“We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie,
In Flanders fields.”
— Canadian soldier John McCrae, remembering the sacrifice of fellow World War I troops.
“We’re getting drenched.”
— President Trump, noting his own sacrifice during World War I centennial observance Sunday.
WASHINGTON — On Veterans Day, Americans recall the sacrifices of those who served our country.
We think of the bayonet charge of Maine’s 20th Regiment on Little Round Top, the young men battling through rain and poison gas in the Argonne, the soldiers in the frozen Ardennes Forest in the Battle of the Bulge.
And we think of President Trump, battling rain for not one but two days in France this weekend.
Other presidents had made sacrifices. George Washington camped with his frozen troops in Valley Forge. William Henry Harrison died after a two-hour inaugural address in the rain.
But these were as nothing compared with the elements Trump battled in Paris.
On Saturday, the White House, citing “logistical difficulties caused by the weather,” canceled Trump’s trip to a memorial at Belleau, where 2,000 U.S. Marines died a century ago. It was raining — and Trump opted to remain at the U.S. ambassador’s residence, watching TV and tweeting.
The next day, when other world leaders marched down the Champs-Elysees to the Arc de Triomphe for the centenary of the Armistice ending World War I, Trump instead took his motorcade. The reason this time: security. Once again, it was raining, and Trump stayed dry in his armored limousine.
These were brave decisions, because they meant Trump would have to endure the hurtful images of other world leaders visiting other memorials around France despite the rain, then marching in soggy solidarity without him. His excuses for skipping the war memorial earned ridicule because the cemetery was just an hour’s drive (less than half the time the White House claimed) and Trump had previously boasted about ordering his pilots to fly him despite bad weather — to a campaign rally.
But Trump’s behavior, not unlike Washington’s winter at Valley Forge, should be seen in a patriotic light — a selfless sacrifice for the good of the country. Consider the international disgrace the United States would have suffered if his hair were to have become matted by rain without adequate measures to protect it. Or if wind gusts had whipped his mane into an orange tornado swirling above a sparse white scalp. A soaking could have been calamitous. Trump, therefore, absorbed the losses at Belleau Wood and on the Champs-Elysees to prevail later, at Suresnes American Cemetery, after receiving hair spray reinforcements.
Such shrewd strategic thinking has been Trump’s hallmark since high school at New York Military Academy, where he received “more training militarily” than many get in the actual military. Bone spurs sadly kept him from Vietnam, but he said that avoiding STDs was “my personal Vietnam” and that he was “a great and very brave soldier” in this cause.
He endured French President Emmanuel Macron’s “very insulting” proposal that Europe build up its own military. He endured a topless woman disrupting his motorcade with the words “fake peacemaker” on her chest. He endured mockery in the French press for confusing the Balkans with the Baltics. He endured Macron’s speech declaring that “nationalism is a betrayal of patriotism.” And he endured the obvious impression that other leaders didn’t want him at their “Peace Forum,” which began as Trump left.
Through it all, Trump kept his powder dry — and his hair. In the end, his sacrifice was rewarded.
It was still raining Sunday afternoon when Trump went by motorcade to Suresnes. But this time Trump did not retreat. He heroically cast aside his umbrella and spoke — for 10 moist minutes.
He recalled the sacrifice of Americans in the Great War (“through rain, hail, snow, mud, poisonous gas, bullets and mortar, they held the line”). And he invoked his own sacrifice, telling a group under a tent: “You look so comfortable up there, under shelter as we’re getting drenched.”
The lectern dripped. His overcoat glistened. And yet his hair, under protective lacquer, held firm — like the burning bush that was not consumed.
The valiant polymers that fell defending his hair from the rain seeped into the soil at Suresnes. Now it truly can be said, as the poem goes, that there’s some corner of a foreign field that is forever Trump.
Follow Dana Milbank on Twitter @Milbank.