Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump is seen during a press conference at Los Pinos on Aug. 31, 2016 in Mexico City, Mexico.
Photo by Hector Vivas/LatinContent/Getty

Donald Trump really should stop trying to speak for the dead


Donald Trump seems to realize that his new policy in Syria – to the extent that it counts as a “policy” – is being met with sweeping condemnations, even from his allies. With that in mind, the president, unwilling to do any interviews on the subject, recorded the latest in a series of video statements. Here’s the transcript of his latest installment in its entirety:

“We’ve been fighting for a long time in Syria. I’ve been president for almost two years and we’ve really stepped it up. And we have won against ISIS. We’ve beaten them and we’ve beaten them badly. We’ve taken back the land. And now it is time for our troops to come back home.

“I get very saddened when I have to write letters or call parents or wives or husbands of soldiers who have been killed fighting for our country. It’s a great honor. We cherish them. But it’s heartbreaking. There is no question about it; it’s heartbreaking.

“Now we’ve won. It is time to come back. They’re getting ready. You’re going to see them soon. These are great American heroes. These are great heroes of the world because they’ve fought for us. But they’ve killed ISIS, who hurts the world. And we’re proud to have done it.

“And I’ll tell you, they’re up there looking down on us, and there is nobody happier or more proud of their families, to put them in a position where they have done such good for so many people.

“So our boys, our young women, our men, they’re all coming back. And they are coming back now. We won. And that is the way we want it, and that is the way they [pointing to the sky] want it.”

If the language seems muddled and disjointed, it’s important to note that the president appeared to be speaking extemporaneously. They were simply Trump’s thoughts at the time.

It’s tempting to go through this odd rhetoric in detail, highlighting the substantive errors, but in this case, I was especially struck by the audacity of Trump claiming to speak for fallen American soldiers.

The president wasn’t especially subtle on this point. Trump believes he can speak with authority on what those who made the ultimate sacrifice are thinking and feeling.

The message seems to be that while Trump’s decision has been widely condemned as reckless and irresponsible, fallen American heroes have endorsed the new policy.

Speaking for the dead is generally unwise, but when Cadet Bone Spurs says he can say with certainty what deceased soldiers believe, he’s treading into waters in which he has no place.

I wish I could say this was the first time Trump tried to speak for the dead, but unfortunately it’s been a staple of his presidential rhetoric for a while. The Washington Post’s Dana Milbank had a good column on this over the summer, mocking Trump’s claim to “supernatural powers.”

A few weeks ago, while posthumously honoring a World War II hero, Trump gave the man’s family a report on their departed loved one. He was “looking down from Heaven, proud of this incredible honor, but even prouder of the legacy that lives on in each of you. So true.”

A few weeks before that, at what was billed as a celebration of patriotism at the White House, Trump reported to the crowd that fallen soldiers are pleased with his economic policies and increases in the stock market. “Many of them are looking down right now at our country, and they are proud,” he said.

Sometimes, Trump pinpoints the location of the deceased, using some psychic GPS. At an outdoor Medal of Honor ceremony in May for soldiers lost at a battle in Afghanistan, Trump pointed at a location in the sky and said, “They are looking down right now.” A week before that, outside the Capitol, Trump pointed to a point in the sky over his head and told the family of a slain police detective: “So she’s right now, right there. And she’s looking down.”

That’s really just a sampling. Milbank’s column highlighted other examples.

The president claims to have a limitless capacity to excel in multiple areas. Evidently, that includes an expertise in serving as a medium.