Veterans line up in stand against Trump

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In the midst of a historically polarizing presidential administration, U.S. Marine Corps veteran and North Kingstown native Alexander McCoy has firmly chosen his side.

McCoy is one of the founders of Common Defense, a civic engagement organization born in the run-up to the 2016 election of Donald Trump out of like-minded U.S. military veterans and their families who shared the same core belief – that Trump did not represent, and continues to not represent, the American values that they fought for as laid out within the United States Constitution.

“People were so frustrated with the status quo that they voted for change, they were voting to flip the table and voting to send a message. I can understand that. I think there is truth in the frustration that so many of us feel,” McCoy said recently in a meeting held Friday at U.S. Rep. Jim Langevin’s headquarters in Warwick.

“But Donald Trump is not our champion,” he continued. “He’s not the champion of working people, he’s not the champion of regular veterans. He’s in it for himself and he’s in it for his billionaire friends in Mar-a-Lago and he’s in it for Vladimir Putin and he’s in it for all the other dictators that he likes and admires so much. That’s what I would say to people who are still allowing this president to exploit them.”

Since beginning in 2016, Common Defense now boasts a list of 150,000 supporters across all 50 states, including 780 in Rhode Island. The group seeks to end “forever wars,” such as the ongoing conflict in the Middle East, and “elect a diverse new generation of progressive leaders and speak out on issues that affect our communities.”

Even further, Common Defense seeks to promote the impeachment of Trump, citing concerns of colluding with foreign governments, obstructing justice during the investigation into that collusion, among other societal problems that they believe have become exacerbated under the Trump administration, such as increasing racial and religious tensions.

“We’re trying to stand up for the values that we believe the Constitution represents,” McCoy explained on Monday during a phone interview. “Liberty and justice truly being for all, defending our community, and we think this president is bad news. He’s corrupt, he’s selling us out, he’s putting the VA under the control of a bunch of billionaires in Mar-a-Lago, he’s attacking our neighbors, he’s fear mongering about people because of the color of their skin and their religion. He’s doing these things that are fundamentally un-American.”

McCoy praised Langevin for declaring his support to start the impeachment process in the House, regardless of whether the measure would actually result in an impeachment of the president or not.

“We’re not trying to act like pundits,” he said. “I don’t care what the Senate will do. I care that there is a vote and every elected member of our government needs to vote and take a stand, and history will show where you stood. I think that’s important.”

McCoy joined the Marines in 2008 at 19 years old and served until 2013 as an embassy guard in Saudi Arabia, Honduras and Germany. He was honorably discharged as a sergeant. Now 31 years old, he is working towards a degree in political science from Columbia University in New York.

On Friday at Langevin’s office, McCoy was with fellow veterans Patrick Reay and Jason Ayotte. Reay, originally from Idaho, served aboard the U.S.S. Boston from 1980 to 1986 during the Cold War and relocated to Groton, Conn. before joining Common Defense.

“I still remember when Russia was our enemy, and I’m not real happy with Trump’s response to Putin,” he said. Reay voted Republican his whole life until 2016, when Trump made disparaging comments about the late Sen. John McCain, who famously survived being captured during the Vietnam War. “I couldn’t even vote this last election. Trump lost me at McCain. That was it, I was done with him.”

McCoy, too, pegged Trump’s actions regarding military veterans as self-serving and dishonorable to those who have put their lives on the line in service of their country.

“He wears his little flight suit and acts like he served when he didn’t. He constantly is exploiting the symbols of service and the flag and wrapping his ideas in patriotism to make them seem normal and I find that obscenely abnormal and fascist, frankly,” he said. “He’s using active duty troops as a backdrop … He just does not understand anything about the military, nor is he really interested in it other than in the way that he can use it to somehow make himself the arbiter of what is and isn’t American and what is and isn’t patriotic.”

Part of Common Defense’s mission is to train veterans on how to better engage with politicians to enact meaningful policy changes and elect leaders that share their distaste for Trump’s brand of leadership. At the same time, McCoy makes sure to point out that it is important to have meaningful dialogues with people about policy, even if they don’t fully agree with their stance on Trump.

“I think there is room for reasonable disagreement on policy,” he said, adding that “compromise lives” in the areas where people on either side can agree – areas such as money having too much influence over policy and the growing feeling of disenfranchisement.

“It’s talking to people who have been alienated by the system entirely,” he said.

But he also believes that the group’s main aversions to Trump surpass partisan politics.

“What Trump does is systematically try to define his supporters as the only ones who own the title of being American,” he said. “He’s drawing a divide between his people and everyone else as the ‘other,’ and I think that’s dangerous for democracy and the military and the country.”

You can learn more about Common Defense at CommonDefense.us.

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