It started with a simple, 17-word question. At a White House press conference, a reporter asked Donald Trump, “Why haven’t we heard anything from you so far about the soldiers that were killed in Niger?” The president ignored the question, instead shifting the discussion to how impressed he’s been with himself over his outreach to families of Americans killed in action.
In other words, instead of addressing the deadliest attack on U.S. forces since he became president, Trump wanted to have a conversation about himself and his perceived superiority over his predecessors.
This has become problematic in a variety of ways – lying about Barack Obama, for example, was unwise and unnecessary – including the fact that Trump’s self-aggrandizing boasts has led to scrutiny that makes him look worse, not better. Trump, for example, bragged yesterday that he’s “called every family” of American servicemen and women killed in action, unlike other recent presidents. The Associated Press took a closer look and found that the claim isn’t true.
…AP found relatives of four soldiers who died overseas during Trump’s presidency who said they never received calls from him. Relatives of two also confirmed they did not get letters. And proof is plentiful that Barack Obama and George W. Bush – saddled with far more combat casualties than the roughly two dozen so far under Trump – took painstaking steps to write, call or meet bereaved military families.
After her Army son died in an armored vehicle rollover in Syria in May, Sheila Murphy says, she got no call or letter from Trump, even as she waited months for his condolences and wrote him that “some days I don’t want to live.”
The Washington Post reports today, meanwhile, that Trump did call Chris Baldridge, whose son, Army Cpl. Dillon Baldridge, was killed in Afghanistan. But as part of their conversation over the summer, the president offered the grieving father “$25,000 and said he would direct his staff to establish an online fundraiser for the family.”
Though the article initially reported that “neither happened,” a White House spokesperson insisted a check “has been sent.” (At this point, it’s not yet clear when the check was sent or what the date is on the check.)
The Post also reported that some of the families who lost loved ones killed in action “said they had not heard from the president,” since Trump took office.
And following up on this morning’s item, Sgt. La David T. Johnson’s mother, Cowanda Jones-Johnson, told the Washington Post that she was present during the call from the White House on Tuesday to Johnson’s widow. She said Trump showed “disrespect” to her family during the call, during which the president reportedly said David Johnson “must have known what he signed up for.”
The simple fact remains that Trump wasn’t initially asked about how – or even, whether – he interacted with grieving families. The original question was about his silence on the attack that left four American soldiers dead. The president apparently preferred to have a conversation about his phone calls, instead.
That conversation led Trump to establish standards he doesn’t appear to be meeting.