Stars and Stripes forever, but only if you toe the line

The April 19, 1918 issue of Stars and Stripes. Courtesy of Steven Williamson via Wikimedia Commons.

The Trump administration’s plan to defund the military news organization Stars and Stripes should be a wake-up call to the armed forces of the United States. While the decision has finally been reversed by the Pentagon—following major backlash over the last several weeks—the fact remains that Trump is orchestrating a continuous attack on free press. 

Stars and Stripes has existed as the military’s independent news source since the age of Lincoln. Originally created in 1861 by Union soldiers using a captured printing press, Stars and Stripes was reborn during World War I and has continued to be the source of independent news for troops on the front lines for decades. Due to its separation from the chain of command, Stars and Stripes delivers facts and opinions that have, at times, run contrary to “official” military stances. 

It comes as no surprise that an attempt to stifle the voice of military news has happened this close to a heated election. The president has made clear his opinions on both media sources that he cannot control and the military. The Stars and Stripes does not have a strong left- or right-wing bias, but also has not held back from criticism of Trump in its opinion pages. Calling any media that does not paint him in a good light “fake news” has always been his M.O. and, while Trump cannot shut down CNN or MSNBC, Stars and Stripes is a government-funded organization meaning he controls the purse strings. 

By cutting funding, the Trump Organization is able to accomplish two things: removing an impartial source of information from influencing a key demographic and “reducing” the military budget by roughly $15 million. There are obvious benefits to controlling the narrative fed to 470,000 active duty voters, but there are more sinister consequences as well. 

Consequence one: a political win-win for the President. If Stars and Stripes had shut down on Sept. 30 as planned, the Trump administration would have been able to argue that the Democratic Party cares about free speech and free press only when it benefits them. Now, however, the argument that will be made is that, when the Democratic Party finally got their chance to trim the military budget, they denied it to feed into a project that does not affect fighting capabilities. 

Consequence two: the President is the master of spin. He has already used his media platform to announce to his millions of loyal followers that he will not allow Stars and Stripes to fail under his watch, giving himself an easy win with his base. Never mind the fact that the budget cut idea came from his administration’s Pentagon and Secretary of Defense in the first place. 

Which brings me to my last point: the blatant disregard of American Soldiers, Sailors, Marines, Airmen and even Coasties is astronomical. This president has always disrespected American service members and veterans. From his multiple attacks against the late Senator John McCain, to his most recent decision to force all active duty military members to participate in a deferred payroll tax program until January with no way to opt out of a financial nightmare, Trump has shown a disregard not only for people’s positions as service members, but also their basic human dignity and autonomy. 

The military can be a conservative place. During my time in the Army, I knew people who voted for Trump the first time around. I had heated debates on why they were making a mistake (to the point that my supervisor had to ban any political discussion at work because I would stop working to argue). And some of those same people will make the deliberate choice to vote for him again because they will see him restoring Stars and Stripes as a symbol of military loyalty. The President is a gaslighting narcissist who is hoping to convince his last loyal friend to vote him Prom King, but I need him to know something. We see him. We see the liar behind the clown makeup, and those “losers,” who signed up to do what your five-time draft-dodging self never did, have got your number. I look forward to seeing you all Nov. 3, and more importantly I look forward to casting my ballot and casting him out. 

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