability in order to avoid having to go to Vietnam and allowed, I assume, some working-class person to go in his place, and has continued ever since. (Trump) made a name for himself by basically saying that he he did not respect John McCain because he was a war hero.
“A lot of this obviously is to get attention and you hesitate to reward that. On the other hand, we do in fact still have some boundaries that matter in this country and one of them is that our regard for the military and our respect for the military is non-partisan, it’s non political and it’s universal. That is especially important because that’s part of how the military does their job.”
Buttigieg’s interview with the former White House press secretary on “Inside with Jen Psaki” is below. His comments on Trump and Milley began at the 3:35 mark.
Trump did once wear a cadet uniform as a student at the New York Military Academy, which his father, real estate developer Fred Trump, insisted he attend. A Frontline documentary quoted sources as describing Trump’s time in the military school “as a five-year lesson in bullying.”
And Cadet Bone Spurs was healthy enough to co-captain the school’s baseball team. And he exceeded college volleyball player George Santos in boasting about his athletic prowess. Trump claimed that he could have played Major League Baseball. (He actually hit .138 for his high school team.)
Trump’s disregard for military service manifested itself at a Republican presidential primary forum in Iowa in July 2015 when he made disparaging remarks about Arizona Sen. John McCain, a former Navy pilot who spent almost five-and-a-half years in the North Vietnamese prison known as the ”Hanoi Hilton,” where he was repeatedly tortured.
“He’s not a war hero,” said Trump. “He was a war hero because he was captured. I like people who weren’t captured.”
That line lead Politico to begin its story by observing: “Donald Trump might finally have crossed the line.” But there were many more lines he crossed.
Then in 2018, Trump canceled a visit to the Aisne-Marne American Cemetery near Paris. He claimed his helicopter couldn’t fly in the rain. The Atlantic quoted sources as saying that the commander in chief feared that “his hair would become disheveled in the rain” and “did not believe it important to honor American war dead.” The Atlantic wrote:
In a conversation with senior staff members on the morning of the scheduled visit, Trump said, “Why should I go to that cemetery? It’s filled with losers.” In a separate conversation on the same trip, Trump referred to the more than 1,800 marines who lost their lives at Belleau Wood in World War I) as “suckers” for getting killed.
Then in a profile of Milley published last month, The Atlantic described how Milley played a key role against Trump by resisting his efforts to politicize the military and deploy it against the American people to remain in power.
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In the same Atlantic profile, Milley also described an instance when Trump complained to him about the presence of a wounded Army veteran who sang “God Bless America” at the welcoming ceremony for Milley as the new Joint Chiefs of Staff chair. Trump told Milley not to allow the wounded veteran to appear at public events again.
In a Sept. 24 interview on CNN’s “State of the Union,” Buttigieg criticized Trump, saying it was just the latest “in a pattern of outrageous attacks” by Trump on those who serve the country. Buttigieg told CNN’s Dana Bash:
“These are the kind of people who deserve respect, and a hell of a lot more than that, from every American and definitely from every American president.”
At his retirement ceremony last Friday, Milley emphasized that the U.S. armed forces take an oath to the Constitution not to any “king, or queen, or tyrant or a dictator, and we don’t take an oath to a wannabe dictator.”
RELATED STORY: ‘We don't take an oath to a wannabe dictator’: Gen. Mark Milley’s powerful retirement speech
In his interview with Psaki, Buttigieg drew on his own experience in the U.S. Navy Reserve, which the Harvard graduate joined as an intelligence officer through the direct commission program offered to applicants with academic degrees. He told ABC News that his family has a tradition of military service.
During his deployment in Afghanistan, Buttigieg said he was not involved in direct combat, but he did say he often drove his commanding officer outside the wire surrounding the Bagram Air Base near Kabul, where they were at risk of ambushes or improvised explosive devices. He told Psaki:
“I knew every time I put on that uniform, every time I went to work, every time I got into a vehicle, every time I went outside the wire, that I was with men and women who were serving and supporting each other and responsive to a chain of command that was not about politics, that did not break down because of our political differences.”
He added that what Trump and extremist House Republicans are doing “undermines” and “threatens” those who serve in the U.S. armed forces. He did not mention it specifically, but if MAGA House members had succeeded in shutting down the government, there would have been no paychecks coming to members of the military on active duty.
Buttigieg emphasized that this was happening “at a time when we need those institutions that are still at least somewhat outside of the chaos that the last administration sowed and that some extreme House Republicans are sowing as we speak. We need what the military has to offer by way of nonpartisan stability more than ever. And I would say that Gen. Milley has been a class act in how he’s dealt with it.”