Never Having to Say You’re Sorry

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

The Establishment Strikes Back, Again

Donald J. Trump’s winning of the Republican presidential nomination was supposed to have signaled the end of that Republican “establishment” supposedly hated by all the “real” Republicans, but the ancien regime seems to be faring well enough in the subsequent party primaries. Tuesday night saw a couple of targets of Trump’s “tweeting” wrath winning comfortably against self-described “anti-estalishment” challengers, with Senator Marco Rubio easily winning re-nomination in Florida and Senator John McCain prevailing just as easily in his home state of Arizona.
Trump had scoffed at Rubio as “Little Marco” during their presidential primary rivalry, and the combined power of that schoolyard taunt and the otherwise impeccably conservative’s support for a bipartisan “Gang of Eight” deal in the Senate that swapped vague promises of stricter border enforcement for a vague semi-legalization of those illegal immigrants already here pretty much doomed Rubio’s candidacy, and he even lost his home state’s presidential primary to Trump to by an embarrassing margin. That Trump had four years earlier decried the Republican nominee’s “self-deportation” policy as “maniacal,” and contributed generously to the campaign funds of five of the “Gang of Eight” members, seemed to matter little when Trump was promising all the “real” Republicans that he was going to build a wall and make Mexico pay for it and set up a ruthless “deportation force” that would kick out every last illegal immigrant.
By Tuesday night Trump was recently scoffing at the idea of “deportation forces” rounding up more than 11 million people, and no one could really say for certain where he stood on immigration, except that he was still talking about the wall Mexico will pay for and making other huge but vague promises about border enforcement, and that it should be clearer after a long-delayed speech on immigration that will occur after his meeting today with the President of Mexico. We’d wager a few pesos that the Mexican president won’t agree to pay for the wall Trump intends to build, but other than that we have no idea what position Trump might momentarily settle on in the long-delayed speech, and in any case it won’t keep Rubio from a good shot at reelection. Rubio had said he would return to private life after his public humiliation, but what was left of the GOP “establishment” begged him and his formidable fund-raising machine to help keep alive the hopes of a Republican Senate, and by sticking to his for-the-most-part impeccably conservative easily rebuffed a challenged by an “anti-establishment” and very wealthy real estate mogul.
Longtime Arizona Senator and former Republican presidential nominee John McCain’s heroic sacrifices as a prisoner of war during the Vietnam conflict was scoffed at by the draft-dodging Trump’s sneer that he “was only a hero because he got captured,” but he wound up more or less endorsing Trump’s nomination nonetheless, and Trump wound up giving him a similarly ambivalent on endorsement, and then on Tuesday he ended up with a similarly more-or-less endorsement from the party’s nominee, and the oh-so-establishment and “Gang of Eight” octogenarian wound up winning by a more or less comfortable margin against an “anti-establishment” challenger. It’s a messy race, but another win for the establishment by our scoring.
Both Rubio and McCain still have to square off against Democratic challengers, and there’s no telling how that might turn out in this crazy election year, but the the aggregate of the latest polling suggests they’re both doing at least as well in their respective states as the Republican presidential nominee. In several other states those boring old “establishment” Republicans are polling better than Trump, and in the crucial swing state of Ohio where Trump is currently down by 3.8 percentage eight points in the Real Clear Politics average the soporifically Republican “establishment” Sen. Rob Portman is so far ahead of a generic Democrat that the Democratic donors are abandoning the race. In this crazy election year Trump might yet wind up winning the presidency, but it seems increasingly likely that there will still be both a Democratic and Republican party that he’ll have to deal with.

— Bud Norman

A Soldier Comes Home

Only the most hard-hearted won’t be happy that Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl will soon be coming home to his family after five years as a prisoner of Afghanistan’s Taliban, but only the most soft-headed won’t have worries about how it was accomplished. Soft-headedness being so much more prevalent among the American public these days than hard-heartendness, the happiness is bound to play better in the press than the worries.
Bergdahl’s release comes in exchange for the release of five very dangerous men currently being held at the Guantanamo Bay detention facility, an arrangement of dubious legality, and is intended mainly to meet a pre-condition for negotiations with the Taliban that will likely lead to even more worrisome concessions. There are also questions about whether Bergdahl was a prisoner of war or a deserter, and ample reason to believe that he’s not the gung-ho soldier the script requires. None of this should cause any worry to the Obama administration, however, which will likely benefit from the inevitable news footage of the Sergeant and his mother embracing at last.
The emotions of that moment will be prominently displayed on the front page of every newspaper in the country and impossible to dismiss, while the potential carnage and heartbreak made possible by the release of five is less easily grasped and impossible to photograph. The Obama administration has always intended to empty Guantanamo Bay, and the return of lone American prisoner of the Afghanistan War provides an excellent opportunity to reduce its population of detainees by five. With the end of the war already scheduled to coincide with the next presidential election, regardless of conditions on the ground, the heart-touching photographs of a soldier back in his adoring hometown will be useful in the mid-terms. Should any of the released terrorists succeed in their stated goals of mass-murdering Americans, Bergdahl and the conditions of his release will be long forgotten and politely unmentioned by most of the media.
Any questions of legality should also be answered by that front page photo of the mother and child reunion. From Obamacare to the Mexican border to the bureaucrats of the Internal Revenue Service such niceties as the rule of law are routinely flouted, and few will insist on any sort of punctiliousness when the administration can claim with a straight face that after five years they had too short a time to comply with the law and still save Bergdahl’s life. That the law was intended to prevent the release of dangerous terrorists will be little noted for the reasons explained in the previous paragraph.
Nor will most of the public take notice that while the administration is declaring something akin to victory in Afghanistan it is opening negotiations with the enemy by making concessions. At this point the left that opposed the war from the beginning is willing to end it on any terms, the right that supported the effort has long since given hope that the current administration will see it to a successful conclusion, and the vast majority of those in the middle will be satisfied that they don’t have to hear about it anymore. The mother and child reunion will be the happiest memory of the war, and the only one that sticks.
If Bergdahl proves less than the heroic figure required for the role, they can always change the script. A man embittered by the futile war that George W. Bush started but but liberated from its captivity by the noble Obama who ended it will make a suitable narrative, no matter that Obama had also advocated the war and was running it at the time of Bergdahl’s capture. Even the most far-fetched story lines work when the visuals are so strong as a small town and a mother embracing a returning soldier.
Which is not to say that we’re so hard-hearted we won’t be a bit choked up when he’s back on American soil. We’re glad he’s coming home, and would advise any Republicans raising pertinent questions to make clear that they are as well. The cold calculations of war are unappealing, as as anyone who fell for the sappy sentimentalism of “Saving Private Ryan” should realize, and one should always make them with a realization of the humanity at stake, and not be indifferent to the emotion of a mother and child reunion. Still, those worries persist.

— Bud Norman