Suckers and Losers…

When I was a midshipmen, at home on summer leave, I worked the door at a nightclub south of Atlantic City that had a reputation for being the hang out of what was left of the South Philly mafia scene in the 90’s. The reputation was merited. I held the door for people whose pictures were on the front page of the newspapers for murder and racketeering trials and who have since had movies made about them. I grew up thinking this was normal. If you’re from Atlantic City, you know the club. If you’re from South Philly, you know the family.

It wasn’t just mob guys that went there. It was all sorts of Philly and Jersey shore types that wanted to be seen at the club. Real estate guys. Car dealers. Business men of a certain persuasion that saw themselves as an extension of the culture. And while the 30 bucks a night gave some walking around money, the real value was the education I got watching how the “Money Guy” worked the line. I was just muscle. He was the system.

Two lessons stuck with me. The first was that circa 1995, the image of the stylish goodhearted gangsters of the mob movies was bullshit. And it likely always was. They weren’t charming and generous. They were thick, dimwitted blocks who thought that a world of physical crime was the best way to make a living. And they didn’t throw the doorman a C-note on the way in. But they would throw a glass of scotch at your head if you told them they couldn’t take it outside.

The second lesson was more important; in that world, the broader culture not specific to just the crooks, the worst thing you could be, was a sucker. “Ass Hole” was a term of endearment. Nearly everyone you didn’t know was a “jerk-off”. Everyone was full of shit. No one could be trusted. All of this was ok. But a sucker was someone who had been taken. That was a fate worse than death. And if you were a lifelong sucker, you got your own name.

You were a loser.

Just up the street, Donald Trump’s name hung over the Atlantic City skyline in 30-foot, brightly lit letters. In a near literal sense, he owned the town. Half the casinos in a one industry gaming economy were his. He was no loser. A decade later when he finally left the crater of bankrupted casinos behind, he still wasn’t the loser. Everyone else was. “Atlantic City is a disaster, and I did great in Atlantic City. I knew when to get out. My timing was great. And I got a lot of credit for it.” he said.

Atlantic City was a city of suckers. And losers. This is the language of our president. I know, not because some elite lefty journo told me. I know because it’s the language I grew up with.

Yesterday The Atlantic published an article claiming that the President referred to America’s military dead as losers. And those that choose to serve as suckers. The president has denied it. Exactly what and when someone with the communication style of our current president said something isn’t really the sort of thing that’s likely to be proven. A more interesting discussion is whether it matters.

Contrary to popular opinion, views on President Trump break down within the military and veterans the same way as any other group. The single largest determinant for support for Donald Trump is education level. The second is racial demographics. White non-college educated Americans are heavy Trump supporters. And so white non-college educated military members are too. Young white men from rural areas are over represented in the enlisted military. And so the enlisted ranks of the military index high on Trump support.

The officer corps, who are nearly all college educated, index much lower on Trump support. But the division of support within the ranks is not unique to the ranks. And neither is the stubbornness.

All of this is to say that we shouldn’t expect the needle to move at all with the military and veterans because of a news story that President Trump called us losers and suckers. The supporters won’t believe it or don’t care. Those that don’t support simply have something else to point to as justification. What’s more material for me is the fact that while we may never know exactly what the President said, what was quoted, sounds like him. And in fact, in some instances, he’s said similar things in public. And in that, there is something to reflect on.

For me, it takes me back to working the door.

The Money Guy once told one of the wanna be wise guys that I was in the Navy. And his response, sealed with a Joe Pesci cackle (these guys really tried to play the part) was to call me a sucker. I wasn’t sure if I wanted to feed him his teeth or laugh. But in reflection, away from that place later, I realized something that would change the trajectory of my life forever. I realized that the distance between that club and the journey of service I was about to go on were about as far as anyone could travel within the spectrum of human experience. And I knew what side I wanted to be on.

In one world, sacrifice was for suckers. In the other, it was unavoidable. In one, my strength was predatory. In the other my strength was not for myself. It was for others. And it always would be.

Trying to explain that to someone who sees the world as a mark, just doesn’t compute.

Within that insight lives my strongest criticism of President Trump. For 40 years in the public eye, he set up camp in one end of that spectrum. His end was the end that said rules were for suckers. Taxes were for suckers. Monogamy was for suckers. Charity was for suckers.

Military service…was for suckers.

It’s a world where there are three types of people. Patrons. Marks. And you. Anyone else is invisible. Through that lens, one understands how someone, upon reviewing a field of fallen Americans who gave all that they were and ever would be for something bigger than themselves…might not get it.

One doesn’t move from one world to the next simply because you can convince 60 million marks you can.

There’s one thing about the story I just can’t shake though. It’s a circular thought that he’s not wrong. That in some perverse and simplistic way what he says carries truth. Such is so often the reality of Donald Trump. He tells many lies. And he tells many truths. You ignore the truths at your own risk.

The truth here is one I can’t live with. Many of the men and women in those graves were sold something. They were sold the idea that America was worth fighting for. And that the idea of the intractable quest of our people to create a “more perfect union” built on the principles of liberty and equality of opportunity…was worth dying for.

Perhaps, if you don’t believe that, then they are suckers. And losers, of the most tragic degree.

But aren’t we all then?

Categories: Veterans

Tagged as: , ,

18 replies »

  1. Reminds me of a verse I like… but because I believe the verse that comes after it, I rest easy.

    “If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied.”

    ‭‭1 Corinthians‬ ‭15:19‬

    I feel similarly about ‘Meirca.

    I believe there are Few Good Men and Women doing good stuff, despite their flaws. Even the ones who write and/or say things that I don’t always agree with.

  2. Sean, in total the basis for the veracity of Jeffrey Goldberg’s article in the Atlantic of Pres. Trump’s view of our service members is nine unsubstantiated references to no one:

    “Multiple sources tell the Atlantic …”
    “According to four people with first-hand knowledge …”
    “The sources, and others quoted in this article, speak on condition of anonymity …”
    “According to the sources with knowledge of the president’s views …”
    “According to the sources with knowledge of the president’s views …”
    “[Gen.] Kelly (who declined to comment for this story) …”
    “Numerous general officers …”
    “Many senior officers …”
    “An officer with firsthand knowledge of Trump’s views …”

    While I liked your article and the message that those who serve in the military do so because they think it’s the right thing to do and it’s a way to honor our country and preserve our freedom, I think it’s a theme that could be, and likely has been, reflected in articles at any time over the past 75 years.

    I think you missed the mark, maybe somewhat influenced by your close observance of Trump growing up in Atlantic City.

    I think the take-away for today is about what we read in the Atlantic magazine being consumed without questioning the basis for the article. Was it pure coincidence that Joe Biden was quoting lines in the article before it was read by most of the public.? I think not. I think the real story is about how the manipulation of the truth persists, especially in an election year, and the American electorate’s consumption of any information without question. Politicians know this and they serve it up willingly, on a daily basis.

    I am a veteran and Naval Academy graduate, father of Naval Academy graduate active duty war fighter, and father of another first responder. The question I often ask myself these days is “…what have I fought for, and what are my sons serving for now?”

    My take on Pres. Trump is that he is about 50% unscrupulous (that would accommodate for your impression of him growing up, and then some). But I will take the remaining 50% over the progressive Democratic Party who will ruin our democracy in a heartbeat – because they are lacking of any sense of service to anyone other than themselves.

    Sincerely, Dave Fulwider

  3. Dear Dave,

    As a progressive Democrat married into a family of Maines who has been a Marine wife for 22 years, I cheerfully tell you to go fuck yourself sideways. People like you who brand Dems as “lacking sense of service” and being unAmerican and not patriotic are the real people who lack patriotism. You’re super quick to brand anyone who doesn’t think as you do unAmerican and lacking a sense of service.

    You are everything that is wrong with politics right now.


  4. Fox News reported on the article ran in The Atlantic. Other Trump officials deny and contradict claims made about the trip to France. However, Fox News confirmed with their sources other statements, such as stating anyone who got drafted to serve in Vietnam were “suckers,” that he didn’t want disabled veterans in his military parade through DC because “no one wants to see that,” and that George H.W. Bush and John McCain were “losers” for being shot down in combat. He threw fits over the flag being at half-mast for McCain, and had them raised for a short time at the White House. We all remember these later statements being made because we witnessed them ourselves. So, no, we don’t know if everything in the article ran by The Atlantic is true. But I certainly feel confident of enough to understand that Trump has no empathy or connection with fallen service members, and doesn’t understand how sacrifice in the military has any meaning or is worthwhile.

  5. Thanks for your perspective, as always, Sean. And Dave, you missed the mark. As a retired Navy Senior Chief, and a Democrat, your comment about us lacking any sense of service is offensive. I do thank you and your family for your service, but am asking that you step back, show some respect and realize that comments like yours are only creating more division.

  6. Sean, we only lose when we quit trying.

    Dave, I haven’t met you so apologize in advance for offending, but you ignore a very important truth I had been sharing.

    This is Trump’s America.
    Cops don’t think they will answer for crimes.
    Politicians don’t think they will answer for crimes.
    white supremacists don’t think they will answer for crimes.
    No one believes the president, his spokesmen, the CDC, the FDA, the Attorney General, in only 3 years.
    The pharmaceutical industry just issued a pledge not to release a vaccine that isn’t safe in acknowledgement.

    That is corruption. It corrupts all, I wish it was just theft.

  7. And there it is.Those who recognize a con artist/criminal will listen to the information coming out of the mouth that is saying it and walk away. Those who want to believe the unbelievable will stay, listen and invest in the scam. In this case it is our entire country at risk of being scammed and not just one person, family, or friend.

  8. And there it is. Those who recognize a con artist/criminal when they hear the words coming out their mouth will walk away. Those who want to believe the unbelievable will sign on the dotted line and wait for their easy money. Unfortunately in this case it’s our democracy at risk.

  9. Sean, I appreciate your amplification on ‘suckers and losers.’ As sickening and disheartening as it has been since DJT made it through the RNC choice process (for who would be on the ticket in 2016), this direct attack on our servicemen and women, as Commander in Chief is not bearable. There is no way to spin it, to whitewash it and hope he gets better. His gravitational pull, having survived a thousand scandals in 4 years, is like a black hole. I hope we survive him.

  10. Wow! The end of your essay really hit hard. “A more perfect union”…is worth fighting for, but our union is so broken and now that I see it so clearly (2016) I don’t know that it is possible to be a more perfect union with equal opportunity and Justice. I am heartbroken and still somewhat in denial that I lived nearly 60 years and didn’t see the division.

    PS, When the Naval officer kneeled in front of me at my mothers burial (Lt. in WWII) and said Trumps name,as part of the flag presentation it was so uncomfortable. There was no way to reconcile her service with our current Potus.

  11. Sean, articulate and insightful as usual. While four off-the-record sources do not make for an unimpeachable sourcing, I think we would all agree that this would be in character for the DJT we have watched for the past four years. It sounds like him.

  12. Hey Sean. You know me. I’m a liberal Democrat who believes the next generation should have more say in what happens to their future … so I suppose I’m a progressive as well. But as the daughter of a career marine and the sister of someone wounded in Vietnam … my hero, my big brother … I find Trump’s comments sickening but not all that surprising. I was raised in an atmosphere of patriotism, and the last four years of this administration have strengthened my commitment to the America Idea. I keep thinking about how my father would be reacting to Trump, diehard conservative that he was. I’m glad he’s not still alive to experience what happened the last four years. He’d be heartbroken. Thanks for your service, and the service of your writing.

  13. Build your house on sand and it cannot last. So I take with a “grain of sand” journalists who editorialize on innuendo, rumor and unnamed sources. Beyond that, have you forgotten the progressives during the Vietnamese War who spit on returning service members, calling them suckers who fell for the false government line? Please find us an investigative journalist who can find a grain of truth in these wildly cast accusations.
    Also, It is hard to trust anyone that has such a high opinion of themselves, as this author has.

  14. Dave, Larry; thank you for the demonstration on Nitpicking 101: or how to miss the forest for the trees.

    The author specifically says that what DJT said EXACTLY isn’t likely to be proven. The anonymous sources don’t matter because the actual quotes don’t matter. Actions speak every bit as loud as words and DJT has always acted like rules, taxes, monogamy, charity, military service (and I would add truth-telling to the author’s list) don’t apply to him.

    It’s a shame you missed the point, because that’s what makes this article so interesting. It’s not just an umpteenth version of ‘Did he or didn’t he?’. The author is asking a valid question and one well worth debating. Do we buy that story they’re selling? Are we suckers for believing that America is something worth fighting and dying for?

    I don’t know what DJT said exactly. Frankly, it’s debatable that even he knows what he is saying 90 % of the time. But it is pretty clear that his American Ideal is not ‘a more perfect union’. He is the poster child for Manifest Destiny: if you can grab it then it was meant to be yours.

    I believe that America is worth fighting for, but certainly not Trump’s Manifest Destiny America. I’ll sign up for the ‘more perfect union’ instead thank you very much. And I couldn’t give a hoot if that makes me a sucker.

    PS – Kara, yes!