Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley will step down from the military’s top position in a matter of days, but that didn’t stop Donald Trump from singling out Milley once again. Last week, Trump again burped out an especially odious social media post accusing Milley of “dealing with China,” calling it “treasonous” and “an act so egregious that, in times gone by, the punishment would have been DEATH!”
Milley has now responded—sort of—in an interview with “60 Minutes.”
Here’s the meat of the Milley’s response:
Look, I’m a soldier. I’ve been faithful and loyal to the Constitution of the United States for 44 and a half years, and my family and I have sacrificed greatly for this country. My mother and father before them. And, you know, as much as these comments are directed at me, it’s also directed at the institution of the military.
And there’s 2.1 million of us in uniform, and the American people can take it to the bank that all of us, every single one of us from private to general, were loyal to that Constitution and will never turn our back on it no matter what. No matter what the threats, no matter what the humiliation, no matter what. If we’re willing to die for that document, if we’re willing to deploy to combat, if we’re willing to lose an arm, a leg, an eye to protect and defend and support that document and protect the American people, then we’re willing to live for it too.
I’m not going to comment directly on those things, but I can tell you this military, this soldier, me, will never turn our back on that Constitution.
Asked whether there was anything “inappropriate or treasonous about the calls you made to China,” Milley responded, “Absolutely not. Zero. None.” Milley asserted that he has “adequate safety and precautions” to face the presumed new dangers generated by Trump’s remarks, and that he “will take appropriate measures to ensure my safety and the safety of my family.”
That is still much too charitable a response. Perhaps after Milley’s last day as chairman, he will have something more pointed to say about it. What Milley could reasonably have said is that Trump is a traitorous shitbag who very nearly overthrew American democracy.
Milley could have pointed out that Trump regularly accuses those who oppose him of “treason,” or being “enemies of the state,” and that the stubby-thumbed indictee has a history of goading his followers into violence against his enemies, including the attempted capture and assassination of his own vice president and members of Congress. Milley could have asserted that Trump is a delusional, would-be autocrat who now counts as the greatest betrayer of the nation since the Civil War era. It is difficult to discern what military code of honor might require demurring from a fight with a seditionist, former commander in chief or not.
“60 Minutes” deserves a thrashing here, however. Their release of this promotional clip nowhere includes the critical information that Trump is lying and that his claims of “treasonous” conspiracy are false. And to disseminate that claim without an immediate refutation is another breach of the public trust. Clicking on the promo video will take you to a CBS News story that sticks the explanation for Trump’s claims at the very end, and even then only couches it in the language of what Milley’s “spokesperson” said about it two years ago.
The dishonesty of Trump’s claims has been long established. Trump’s claim of “treasonous” behavior rests entirely on a military-to-military call Milley made two days after the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol. In the call, according to Bob Woodward and Robert Costa’s book covering the matter, Milley sought to assure his Chinese counterpart that the U.S. was not on the verge of political collapse and that there were no U.S. plans to attack China during the domestic turmoil. Milley had at least two of these calls, which were organized by subordinates, documented by the Department of Defense, and, by nature, rote. One was on Jan. 8, after the coup attempt. The second was immediately before the U.S. presidential election.
This is not an interesting story, unless you are a stone-cold idiot or a fascist hoaxer, because military-to-military calls like these have been known to be routine for decades. They were a staple of the Cold War, a means of keeping quick communication between the U.S. and Soviet Union when there were real concerns that one unusual military maneuver could be falsely seen as a potential first strike.
If “60 Minutes” were still a competent news program, Trump’s claims would have been immediately identified as fraudulent. On what planet does Milley noting to his Chinese counterpart that there were no plans to attack China count as “dealing with China” and “giving them a heads-up on the thinking” of the hollow-headed Trump? Was Trump actively considering an attack? Would Milley have seriously told his counterpart there were such plans, if such plans were underway? No? Then why are we here?
But “60 Minutes” leaves Trump’s accusations unchecked, as if whether Milley has acted so “treasonously” as to deserve “death” is something worthy of debate, something to be rebutted by Milley (if he cares to do it), but not something “60 Minutes” journalists themselves can weigh in on.
The press is not the only institution to be mired in cowardice. Republicanism forever teeters between embracing Trump’s violence and ever-so-softly rejecting it. In a pathetic half-condemnation of Trump targeting Milley as supposed traitor—just like he targeted former Vice President Mike Pence, aiming Capitol rioters at Pence on Jan. 6—Pence on Thursday would say only, “There’s no call for that kind of language directed towards someone who’s worn the uniform of the United States and served with just distinction.”
Pence then pivoted into an attack on “political correctness and woke politics at the Pentagon.” Evidently, whether or not Pence, Milley, and Trump’s other enemies deserve to be assassinated is of no more or no less importance than Pence slinging his own campaign talking points. And this is why America is on the brink of fascism: No matter where you look, nobody in the press or in politics seems to believe that suggesting your opponents should be executed is worthy of a full-throated condemnation.
Trump can delusionally declare that the nation’s top military leader might deserve “DEATH” for supposedly opposing him. When he gets nothing from the media but the usual scurry for quotes from both sides of this new development—and not a damn bit of condemnation from the gutless wonders that make up the entire rest of Republicanism—then we cannot expect to be anywhere else.
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