Tuesday, October 17, 2017

What did Donald Trump do today?

He dragged the deceased son of his own chief of staff and the family of another slain US soldier into the spotlight of his "condolences" scandal.

Yesterday's performance saw Trump, who had ignored the deaths of four soldiers in Niger for almost two weeks, insisting that he was actually overperforming in his duties to offer solace to the families. He said that never-before-hinted-at letters were about to go out "today or tomorrow," then claimed that Obama and most other presidents never called the families of fallen servicemembers--and then immediately blamed that lie on what his military staff had told him.

This morning, retreating all the way back to the claim that every other president had not called every single family member, Trump threw his chief of staff John Kelly into the narrative. Kelly's son, Lt. Robert Michael Kelly, was killed by a land mine in Afghanistan in 2010. He told Fox News's Brian Kilmeade, "I think I’ve called every family of someone who’s died. As far as other representatives, I don’t know. You could ask General Kelly, did he get a call from Obama?"

Trump does not appear to have warned Gen. Kelly that he would be using his deceased son as a political talking point. President Obama hosted Lt. Kelly's family, including John Kelly, at a White House event for relatives of those killed in action. Neither Kelly nor President Obama have chosen to make a public statement about any of Trump's comments.

Trump's own relationship with Gold Star families and other military veterans is much more fraught, and may have gotten worse today when he made his long-delayed call to the family of Sgt. La David Johnson. According to a member of Congress present for the call, Trump instructed Johnson's widow that her husband "knew what he signed up for."

Why is this a bad thing?

  • The honored dead of the United States military are not political props.
  • Condolences from a president who has to be shamed into offering them do not mean much.
  • Donald Trump is the last person on earth who should be telling Gold Star families about their loved ones' sense of duty.