Semper Paratus, the Latin phrase on the parade standard of the U.S. Coast Guard, loosely translates as “always ready.” But just how prepared could this year’s graduates of the Coast Guard Academy have been for a commencement address from their commander-in-chief, President Donald Trump?
Actually, considering that he ended up giving yet another proto-campaign speech in which he bragged about his electoral triumph, I’d wager “very.” This is the same speech Trump always gives, whether he’s addressing the Coast Guard or ordering a Coke.
Nevertheless, there was one indelible moment in Trump’s remarks to America’s next generation of Coasties. It came during the traditional part of his oratory that we might as well start calling “The Airing of Grievances”:
Over the course of your life, you will find things are not always fair. You will find that things happen to you that you do not deserve and that are not always warranted. But you have to put your head down and fight, fight, fight. Never, ever, ever give up. Things will work out just fine. Look at the way I’ve been treated lately, especially by the media. No politician in history, and I say this with great surety, has been treated worse or more unfairly. You can’t let them get you down. You can’t let the critics and naysayers get in the way of your dreams. I guess that’s why I won.
Fairness is a pretty interesting topic of conversation to be raising in front of men and women who will one day be jumping into the damn ocean in the middle of hurricanes to rescue people, in the service of an organization whose unofficial motto is, “You have to go out, but you don’t have to come back.”
But let’s leave that aside for the moment and examine the contention that “No politician in history ... has been treated worse or more unfairly.” I’m no Doris Kearns Goodwin, but I feel ― with great surety! ― that this is not the case.
Let’s just think about other presidents. Off the top of my head, here are some people who were treated more unfairly than Donald Trump.
James Madison: On Aug. 12, 1814, British troops under the command of Maj. Gen. Robert Ross straight up set fire to the presidential mansion, which to my mind is just mad disrespectful. They literally burned down his house and he had no Mar-a-Lago to fall back on.
William Henry Harrison: Shortly after he was elected, he became ill with what is now presumed to be enteric fever. History records that “Harrison sought to rest in the White House, but could not find a quiet room because of the steady crowd of office seekers.” Fair? Surely not.
Abraham Lincoln: Did you know that half of the country seceded from the Union after Lincoln was elected? Well, they did! And Lincoln had to spend the bulk of his presidency fighting a civil war to “restore the Union.” For his trouble, he was assassinated during a performance of “Our American Cousin” by actor John Wilkes Booth. Now, throughout the country, neo-Nazis stage demonstrations to preserve statuary depicting the very secessionists who ruined Lincoln’s life. Maybe I’m being Pollyannaish, but that just feels a little below the belt to me.
James Garfield: Garfield was assassinated by Charles Guiteau, who was angry because he felt he was being treated shabbily when Garfield didn’t give him plum overseas appointments in Vienna or Paris. Guiteau didn’t even speak a foreign language! Come on, man! But after pestering Garfield’s administration about it, he finally decided that the president had to die. Being murdered by a guy who wrongly thought you were being unfair is double-plus unfair ― there’s just no getting around that.
William McKinley: McKinley was shot twice in the gut by anarchist Leon Czolgosz after greeting him in a receiving line at the Temple of Music in Buffalo, New York. In an act of tremendous magnanimity, the wounded McKinley instructed the mob who set upon Czolgosz to “go easy on him.” That’s probably why Czolgosz wasn’t immediately torn to pieces. You’d think that an act of mercy would be rewarded by a moral universe, wouldn’t you? Well, you’d be wrong: McKinley died of gangrene eight days later. Seems pretty cruel.
Franklin D. Roosevelt: Check it ― Roosevelt was basically trying to help dig America out of the crater of the Great Depression when Adolf Hitler decided to try to conquer Europe through war and mass genocide, and Hitler’s Japanese allies bombed Pearl Harbor. Umm … rude much?
John F. Kennedy: Kennedy wasn’t just assassinated; his death became enmeshed in a web of conspiracy theories that persists to this day. For a time, it was even deemed acceptable to request three shots of espresso by ordering a “JFK.” Wow, people, think about what you’re doing.
Gerald Ford: Had to follow the Nixon administration. My man just never had a chance.
Ronald Reagan: Reagan was nearly killed by an insane man who thought that murdering the president would impress actress Jodie Foster. And I’m sorry, no matter how many times I watch “Taxi Driver” or “The Silence of the Lambs” or “The Accused” ― which are all fine movies, I’m not disputing this ― this will never feel right to me. It’s a wholly unmerited thing to do to Reagan. Verdict: Not fair!
Barack Obama: People may not remember this, but President Obama was relentlessly accused of not having been born in the United States of America. In my humble opinion, this was pretty ungracious! And here’s an interesting historical detail: One of the ringleaders of the movement to unfairly discredit Obama’s American-ness was future President Trump.
As you can plainly see, Donald Trump, by virtue of not being shot in the abdomen or head, not having his mansion burned down, and not being accused of birth in a foreign country in order to question his legitimacy, is making out pretty good on the spectrum of “being treated fairly.”
One final thing to note about this matter is that President Trump’s budget originally called for a 14 percent cut to the U.S. Coast Guard. He’s since backed off that plan and has promised to maintain current budget levels. As Breaking Defense’s Sydney J. Freedberg Jr. reports, “The bad news is that ‘current funding levels’ are already too low.” But as Trump said, “You can’t let the critics and naysayers get in the way of your dreams.”
“Enjoy your life,” he concluded.
Jason Linkins edits “Eat The Press” for HuffPost and co-hosts the HuffPost Politics podcast “So, That Happened.” Subscribe here, and listen to the latest episode below.