“Hello From the Other Side” Why does the Military Support Donald Trump?

“Love Trumps Hate!” On November 10th, two days after Donald Trump was named the 45th President of the United States, I marched in downtown Washington D.C. alongside fellow Georgetown Day School classmates in response to the election outcome. With my metrocard and sign in hand, I chanted at the top of my lungs as my feet became sore from marching up and down the streets of D.C. Flash forward to January 21st, and I was in the same position, only this time I was surrounded by hundreds of thousands of women in the historic Women’s March.

Having gone to bed before the final results had been announced the night of November 8th, I had woken up the next morning in utter disbelief that America had chosen Donald Trump as the next Commander-in-Chief. As a young woman, I had hoped that I would wake up and find out that Hillary Clinton had shattered that glass ceiling and made history as the 45th President, and first woman president, of the United States. This outcome did not happen.

Until this election, I had never been very interested in politics. Both the Republican and Democratic parties had always seemed to put forth respectable candidates who merely differed in how they thought America should be run. I had always been taught to respect and be open-minded to people’s opposing views. However, this election cycle, I found it difficult.

As a teenage girl who has grown up in the nation’s capital and always been surrounded by a diverse group of peers, I was offended by Trump’s remarks about women, Muslims, immigrants and other minorities. The way he spoke about inappropriately touching women and building a wall to keep Mexicans out sickened me. I wanted a president who would inspire me and help America progress; I did not want someone who resorted to tweeting and hate speech.

After being upset and angry at the results of the election, it was easy for me at first to disregard and insult those who supported Trump. I felt betrayed by extended family members and friends who supported Trump and, at times, could not find it in me to respect what they had to say. A few weeks after the shock wore off and I realized that Donald Trump would be the next president, I began to try to understand why so many people had supported this man. For years I have been working with military families at Walter Reed Military Hospital, and one night while volunteering at the video lending library in the unit where most of the veterans who were severely wounded from the recent wars live, I noticed that a large number of military personnel seemed very pleased with the results of the election. Despite his criticism of the Gold Star father, Khizr Khan, whose son was killed serving in Iraq, and his remarks about war veteran Senator John McCain in which Trump stated he prefers “people that weren’t captured,” Trump still maintained support from veterans and active-duty military members. This was puzzling to me, so I decided to talk to military members I knew to try to understand why they voted for him.

After a polarizing year-long election campaign, Donald Trump received more votes from the military than Hillary Clinton. According to a poll conducted by the Military Times/Institute for Veterans and Military Families, which surveyed nearly 2,500 active-duty troops in October 2016, more than 40.5 percent of service members were planning to vote for Trump as the next commander in chief. Libertarian nominee Gary Johnson was a favorable second choice to Trump with 27 percent, while Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton had 20.6 percent of favorability among service members. The survey found that enlisted military members favored Trump more than military officers favored Trump. My family has many close friends who serve or have served in the military, and I decided as a way to cope with and understand the results of the 2016 election, conversation with the “other side” would be a better alternative to shutting everything out.

Jose Gordon, who has spent 21 years in active duty and continues his service as an Army Ranger for a special missions unit, supported Trump over the other nominees. “I don’t necessarily support Trump as much as I didn’t support the other options,” explained Gordon. “From my perspective, being a military guy, I happen to know people that literally lost careers, lost livelihoods, lost families over committing one one hundredth of what she [Hillary Clinton] did. For me, it was a character issue more than anything.” He was referring to the FBI investigation into Clinton’s handling of classified information. Gordon explained that he believed Trump was the better option because he “seems to connect with us [the military] because he thinks like us and he does have an appeal with us because he seems to be genuine.” Trump repeatedly said throughout his campaign that if he was elected, he would demand a plan to defeat ISIS. This resonated with military personnel who have been fighting in wars for more than fifteen years since 9/11 and view fighting ISIS as one of the country’s most pressing priorities.

When asked about Trump’s controversial statement on Senator John McCain in 2015, Gordon believed it did not have a lasting effect on voters by the time the election ended in November. “It was an absolutely ridiculous, out-of-line, un-American, stupid statement,” responded Gordon. “At the time I was not a Trump fan, I’ve always been a Rubio fan. It was early enough in the campaign that there were plenty of other Republican nominees in the running,” he added. “It didn’t bleed over into the actual election cycle.” Many military personnel have been pleased with Trump’s picks for National Security, especially with James Mattis being chosen as Secretary of Defense. “I think he’s got a pretty good team, on the National Security side, with Mattis, Tillerson, Pompeo and now with HR McMaster. I think he’s got a very promising National Security staff,” said Gordon. “Anybody that knows HR McMaster knows how he is outspoken. I doubt very seriously that HR McMaster is going to bow down to Steve Bannon at all. Mike Pompeo doesn’t buckle to anybody, even Donald Trump,” stated Gordon on Trump’s picks. “We are seeing he is placing a National Security staff that is contrary to him. They are not going to be afraid to tell him, ‘Hey Boss, this is where you’re going wrong,’ so hopefully that will balance out his wackiness and his clumsiness.”

Sarah Verardo, spouse to Sergeant Michael Verardo who served for seven years in the military, became her husband’s primary caregiver when he was injured in Afghanistan in 2010. Sergeant Michael Verardo served with the 82nd Airborne as an infantryman in Afghanistan when he was wounded at the age of 25 in two IED attacks less than two weeks apart. The attacks left him without an arm and leg, and since then he has undergone more than 100 surgeries. “Originally we were asked to work with the Jeb Bush campaign, on the steering committee for military and veteran issues,” said Mrs. Verardo on how she became involved in the Trump campaign. “Once he left the race, we were tapped by the Trump campaign to share with them some of the struggles with the V.A. (Veteran’s Affairs) and what our day to day challenges were like.” Verardo explained how she and her husband are Catholic and have always been life-long Republicans, thus they knew they would support the Republican nominee because of their pro-life beliefs. “In July, we unexpectedly got an invitation to the RNC to sit with and meet the Trump family and Governor Pence at the time and his family. That is really when we became closely engaged with them and saw first hand his commitment to families like ours. He really took an interest in learning what real change would look like at the V.A.” says Verardo, who lives in North Carolina. “I think that with Donald Trump, he has a ten-point V.A. platform plan. A lot of that is putting veterans back in charge of their healthcare, which they have had to rely on a system that is really just archaic and antiquated and not set up to fit the needs of these men and women. I do think Trump is going to empower the veterans and he is going to empower their caregivers, and that’s an issue that is very important to me.”

The Department of Veterans Affairs has faced a lot of criticism within recent years for not adequately catering to the needs of veterans. The Verardos know first hand what it is like to deal with the bureaucracy that is the V.A. “We face a lot of red tape. When we were newly out of the army, about three and a half years ago, at one point Mike’s prosthetic broke and he had no back up. I had to wait for 57 days for someone to find a piece of paper authorizing repair,” recalled Verardo. “Just a couple weeks before the election, I got called and told that I needed to bring Mike into, and I quote, ‘check if he still has serious combat injuries.’ Families that are dealing with these level injuries have given so much already and we shouldn’t be asking even more of them just to get basic health care needs met.”

As a woman and mother of two daughters, Mrs. Verardo did take offense at Trump’s comments about women during his election campaign. “I one hundred percent find his comments offensive. I have two little girls, with another two on the way, and there are some things that are just inexcusable, like the comments about the Khan family. But, overall, I believe he was the best candidate for our military and for our veterans. We have many friends who are still in the service, making sure that they have what they need so that they can actually engage the enemy. I think that he was the one to be able to provide that to them,” she added. “I certainly don’t like everything and I definitely take issue and offense with certain things, but I do think he was the best person for the job. This was a polarizing, ugly election and so many issues on each side.”

Under the Obama administration, many veterans said they felt their concerns were ignored, resulting in an outcry from military personnel. “I think that President Obama obviously had many fabulous accomplishments that should be celebrated, I think he did a lot of great things for our country. However, I do think that his support of military and veteran issues wasn’t where we should be at a time that we are still at war. One of my very best friends talks about getting a condolence letter from him [President Obama] that had his stamped signature. That to me is just unacceptable. These are people whose husbands, whose fathers and sons and women too that are sacrificing their lives, they deserve a lot more than that,” said Verardo.  

Having personally spent time with the Pence family at the RNC, Verardo explained her connection and admiration for the Vice President and his family too. “I found Mike Pence to be one of the most genuine people I have ever met in my life, and I sincerely mean that. I think he has a fervent heart and I think he has a deep appreciation for the military.” Verardo explained that many military personnel are drawn to Trump because of his transparency. “I think that Donald Trump, a lot of what you see is what you get. I think he is a man that is going to get the job done and that is what our military needs. I think the military likes strong leaders and he certainly has a strong personality whether or not you like him or agree with him. He believes strongly in what he says so I think that does appeal to the military.”  

Although it is easy to point fingers and call names about the opposing political party, it is important to respect and try to understand the other side. Especially in D.C., where Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton won more than 90% of the vote, it is easy to stay enclosed in the D.C. bubble and close off those who do not share your political views. Only 1% of Americans serve in the military, and those Americans mostly voted for Trump. Trump’s win has impacted every American differently, and it is important to have conversations, as opposed to arguments, about the outcome. Many important issues have been brought to the surface, and it is our duty as Americans to talk and understand why people with different views than our own feel the way they do on these matters.

By: Annalise Myre