President Donald Trump recently intervened in war crime cases against three members of the United States military.
Trump issued a pardon to Army 1st Lt. Clint Lorance who was convicted in 2013 on two charges of second-degree murder and obstruction of justice for ordering his soldiers to open fire on three unarmed men in Afghanistan. Two of the men were killed. Lorance had served six years of a 19-year sentence on those convictions.
Trump also pardoned Maj. Matthew Golsteyn, a West Point graduate and Army Special Forces officer who was awaiting trial scheduled next year for allegedly murdering a suspected Afghan bomb maker in 2010.
“White Christian nationalists have sacralized Trump’s despotism and his inhumanity towards others.”
Trump restored the rank of Special Operations Chief Edward Gallagher, a Navy SEAL platoon commander, who was convicted of posing with the corpse of an enemy combatant in Iraq, and received a one-step demotion in rank. Gallagher was acquitted of murder and other serious charges in July 2019.
These actions were certainly within Trump’s authority as commander-in-chief of U.S. military personnel. However, they undermine the system of military justice and the training all U.S. military forces receive about treatment of prisoners of war and fallen enemy combatants. Every service member is taught that killing unarmed personnel who were not threatening others is murder. Unit leaders are taught that ordering subordinates to commit murder is a war crime. Service members are taught that dead enemy combatants are not trophies to be photographed for bragging rights.
Trump’s pardons not only fly in the face of this training and the standards of battlefield discipline; they also shine more light on the troubled and troubling character of this president.
The pardons subject U.S. service members to unnecessary risks. If the president pardons war crimes, what basis does the United States have for insisting that our nation’s captured, wounded or fallen service members receive humane treatment?
Trump’s actions show his active disregard for the rule of law and norms of decency and honor. Killing unarmed people is not honorable. It isn’t humane. The same is true for posing for a photograph with a dead enemy combatant. But Trump long ago proved his disregard for commonly accepted notions of honor and human kindness.
Finally, Trump’s actions prove his devotion to despotism. He clearly has no respect for any authority outside himself. He does not respect the rule of law. He does not respect the Constitution or his oath of office. He does not respect the two other co-equal branches of government in our system of democracy – Congress and the judiciary. He does not respect the Geneva Convention requirements concerning the treatment of prisoners of war. He does not respect God, country, honor, duty or the humanity of others.
And let’s be clear. The president of the United States routinely violates the norms of humanity, democracy and morality because “good” people, including many who term themselves “evangelical conservative Christians,” embraced his candidacy and elected him. These “good Christians” did so despite abundant evidence of Trump’s personal and commercial racism; his trade in white male supremacy, male patriarchy and misogynist bigotry; and his xenophobia. They elected Trump and have continued to support him despite his pathological penchant for oppressiveness, fearmongering and even violence.
“There will be a reckoning for religious leaders and their followers who co-signed onto Trump’s despotism, inhumanity and amorality.”
Trump’s despotism is the clear and intended result that white evangelicals, Christian nationalists and white supremacists desire for America.
Despotism, however popular it appears to be, is always a threat to democracy. Despotism is always a threat to liberty and justice. It is always a threat to truth and peace. It is always a threat to mercy and kindness towards persons who are vulnerable. Trump’s recent pardons expose how he is using the power of the presidency to undermine democracy and threaten liberty, justice, truth, peace, mercy and kindness. White Christian nationalists have sacralized Trump’s despotism and his inhumanity towards others.
There will be a reckoning for Trump. However, the more sobering truth is that there will be a reckoning for the United States. There will be a reckoning for religious leaders and their followers who co-signed onto Trump’s despotism, inhumanity and amorality. There will be a reckoning for all of us.
Long after Trump’s presidency ends (and however it ends), American society will bear the terrible costs and will struggle to be healed from horrific moral and other wounds associated with his despotism. What remains to be seen is whether people of faith, including conservative, white evangelical Christians, will summon the moral courage and ethical integrity to confront the president and his sycophants in Congress about that reckoning, its causes and its consequences.
Who are the people, of whatever faith or no faith, who will stand up to Trump’s despotism and to white Christian nationalism – and to the political opportunists and free market capitalists who support both? Who are the people who love democracy, truth, honor, human decency, integrity and respect for others enough to condemn Trump’s despotism and to denounce his immoral presidency?
Count me among that number.