Our old fashioned parents always taught that whenever we make a mistake in life the right thing to do, and the smart play to make, is to fully confess and offer a sincere apology to anyone who was harmed. The lesson has served us well in life, even if it didn’t bring us to the White House, so we recommend it to President Donald Trump.
Trump brags that his parents taught him to never admit fault and under no circumstances offer an apology, and although the lesson does somehow seem to have brought him to the White House it hasn’t served him well there. Lately it has embroiled in him in spats with a bona fide war hero and the grieving family of a fallen soldier, and although he somehow survived similar spats on his way to the presidency we can’t see how he ultimately comes out a winner. Trump’s fans always note that at least he fights, but so far all his ill-chosen fights haven’t brought about any noticeable victories, and these latest spats don’t seem likely to help.
The spat with the grieving family started last week when a pesky reporter asked why Trump had gone 13 days without mentioning the four soldiers who had died in an ambush attack in Niger, and instead of offering any of the plausible explanations for the oversight he falsely boasted about he always personally consoled the families and suggested that his two predecessors had been too callous to do so. He hadn’t yet sent any letters or made any phone calls to the four grieving families, as it turned out, but he made a hurried effort to do so, and wound up giving offense to one of the families he called. By happenstance a partisan Democratic congresswoman is a close and long-time friend of the family who was with them when the call came through on speakerphone, and she revealed to the press that Trump had upset the family by saying that deceased soldier “knew what he was signing up for” and didn’t mention him by name, instead referring to him as “your guy.”
Trump denied every word of it, and claimed to have proof, but his spokespeople wound up verifying every word of it. His four-star general chief of staff took a rare turn at the podium to recall how similar words had comforted him when his own son had died in service to the country, and admitted that he had advised the president to use similar language. Then Trump’s press secretary insisted that just because Trump had indeed referred to the fallen soldier as “your guy” didn’t mean the president knew his name.
It turns out on the video record that the partisan Democrat only briefly mentioned her role in the naming of the building in honor of two fallen FBI agents, gave most of the credit to Republican House Speaker John Boehner, and spent the rest of the speech honoring the honoring the two fallen agents and everyone else who had served in the agency. Trump “tweeted” about the “wacky” congresswoman, who plausibly could be blamed for politicizing the tragedy, but he suffered a full week of bad news cycles when it became apparent she was telling the truth. When the fallen soldier’s grieving widow went on national television Monday morning to tearfully verify the partisan congresswoman’s account of the phone call, it set up another bad week.
Even such Trump critics as ourselves don’t doubt that the president was trying his very best to be empathetic and consoling in in that phone call, and going on the advice of a four-star general who faced the bad news he was addressing, but even his most ardent defenders have to admit that empathy and consolation are not his strengths, and by now there’s no denying that he did wind up giving offense to that grieving family. These things happen even to such empathetic and consoling and well-raised sorts such as ourselves, but we were raised to offer full confessions and full and profuse apologies in such situations, which might have soothed the family’s feelings and avoided another week of bad news. Trump, of course, “tweeted” that the grieving widow was lying about the conversation and doubled down on his taunts of the “wacky” but apparently truthful congresswoman, and provoked another bad week of news cycles for everyone.
Meanwhile, former Republican presidential nominee and Arizona Sen. John McCain was giving an interview to a documentary about the long-ago Vietnam War. McCain was was a prisoner of that war after one of his many Naval flights was shot down, and he endured extra years of tortuous imprisonment after he selflessly declined an early release due to his father’s and grandfather’s gold-star admiral status, rather than betray his comrades and hand the enemy a propaganda victory, and during his successful campaign for the Republican nomination Trump said with characteristic empathy that McCain was “only a hero because he got caught. I like a guy who didn’t get caught, OK?” During his interview with the documentarians, McCain didn’t mention Trump by name, but he lamented that too many lower-class men had been conscripted to service while too many upper-class men were spared the sacrifice of combat because they “found a doctor to say they had bone spur.”
Trump got four educational deferments from the draft while studying business at the University of Pennsylvania’s business school, and a fifth one when a well-paid doctor diagnosed a bone spur in the boastful athlete, and he later told fellow shock jock Howard Stern that he endured his own “personal Vietnam” by avoiding sexually transmitted diseases on the New York City dating scene while McCain suffered torture, so there’s little doubt who McCain was talking about. Trump hasn’t yet apologized for any of it, and it somehow propelled him to the White House, but so far as we can tell Trump has yet “tweeted” anything to continue this ultimately losing feud. Trump has his fans booing McCain’s name at his rallies, and McCain’s decisive vote against repeal and replacement of Obamacare and other Republican heresies make for reasonable debate about which is the more heretical Republican, but Trump is probably wise not to raise the question about who was more heroic during the Vietnam war.
Trump would also be wise to avoid any questions about who was more heroic in the recent tragic battle in someplace called Niger, where even the Republicans on the congressional committees admit they didn’t know we had any servicemen in harm’s way, but he wasn’t raised to avoid that fight. He might survive the ensuing bad news cycles, but he’s still hoping to repeal and replace Obamacare and get the biggest tax cut in history passed, and we better trust our parents’ advice that a full confession and fulsome apology is the best way to go about it.
— Bud Norman