By J.D. Durkin
PARIS -- On hallowed ground in Northern France where more than 9,300 American servicemen lay buried, one might have expected the President of the United States to keep focused on the spirit of historic reverence and solemn remembrance.
But Donald Trump, as we know, is no ordinary president.
For Trump’s interview with Fox News Thursday, the man who now serves in the role once belonging to FDR was impressively lit on a backdrop of the stunning rows of grave sites at Cimetière Américain de Colleville-sur-Mer, or the Normandy American Cemetery. It sits just yards from Omaha Beach, where thousands of American soldiers were slain by Nazi Germany 75 years ago.
But rather than stay focused on the message of the American-led invasion here in 1944, or the role of vital Allied partners, or the shared common history in fighting against the axis of evil, the President ripped into his perceived political nemeses in what basically amounted to Tweets come to life.
“Nasty, vindictive, horrible person,” said the President about House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA). Leaving nothing to the imagination about how he really feels, the leader of the free world continued, “I think she’s a disgrace. I actually don’t think she’s a talented person.”
He continued, “Nancy Pelosi’s a disaster, OK? She’s a disaster.”
Ironically enough, Pelosi had also made the long trip overseas to honor Operation Overlord veterans. In an interview with MSNBC’s Andrea Mitchell, however, the Speaker refused to return fire.
“I’m not here to talk about impeachment,” Pelosi said when asked, adding, “On the subject of our veterans, we always strive to work in a bipartisan way.”
Mitchell — who has accompanied dozens of leaders on foreign trips in her several decades of reporting — added to viewers at the conclusion of the interview: “The speaker has her own golden rule when leading a bipartisan delegation: Never attack the president while overseas.”
No fewer than several hundred white crosses were visible in the ground behind the President as he continued his withering criticism to Fox News, now against former Special Counsel Robert Mueller.
“He made a fool out of himself,” Trump said of Mueller, a U.S. Marine Corps veteran who served in Vietnam and was eventually awarded the Bronze Star and Purple Heart. He continued, “What people don’t report is the letter Mueller had to do to straighten out his testimony because his testimony was wrong.” Since Mueller has not testified at any point, it is not clear precisely what Trump was referring to.
It’s almost as if he had to get his last few breaths of biting criticism out of his system before beginning the commemoration ceremony.
Then there’s the D-Day proclamation.
It’s a simple one-sheet declaration of shared values that the Allied leaders signed in France that features several instances of the word “We”: “We affirm that it is our shared responsibility to ensure that the unimaginable horror of these years is never repeated,” and “We stand together today to honour the memory of those who paid the ultimate sacrifice.”
Macron. Trudeau. Merkel. All signing the multi-national pledge at the bottom of the page.
Guess which leader signed the very top, instead?
This reporter saw many veterans proudly supporting the MAGA merchandise synonymous with Trump events back home. And even critics of Trump’s say he hit the right notes once the ceremony was finally underway. “You’re the pride of our nation,” the President told the 60 living D-Day veterans in attendance.
The setting Thursday was one we’ve frequently seen this President in — at Shanksville, PA, in 2018 to commemorate 9/11, for instance — but it’s not one where we’ve ever seen him truly be comfortable. Nor does he appear to be at his most genuine, but he is on-message, and on this day his words to the veterans resonated.
One could argue that the “America first” bumper-sticker slogan that helped win Trump the presidency has endured in the minds of many voters as the same American exceptionalism that put the U.S. on the path to victory after WWII. But European allies made the events at Normandy 75 years ago a reality.
In fact, the United States only led on two out of the five D-Day surges — at Omaha and Utah — while Juno, Gold, and Sword beaches were led by U.K. and Canadian forces. Though to some, perhaps the physical embodiment of America first is important, too; Trump has, after all, previously drawn criticism for quite literally putting himself first when he pushed aside the prime minister of Montenegro at a 2017 NATO summit.
But perhaps the unfiltered nature of POTUS 45 — the one who launches potshots at Democrats and investigators on sacred soil — was doing what he needs to do to survive a tempest back home.
After all, Donald Trump’s goal is to be able to return to Normandy as President once again: for the 80th D-Day anniversary, in June 2024.