Today, I’ll go to bat for Donald Trump. But only just a little. Over the past year, I haven’t found any common ground with the president, but in this one instance I’m on his side. Today’s headline: “He knew what he signed up for.” This is the callous remark Trump made to a war widow.
As Newsweek reports: “He knew what he signed up for” were the words of consolation offered by President Donald J. Trump to the widow of Sgt. La David Johnson, a Green Beret who was killed in an ambush in Niger on October 4.
Lots of thoughts on this. First, Trump is right. Anyone joining the Green Berets is well aware that the job is among the most dangerous on earth. Secondly, it’s incredibly bad form to dangle this truth in front of a bereaved wife a week or so after the death. Families have a right to grieve, and they don’t need the president pointing fingers and placing blame.
Trump is in the news this week for not taking action to console families. Thirteen days ago, four Green Berets died in action and as of yesterday, the presidential letters to their families designed to acknowledge the death, and be thankful for the service and sacrifice, were still in draft. Trump suggested that writing these letters was an optional task, and former presidents, including Barack Obama passed on this duty. This statement has been proven to be false.
In the defensive stance Trump has once again found himself in, he stated that he makes calls to families when appropriate to console them for their loss. And just like clockwork in today’s divisive political environment, a Democratic congresswoman immediately complained that Trump made his inappropriate “knew what he signed up for” comment to her constituent.
When I was in college, still living in the dormitory, Bob, a guy who lived down the hall from me, lost his younger brother. Apparently, drag racing was involved and Bob’s brother was pointlessly killed when his car flipped into a ditch. I wasn’t close with Bob. I always suspected that he disapproved of my “partying ways,” and I saw him as something of a snob. The day Bob’s brother died, I avoided him. I didn’t want to get into a consoling conversation with someone I didn’t particularly like.
LATE that night, holed up with some friends in a dorm-room, drinking and smoking, I popped out to use the bathroom. Right outside the door, I came face to face with Bob. Caught completely unprepared, and my mind moving slowly from the intoxicants, I said “Oh, Bob, I’m so sorry to hear about your friend.”
Bob ranted: “Friend? FRIEND? Here I lost my brother, and this idiot is talking about friends!”
This happened in 1982. Thirty-five years ago. It was such a gaff, I remember it like it was yesterday. Through the lens of maturity, I can say Jeff, you meant well, don’t give yourself a hard time.
No one looks forward to talking with the family of the recently deceased. We all struggle with finding the right words to offer. We’re caught off guard in an unscripted exchange. No one wants to say the wrong thing, something seeming callous, even Donald Trump.
This is one situation where I’m giving Trump a bye. Even a president can feel awkward sometimes. I’m certain he intended to offer his best, and in this situation, he said the wrong thing. I’m sure he wishes he could take it back. And not just because he’s been politically slammed for it.