'Lock him up': How Trump turned Veterans Day into an angry sporting event

In Midtown Manhattan, president's presence turns a day of reverence into a hostile free-for-all

Monday 11 November 2019 20:50
Protesters mock Trump for medical deferments that allowed him to avoid serving in Vietnam War
Protesters mock Trump for medical deferments that allowed him to avoid serving in Vietnam War

For some reason, as Donald Trump sparked off this year’s Veteran’s Day parade in New York City, a man wearing a mask of the president’s likeness hung from a nearby traffic sign and bellowed profanities.

“F*** that s***”, the Trump-supporter yelled repeatedly, apparently registering his anger with impeachment, as men and women in Navy uniforms looked on. Meanwhile the president, obscured nearby by garbage trucks protecting the perimeter of Madison Square Park, boomed out praise for American troops past and present.

Just across the street, as Mr Trump praised the bravery of soldiers half a century ago on the beaches of Normandy or even weeks ago in a Syrian compound housing Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the president’s opponents bellowed out their own anger: “Lock him up! Lock him up!”

In any other year, and under any other president, the observance of the Veteran’s Day parade in New York would have been a reverent, if not solemn, affair. But, as Mr Trump laid down a wreath to honour American troops that have put their lives on the line for their country, the anger that has been brewing over the past three years of his presidency was on full display.

As both sides of the political divide diverged in Manhattan on Monday, the 100th anniversary of Veterans Day came to be less about the troops — and something more akin to a sporting event, as both sides tried to yell down their opponents.

During his address, Mr Trump praised the nation’s veterans, and said they “risked everything for us. Now it is our duty to serve and protect them every single day of our lives.”

He told the crowd, some of which watched from on top of New York Fire Department trucks, that America’s veterans came face to face with evil — but refused to back down in the face of imminent danger.

“You returned from war and you never forgot your friends who didn’t return,” Mr Trump said. “But your greatest tribute of all is the way you lived your lives in the years since.”

But Mr Trump’s speech, just down the street on Fifth Avenue from his old official residence of Trump Tower, was met with loud boos, and shouts of encouragement from his supporters. Giant Trump flags could be seen waving alongside banners and signs egging on impeachment, and urging people to “remember John McCain”, the late Republican senator and veteran who frequently sparred with the president.

Midtown Manhattan had turned into an open-air sporting stadium, with competing teams jeering at one another on a crisp November morning.

“What I think Trump has done is gone way over the top. Way over the top of what’s acceptable,” said Carol Shuttleworth, 86, of Manhattan, as a man stood nearby screaming that she is “CIA scum”.

She continued: “I have two brothers who were veterans, and my ex husband was a veteran. And I honour the veterans … I’m too old, 86, to go to Washington to do this at the White House. So, today I thought well he’s in New York, it’s my chance.”

How Trump turned Veterans Day into an angry sporting event

“I think he’s full of s***. I think he’s going to get impeached. And him and his son and his whole family are going to jail because they’re all corrupt,” said Angel George, 75, a resident of Queens and a veteran.

Asked of Mr Trump’s support for veterans, Mr George noted that Mr Trump avoided the Vietnam War draft through medical deferments: “What support? He doesn’t support veterans. That’s lip service, that’s all it is. If he supports veterans why didn’t he serve during Vietnam? He had four deferments his father paid for. For bone spurs? Come on man guys went into the military with a lot worse physical conditions than that.”

On the other side, Mr Trump’s supporters paid little mind to the president’s history with the draft. They described the current impeachment effort as “a hoax”, and suggested Mr Trump is making the ultimate sacrifice by serving as president.

Donald Trump speaks at the Veterans Day Parade

“He couldn’t fight in Vietnam, so he studied America and he learned the system to the point where, at the very end, I’m going to become president. Which is the ultimate service to our country,” said Rojo Martin, 55, who said he is a professional flagpole holder from Manhattan. Mr Martin refused to disclose how he makes a living holding flags for the president.

Later on, Mr Martin, wearing a giant foam MAGA hat, could be seen pushing back against chants from Democrats, who were shouting “Brain dead Trump! Brain dead Trump!”

Mr Martin laughed and clung to his sign: “You’re a red coat”, and then “soy milk is free”.

With a group of young men laughing at his trolling, Mr Martin seemed to explain to the protesters why he was choosing to match their chants with nonsensical messages: “Conservatives can actually create stuff. Like memes and stuff. You guys can’t create s***”.

“We know how to have a good time here,” Mr Martin laughed.

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