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Eric Davis: Donald Trump is no Delmer Berg

Last Thursday, The New York Times posted an op-ed column by Arizona Sen. John McCain titled “Salute to a Communist.” In the column, McCain paid homage to a 100-year-old man from California named Delmer Berg, who died a few weeks ago.
Berg spent almost all of his life in California. In 1937, at the age of 21, he was working as a dishwasher at the Roosevelt Hotel in Hollywood. He saw an advertisement seeking recruits for the Abraham Lincoln Brigade, a group of Americans who fought on the side of the Spanish Republic in the civil war that was then ravaging Spain. As Berg put it, “I was a worker. I was a farmer. I was in support of the Spanish working people, and I wanted to go to Spain to help them.”
After coming up with enough money for his travel, Berg took a bus from Los Angeles to New York, sailed across the Atlantic to France, and managed to cross the Pyrenees from France into Spain. He joined fellow members of the Brigade in the republican lines, fighting near Barcelona, as well as in the battles of Teruel and the Ebro, both of them bloody engagements that resulted in severe losses for the republican side.
After the victory of Franco’s Nationalists in the civil war, Berg returned to California. He enlisted in the U.S. Army shortly after Pearl Harbor. He fought in the southwest Pacific during the New Guinea campaign, and was discharged in 1943 because of the effects of wounds he had suffered while fighting in Spain.
Upon returning to the United States, Berg joined the Communist Party U.S.A., believing that the Soviet Union, then being attacked by Nazi Germany, was supporting the forces of freedom in the European war. Later in life, he served as president of his local chapter of the N.A.A.C.P., supported the efforts of Cesar Chavez to organize migrant farm workers in California, and protested the Johnson and Nixon Administrations’ Vietnam War policies. When Berg died, he was the last surviving member of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade.
John McCain obviously disagreed with many of Delmer Berg’s political views. But in his column, McCain showed his obvious admiration for Berg, for his commitment to fighting for freedom, his willingness to travel thousands of miles to risk his own life for people he did not know, his commitment to causes larger than himself, and his recognition that there are some causes that unite all of humanity.
As I read McCain’s column, I could not help but thinking of Donald Trump’s remark last summer that McCain was “not a war hero … He is a war hero because he was captured. I like people that weren’t captured, OK?”
Delmer Berg, and John McCain, were much bigger men than Donald Trump ever will be. McCain, as is well known, spent more than five years in a North Vietnamese prisoner of war camp, where he was tortured, and refused an offer of early release after his father was named commander of U.S. forces in the Pacific. That experience has affected McCain for the rest of his life, and makes him understand the choices made, and the accomplishments of, an unsung hero such as Delmer Berg.
Can one imagine Donald Trump ever acting in ways at all comparable to John McCain, and to Delmer Berg? Has the idea that there are some causes larger than one’s own pursuit of riches and power ever crossed Trump’s mind? Does he have the slightest understanding of what heroism, service and self-sacrifice mean? Is there any reason why a man so lacking in decency, integrity and honor should come anywhere near the office of President of the United States?
Eric L. Davis is professor emeritus of political science at Middlebury College.

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