Defense Secretary Mark Esper declined to ban MAGA hats during his first exclusive interview with Fox News earlier this week.
Fox News’s correspondent asked him during the interview on Tuesday, “You’ve also talked about getting politics out of the military. Will you ban the wearing of MAGA hats, for instance, or other ways politics has entered the force?”
Esper responded, “We don’t politicize the force whether it’s buttons or hats or whatever the case may be. Political items should not be worn on a military uniform ever.”
Troops who have expressed support for the president have come under attack by those who claim they are politicizing the military.
In one prominent example, during a surprise trip to Iraq in Christmas 2018, Trump stopped over in Germany and was greeted by airmen who were holding — not even wearing — MAGA hats and banners.
Trump flag (she dropped it after she saw me taking a photo) pic.twitter.com/LhPwUNdEK3
— Jennifer Epstein (@jeneps) December 27, 2018
Some media pundits and Trump critics argued that the airmen holding MAGA hats and banner violated military rules that prohibit taking part of partisan political activities while in uniform, and there were calls for them to be punished.
Later, U.S. Air Forces Europe said in a statement, “There is no rule against Airmen bringing personal items to be signed by the president.”
Some critics argued it was a violation, since Trump was expected to be a candidate in 2020, or because “MAGA” was a campaign slogan.
However, there was no similar uproar when candidate Barack Obama stopped in Kuwait and signed magazine covers and other memorabilia for troops in uniform.
Geraldo Rivera at the time called the media criticism of troops “petty”:
Rules are rules but my friends at #CNN & co. whining about GI’s-in contravention of some obscure regulation-asking @realDonaldTrump & @FLOTUS to sign their #maga hats seems particularly petty. It has a slimy coating that indicates deeper hatred.
— Geraldo Rivera (@GeraldoRivera) December 28, 2018
During the Fox News interview, Esper was also asked whether the press is the “enemy.” Trump has previously tweeted that the “fake news media” is “the enemy of the American people.”
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) February 17, 2017
Esper responded, “The press is not the enemy in my book.”