I’m paraphrasing here, but this is basically what I heard today. “Trump can’t catch a break. He tried to do the right thing, calling the families [of the four soldiers in the 3rd Special Forces Group who were killed in Niger]. He’s not good at it, but at least he tried. You have to give him credit for that.”
And you know what? I very nearly did.
Let me start by talking about something that happened to my family a million years ago. When I was 15 years old, I came home from school to find two Marines standing at the door to my house. My oldest brother was a Marine serving in a Recon unit in Vietnam at the time. I went numb when I saw those Marines. I was about half a block from home when I saw them; I don’t remember walking the rest of the way. One of Marines said something like, “Son, we need to talk to your mother, but she won’t come to the door.”
I could see her through the window, sitting at the kitchen table, refusing to even look at the door. I’ve no idea how long the Marines had been standing there, waiting. I opened the door and invited them in. They told us my brother had been shot in the leg and in the back, that he’d been evacuated to a hospital ship. My mother asked if he’d be okay. All they could say was that his prognosis was guarded. I assumed that meant he was probably going to die.
One of the Marines made coffee. They sat down at the kitchen table, walked us through the likely process of my brother’s med-evac, referring to him by name. “Roger would have been stabilized and treated for pain at the site, his condition monitored en route to the hospital ship,” and so on. They stayed with us until my father got home. Then they went through the whole process again.
My brother was lucky; he lived, (it turned out he hadn’t been shot in the back at all). Nine other Marines and a Navy corpsman were killed on that same day in Quang Nam province. I’ll never forget how gut-wrenching it was to see those two Marines at the door. I’ll never forget how patient they were, and how supportive, and how quiet and respectful and calm.
I don’t normally talk about this stuff, but this is the basis on which I very nearly gave Comrade Trump credit for trying. I know what it’s like to get bad news. Having been a medic in the military, I also know what it’s like to deliver that news. It’s not easy. So a part of me actually wanted to give Trump credit for making those calls.
Yes, after the four soldiers were killed in Niger, he failed to even try to contact the families for almost two weeks. In fact, he hadn’t said anything at all in public about the four deaths — and I suspect he wouldn’t have said anything about them if he hadn’t been asked about it in public by a reporter. And yes, when confronted with his failure, Trump tried to claim other presidents had done less than he’d done. Which was a lie. But he said he would call the families of the soldiers. And he did. There’s that.
Before he called them, Trump apparently consulted Gen. John Kelly, his Chief of Staff, to find out what he should say. According to Kelly, he told Trump those four soldiers knew what they’d signed up for — they knew there was a chance they’d get killed or wounded in the line of duty. To Kelly (and most folks with military experience) that knowledge magnifies the level of commitment and the weight of the sacrifice troops are prepared to make. They knew the risks, but were willing to undertake them in the service of their country. There’s a terrible beauty in that.
From what we know of the conversation Trump had with the family of Sgt. La David Johnson, he apparently attempted to make that point, but did it in such a clumsy way as to offend the family. It’s been reported that he never referred to Sgt. Johnson by name, just calling him “your guy”. Trump is also alleged to have said, “He knew what he was signing up for, but I guess it hurts anyway.”
Even though he fucked it up, at that point I was still willing to reluctantly give Trump credit for trying. Then the family spoke out about the conversation, saying he’d been insensitive.
Here’s another thing that happened a moderately long time ago. President George W. Bush — the president I disliked the most until Comrade Trump slouched into office — had visited a military hospital to speak with troops wounded in the war he’d started. One of the families of the wounded was present, and they voiced their anger and resentment about the war and about Bush. Bush just stood there, facing the family, and took it. As the Commander-in-Chief, Bush understood his duty — to the family, to the soldier, to the America public — was to quietly accept the family’s anger, because he was ultimately responsible for that soldier’s wounds and that family’s distress. I passionately disliked Bush, but I respected him at that moment.
Had Trump done the same — had he followed Bush’s example, had he just quietly accepted the Johnson family’s response — I’d have given him credit for trying to do the right thing. Even though he’d been sort of forced into and even though he’d bungled it badly, I’d have given him credit for trying. If only he’d handled it like an adult.
But he didn’t. Instead, Trump lashed out. Which is what he does when he’s criticized. He lashed out and he lied about what took place– just as he’s done against other Gold Star families who’ve publicly criticized him.
So no, I don’t give Trump credit for trying. I might have given him credit; I very nearly did. But in the end Comrade Trump again confirmed to me that he’s a despicable poltroon, with no native sense of decency, and no regard for the truth, and no real respect for the military.
Those two Marines who came to deliver the awful news to my family, they didn’t know my brother. But they knew his name. They knew other Marines just like him. They knew other families like ours. They treated us with patience and courtesy and dignity and deep compassion.
Those qualities seem to be completely absent in the president.