Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Reciprocity Failure

A friend of mine told me the other day that I was much too quick to criticize Donald Trump. I told him that while I do knock the president early and often, (as it's the Chicago way), there is indeed much to criticize. Still, I took his words to heart and this morning after listening to yet another story that made me cringe, I grudgingly came to the conclusion that in this case, the typical universal condemnation of the president, did not fit the crime.

A little background to the current fiasco in the world of the most powerful man in the world would be in order. On October 4th, four U.S. Army Green Berets, Sgt. La David Johnson, Staff Sgt. Bryan Black, Staff Sgt. Jeremiah Johnson and Staff Sgt. Dustin Wright were killed in the western African nation of  Niger. The four men were the victims of an ambush waged by 50 or so individuals allegedly associated with ISIS. Here is a CNN story that chronicles the lives of the four soldiers.

Judging from his tweets, Trump had a busy couple of weeks since the soldiers' deaths. He's tweeted about his negation of the Iranian arms deal, his ongoing attempt to sabotage the Affordable Care Act (and virtually everything related to his predecessor's legacy), his tax "reform" plan, more promises to build his wall along the Mexican border, the continuation of his self-imposed war with James Comey and Hillary Clinton, threats against Senator John McCain, lots of self-congratulation over the stock market, and what has become hands down his greatest crusade, those nasty kneelers in the NFL. So Trump fans, my friend included, must certainly understand how an over-worked president who needs to balance important tweet-time with much needed R&R on the golf course, wouldn't be able to find time in those two weeks to mention the sacrifice of the four soldiers, which he didn't.

It took a press conference the other day where a reporter asked the president about the soldiers that prompted Trump's first public remarks about the tragedy. The conversation took a bizarre twist when the subject turned to the president personally telephoning the soldiers' grieving family members. In typical fashion, Trump hemmed and hawed and made the grossly erroneous comment that his predecessors in the White House did not necessarily call family members. In response, former staff members of President Obama spared no invectives in refuting Trump's assertion about their former boss. And former President George W. Bush's visits to wounded soldiers and grieving family members were well documented. including times when the former president listened silently as he was being excoriated by the bereaved.

When Trump was called on his whopper, he told reporters to ask his Chief of Staff John Kelly if Barack Obama called him after Kelly's son was killed in Afghanistan. Kelly it turns out, received no phone call from Obama but was invited with his wife to a dinner at the White House for Gold Star families (those who lost a loved one in service to the country), where the couple sat at the same table as Michelle Obama.

Now there are at least ten things in this sordid mess that absolutely infuriate me, but the absolute lowest point was Trump using the personal grief of his Chief of Staff, as a stepping stone to weasel out of a pickle. Shame on him was the last thing on my mind when I went to bed last night.

I woke up this morning to the Trump boo boo du jour. The day after the press conference and the kerfuffle over calling families, Trump made four phone calls. One was to Myeshia Johnson, the wife of La David Johnson, the mother of two with another on the way. It so happened that the president reached Mrs. Johnson as she was on her way to receive her late husband's remains that had just arrived from Africa. On her way to the airport, Mrs. Johnson was accompanied by Fredericka Wilson, a Democratic congresswoman from Florida. As the conversation was on speakerphone, Wilson listened in, and was all too eager to go to the press with what she heard. One of those things she heard was the president telling Mrs. Johnson that her husband (whom he did not call by name), signed up for duty so he knew the risks of service. He then reportedly added that he was sure (the soldier's death) hurt despite that.

On the surface this is about the most callous thing anyone can say to a widow en-route to meet her husband's remains. On the other hand, we don't know the full context of the conversation. Granted it's hard to imagine a context where the president's words were anything but boorish, let alone comforting, but let's just say that here that I'm willing to give him the benefit of doubt.

Let's face it, compassion is not one of Donald Trump's strong suits; he just doesn't have a gift for saying the right thing, especially on a personal level. He even said as much during his press conference the other day. As an example, Trump's parting words to a victim of Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico were to "have fun." Given that, he was probably right in waiting so long to contact Mrs. Johnson and the other newest members of the Gold Star Family. Come to think of it, if I was grieving over a loved one, the very last person on earth I'd want to talk to would be Donald Trump. Maybe in fact it would be a good idea if he didn't make these calls at all, or at the very least, read from a prepared script that somebody else wrote.

On the flip side, I seriously question the judgement of Congresswoman Wilson's decision to go to the press with this story. I can't judge her motivation but it is not out of the realm of possibility that her comments were personally and politically motivated. If that's the case, the U.S. representative is using the grief of Mrs. Johnson as a means to stick it to Donald Trump.

And if that's the case, shame on her, and shame on all of us for revelling in schadenfreude over Trump's latest misadventure, as it comes at the expense of Mrs. Johnson, her children, the rest of her family, and especially the memory of her husband. The conversation we should be having should focus on remembering Sgt. Johnson and his three brothers in arms, American heroes who gave their lives in service of not only their country, but also the innocent people of Niger who are being terrorized by ISIS. It is not our place to be arguing over what Trump said or didn't say to Mrs. Johnson; that conversation should be between her and the president, no one else.

If we are at all appalled by Trump using Kelly's grief to save his own skin, a sense of fair play should dictate that we should also reject Representative Wilson's self-serving, attention-grabbing actions.

Besides, the president is gracious enough to provide us so much other stuff to legitimately piss us off.

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