Trump’s Self-Absorption on War Deaths
President Trump was right about one thing this week (look, it happens). It is extremely hard to tell someone that their husband or wife or son or daughter has been killed while fighting in the country’s uniform.
Well, it should be. Every service member who dies in one of America’s wars gives up his life in following the orders of the commander -n chief. And that commander in chief — no matter how self-absorbed — should take personal responsibility for it.
But Trump could not have been more wrong in how he handled questions about whether he made calls to the next of kin to the four American soldiers who were killed in Niger on Oct. 4.
Then again, there was so much wrong with the way he handled this issue.
First, he indicated he had not already made the calls. “I will at some point during the period of time,” he said. Which period of time? Who knows.
Then, in true Trump fashion, he made it all about the most important person in any conversation, himself. Saying that those notifications are “a very difficult thing,” the president started whining, “Now it gets to a point where you make four or five of them in one day, it’s a very, very tough day.”Continue reading the main story
Imagine having to sacrifice time from tweeting inanities, stealing health insurance coverage from working Americans, passing tax breaks for his fellow billionaires, and other really pressing stuff.
(And, by the way, if he goes through with his threat to attack North Korea, it’s going to be four or five thousand calls a day — if the casualties are low. Very, very, very tough.)
Then, still true to form, Trump tried to make the claim that he was actually much better at this solemn duty than anyone else, especially Barack Obama.
“If you look at President Obama and other presidents, most of them didn’t make calls, a lot of them didn’t make calls,” he said, absolutely falsely. “I like to call when it’s appropriate, when I think I’m able to do it.”
Trump admitted under further questioning at a news conference in the White House Rose Garden that he didn’t actually know what Barack Obama’s practice was. “I don’t know if he did it,” Trump said. “I was told that he didn’t often.” In fact, Obama frequently made calls, always wrote letters and regularly met with Gold Star families.
Today, in an interview with a Fox radio host, Trump actually dragged in the 2010 battlefield death of Second Lt. Robert Kelly, the son of Trump’s chief of staff, John Kelly. “I mean, you could ask General Kelly did he get a call from Obama,” Trump said.
(By the way, Trump’s endless need to bring up Obama all the time is passing strange. Is this president ever going to become anything than merely the Bizarro Obama?)
The issue here, as Trump likes to say about the playing of the national anthem at football games, is one of respect and honor. In the culture of the military, a job in which the possibility of dying is ever-present, the proper way to treat death is with dignity and respect. And the commander in chief should take personal responsibility.
Ronald Reagan, for example, attended the memorial service for the 241 Marines and other service members killed in the bombing of a barracks in Beirut in 1983.
President George W. Bush tried to hide the casualties of war from the American public by barring the media from Dover Air Force Base when flag-draped coffins returned from Iraq. He did not attend the funerals of the fallen.
Trump, by contrast, sat joking with Sean Hannity at an event in Harrisburg, Pa., last week, while the military color guard was lowering the flag to the playing of “Retreat” — a deeply solemn daily ritual.
“What a nice sound that is,” Trump said. “Are they playing that for you or for me?”
I don’t mean to suggest that Trump is so lacking in basic empathy that he doesn’t care about the war dead. But he is careless, in exactly the way that F. Scott Fitzgerald described two of the main characters in “The Great Gatsby”:
“They were careless people, Tom and Daisy — they smashed up things and creatures and then retreated back into their money or their vast carelessness, or whatever it was that kept them together, and let other people clean up the mess they had made.”Continue reading the main story