Barbara Shelly

Barbara Shelly: The casual cruelty of Donald Trump

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump spoke at a campaign stop in Kiawah Island, S.C. He is leading in the polls for that state’s primary on Saturday.
Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump spoke at a campaign stop in Kiawah Island, S.C. He is leading in the polls for that state’s primary on Saturday. The Associated Press

Donald Trump has disparaged immigrants, disabled persons, Muslims and war heroes without paying a price, so it’s little wonder that his remarks about Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl this week registered as no more than a small blip on a very large screen.

“I’d return him,” Trump said of the soldier who spent five years in Taliban captivity in Afghanistan before being released in 2014 when President Barack Obama agreed to a prisoner swap.

“I’d fly over and drop him right on top,” said the man who wants to be America’s next commander in chief.

“Bing,” he added. As in, that’s that. Problem solved. One more inferior soul tossed into the void.


According to news reports, Trump’s audience in a South Carolina retirement community laughed.

It’s clear by now that Trump can stride onto a stage and say any awful thing he pleases and people will cheer and clamor for selfies and vote for him in Republican primaries.

When you can get away with tangling with the Pope, the chances of being called out for recommending that Bergdahl be dropped from an aircraft are practically nil.

A mixed-up kid who never should have been in the military to begin with, Bergdahl endured what a Department of Defense official described as “absolute torture and horror” at the hands of the Taliban.

He became an object of hatred soon after President Barack Obama agreed to release five Taliban members in exchange for bringing Bergdahl home. The sergeant now faces a court martial on charges of desertion for walking away from his base. He has been accused of placing other soldiers in mortal danger as the military scrambled to find him, although those claims are murky.

Bergdahl is red meat for a politician who feeds on the weak and powerless. This week wasn’t the first time Trump has lit into the serviceman. At other rallies he has called Bergdahl a “dirty rotten traitor,” launched into gyrations suggesting a firing squad and recommended dropping Bergdahl out of an airplane.

Trump either doesn’t realize or doesn’t care that tossing people out of planes is a method of execution linked to some of the most reprehensible regimes in modern history. The military junta that terrorized Argentina in the 1970s killed people that way, and a henchman of the late Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein is accused of doing so.

Trump is equally casual when recommending torture. He told his South Carolina audience that waterboarding was “not nearly tough enough.” He assured his faithful that “torture works, folks. Believe me, torture works.”

Don’t believe him. A U.S. Senate report found that waterboarding and other harsh interrogation techniques used by the CIA after 9/11 were essentially useless for yielding important information and probably counterproductive.

Trump is as flippant about cruelty as he is about most things. Roll your eyes, call your opponents weak and stupid, put in a plug for waterboarding, and how about we toss a U.S. serviceman out of an airplane.


And the crowd laughs.

Trump-style political discourse is eroding our humanity. He enters the fray devoid of empathy, and his audiences follow suit.

At Trump rallies there are no constitutional rights, no due process, no common decency. It’s all about survival of the fittest.

Trump followers — those audiences that burn with righteous anger because the nation is changing before their eyes — get to join him on the march to “make America great again.”

And everyone else?

Bing. You’re done.