President Donald Trump is prone to gaffes. But his recent salute to a member of a foreign military, from a nation who is hostile to United States, is indelibly disrespectful to America's armed forces.
In North Korea state media footage, Trump sought to shake the hand of one of North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un’s military entourage that accompanied him during the two leaders’ summit on nuclear disarmament earlier this week. The soldier rose his arm up in a salute to Trump — which the president quickly returned. The two then shook hands after the salute.
The worst part of this exchange is that, according to at least one source, Trump was briefed on this very situation possibly coming up and told by his handlers not to salute North Korean military. He did it anyway.
“It was an inappropriate [thing] for him to do from a protocol perspective, but now he's played right into the North's propaganda about their legitimacy on the world stage,” retired Rear Adm. John Kirby said about the salute.
There are calls of hypocrisy from Trump’s gaffe as well. While former President Barack Obama was widely criticized for “bowing” to a member of the Saudi royal family, Trump was among the loudest of those bellowing complaints, calling him an “amateur” when he did.
Why does this matter so much? In some ways, it shouldn’t; the presidential salute is a relatively new phenomenon, seen by some members of the military as nothing more than a facade. According to some historians, the practice of the president saluting military members — that is, personnel from the United States — began with former President Ronald Reagan.
That doesn’t give us much to go on in terms of precedent for the practice. But certainly, for someone who adamantly and ferociously insists on respect for the American flag and the military, Trump made an error in judgment saluting a soldier from a hostile nation which, as recently as half a year ago, the president himself had re-listed as a state sponsor of terrorism.
The salute is even more shocking when you consider Trump’s history stateside with Gold Star military families. Whether it’s Khizr Khan or Myeshia Johnson, it seems that Trump’s respect for the military only extends to those who support him politically.
Now he’s extending that respect to a military whose nation is constantly beating its war drum, making threats against the U.S. and its allies. Is Trump’s patriotism worth questioning? Without a doubt, given his actions this past week, as well as those from the start of his tenure as president, the answer is a resounding “yes.”