Unexamined Premises

Do Androids Dream of Electric Feet?

The wheel went round and round... (AP Photo, Charles W. Harrity, File)

The answer to nearly every journalistic headline that ends with a question mark is “no,” but that hasn’t stopped the New York Times from recently indulging in near fact-free speculation about the origin of Donald Trump’s draft deferment back in the late Sixties:

In the fall of 1968, Donald J. Trump received a timely diagnosis of bone spurs in his heels that led to his medical exemption from the military during Vietnam. For 50 years, the details of how the exemption came about, and who made the diagnosis, have remained a mystery, with Mr. Trump himself saying during the presidential campaign that he could not recall who had signed off on the medical documentation.

Now a possible explanation has emerged about the documentation. It involves a foot doctor in Queens who rented his office from Mr. Trump’s father, Fred C. Trump, and a suggestion that the diagnosis was granted as a courtesy to the elder Mr. Trump.

The podiatrist, Dr. Larry Braunstein, died in 2007. But his daughters say their father often told the story of coming to the aid of a young Mr. Trump during the Vietnam War as a favor to his father. “I know it was a favor,” said one daughter, Dr. Elysa Braunstein, 56, who along with her sister, Sharon Kessel, 53, shared the family’s account for the first time publicly when contacted by The New York Times.

Elysa Braunstein said the implication from her father was that Mr. Trump did not have a disqualifying foot ailment. “But did he examine him? I don’t know,” she said.

Etc., etc. As part of their ongoing proctological examination of Trump and his family (including its deceased members), the Times and other Democrat media outlets have thrown all prior journalistic standards to the wind and will now report rumor and hearsay uncritically, just as long as they help in furthering the Narrative of Trump’s unsuitability for office. In the quoted passage above, I have highlighted in bold the weasel words that indicate there is no proof of the thesis being outlined in the story itself, but also that the reader is expected to draw the politically correct conclusion — that Trump’s deferment for bone spurs was the result of a favor from a doctor who may have owed Trump’s father a favor himself. That Dr. Braunstein, like Fred Trump, is dead is a feature, not a bug. So, by the way, is an additional hearsay witness, conveniently enough:

No paper evidence has been found to help corroborate the version of events described by the Braunstein family, who also suggested there was some involvement by a second podiatrist, Dr. Manny Weinstein. Dr. Weinstein, who died in 1995, lived in two apartments in Brooklyn owned by Fred Trump; city directories show he moved into the first during the year Donald Trump received his exemption.

Dr. Braunstein’s daughters said their father left no medical records with the family, and a doctor who purchased his practice said he was unaware of any documents related to Mr. Trump. Most detailed government medical records related to the draft no longer exist, according to the National Archives.

This paragraph, in fact, sounds far more dispositive than the childhood memories of the Braunstein daughters, which is why it’s buried deep in the story. Unless, of course, Drs. Braunstein and Weinstein knew that Donald Trump would someday run for president of the United States and thus concocted a conspiracy to a) free him from the draft and b) destroy all the evidence.

That the Times would print a zero-sourced, robot-written hit piece should come as no surprise: such things are de rigueur from the “Resisitance” media these days. What’s also concerning, however, is the reporter’s total lack of understanding of how the draft worked in the 1960s, as evidence by this cultural-Marxist paragraph:

In the 1960s, there were numerous ways to avoid military service, especially for the sons of wealthy and connected families, but Mr. Trump has said that no one pulled strings for him.

Actually, in the 1960s, there was one way that guaranteed you a draft deferment, and that was simply going to college. Under the Selective Service law, all men 18 years of age or older were obliged to register for the draft, and men between the ages of 19 and 26 could be drafted into the United States Army for a term of 21 months. In those days, relatively few young men attended college, and the government in its wisdom decided that if you were enrolled as a full-time student you were automatically given a class 2-S status, which deferment was good until graduation. Other deferments were provided to conscientious objectors (although they were still subject to non-combatant or civilian national service), ROTC enrollees, and fathers of young children, and there were various occupational, agricultural, hardship, marital status, and religious deferments as well. A classification of 4-F meant you were physically unfit for military service; 1-A meant you were ready for your first buzz cut at boot camp.

None of this may seem “fair” today, but it was the law at the time. And in no way was a college deferment seen as “dodging” the draft.

Beginning in October 1968, records show, Mr. Trump had a 1-Y classification, a temporary medical exemption, meaning that he could be considered for service only in the event of a national emergency or an official declaration of war, neither of which occurred during the conflict in Vietnam. In 1972, after the 1-Y classification was abolished, his status changed to 4-F, a permanent disqualification.

Well, as Bill Clinton proved, where’s there a law there’s also a loophole, and many men of my generation did their best to exploit them. Some found sympathetic doctors, as the Times implies Trump did — although in my anecdotal experience, many of those doctors were found at the draft physicals themselves, anti-war physicians who could invalidate any prospective draftee with the stroke of a pen. Some of my friends, facing graduation and the loss of a deferment, got married. Others went to Canada and never came back.

Everything changed in 1969, when the whole system of deferments was scrapped under President Nixon and the draft lottery was instituted. All men born between 1944 and 1950 went into the pool; birthdays were selected at random, on national television, and then it was up to the local draft boards to determine their quotas; any number below 200 and you were pretty much certain to be drafted, especially with the Vietnam War at its height; anything above 250 and you were pretty much certain not to be called. Because I entered college before I turned 18, I wasn’t even eligible for the draft until I was already into my sophomore year; as luck would have it, on Dec. 1, 1969, my number came up 201, the draft board called up to 195, and that was that.

Now, “bone spurs” certainly sound bogus enough (although they manage to keep professional athletes sidelined or on the DL often enough), as do flat feet, but in fact both were legitimate reasons for flunking your draft physical. What the Times is implying, however, is that Trump, or any young man of that era, took some pleasure in his invalidation (most did) — or, in an extreme version of the “chicken hawk” argument, should have enlisted anyway (although the bone spurts would have gotten him instantly rejected). Indeed, the Times in an earlier story made basically just that case:

The fact that a candidate seeking the presidency received military deferments or otherwise avoided fighting in Vietnam is not unusual. Voters have shown themselves willing to look past such controversies, electing George W. Bush, who served stateside in the Air National Guard during the Vietnam era, and Bill Clinton, who wrote to an Army R.O.T.C. officer in 1969 thanking him for “saving me from the draft.”

Mr. Trump likened his history to that of Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. and other prominent politicians, who also received several deferments. Mr. Trump said he had strongly opposed United States involvement in Vietnam. “I thought it was ridiculous,” he said. “I thought it was another deal where politicians got us into a war where we shouldn’t have been in. And I felt that very strongly from Day 1.”

So did many others, although one’s personal feelings about the Vietnam War did not enter into consideration unless you were willing to apply for conscientious objector status. Ah, but Trump, of course, is different:

Back in 1968, at the age of 22, Donald J. Trump seemed the picture of health. He stood 6 feet 2 inches with an athletic build; had played football, tennis and squash; and was taking up golf. His medical history was unblemished, aside from a routine appendectomy when he was 10.

But after he graduated from college in the spring of 1968, making him eligible to be drafted and sent to Vietnam, he received a diagnosis that would change his path: bone spurs in his heels. The diagnosis resulted in a coveted 1-Y medical deferment that fall, exempting him from military service as the United States was undertaking huge troop deployments to Southeast Asia, inducting about 300,000 men into the military that year.

The medical deferment meant that Mr. Trump, who had just completed the undergraduate real estate program at the Wharton School of Finance and Commerce at the University of Pennsylvania, could follow his father into the development business, which he was eager to do.

His experience during the era is drawing new scrutiny after the Muslim American parents of a soldier who was killed in Iraq publicly questioned whether Mr. Trump had ever sacrificed for his country. In an emotional speech at the Democratic National Convention last week, the soldier’s father, Khizr Khan, directly addressed Mr. Trump, the Republican presidential nominee, saying, “You have sacrificed nothing and no one.”

This story was written in 2016 and make use of the draft issue as a handy stick with which to beat Trump, especially in the wake of the Khan controversy. Like everything else the media tried, it failed, but the appearance of the Dr. Braunstein story on Boxing Day was just another of the Times‘s little Christmas presents to a president it loathes even more than Nixon, Reagan, Bush I, and Bush II combined.

That, however, doesn’t change the fact that Trump’s draft classifications were all entirely legal and done according to the rules in place at the time — whatever his state of mind may have been, and whether the Times likes it or not.