How Trump Managed to Politicize Military Service
His name was La David. Just three syllables. Easy enough, right? Well, President Trump didn’tvseem to think so.
Unless your exposure of news solely consists of scrolling through Facebook and watching Tasty videos on how to substitute cauliflower for basically anything, you’re probably aware of the ongoing political controversy involving President Trump and the family of Sergeant La David Johnson.
On October 4th, four United States Army soldiers were killed in an ambush attack in Niger. Two weeks later, President Trump called the widow of Sgt. Johnson, Myeshia Johnson from Florida, to offer his condolences. According to Ms. Johnson, there was nothing sympathetic about this phone call.
“He couldn’t remember my husband’s name,” Ms. Johnson told ABC News’ George Stephanopoulous. “The only way he remembered my husband’s name is because he told me he had my husband’s report in front of him and that’s when he actually said ‘La David.’”
Not only did he stumble on his name, but President Trump also told the widow that her husband “knew what he signed up for.”
It goes without saying that Trump’s words of encouragement were, well, far from encouraging, yet that is not where the true issue lies. Rather, it is Trump’s consequential feud, defamation, and falsification of this Gold Star family, and his continued politicization of military service and sacrifice.
Southern Florida representative Frederica Wilson was in the limousine with Myeshia Johnson and her family when she received the president’s phone call. Appalled by his remarks, Congresswoman Wilson publicized Trump’s indiscretion to reporters. In retaliation, the president took to his favorite social media platform, Twitter, to accuse Wilson of lying. He tweeted:
Trump told reporters that he “didn’t say what that congresswoman said…She knows it. And she now is not saying it.” (even though on Good Morning America, Myeshia Johnson confirmed that, "Whatever Ms. Wilson said was not fabricated. Whatever she said was 100% correct.”) Trump’s trail of defamation continued when asked by reporters why he hadn’t called the families of the fallen soldiers in Niger sooner. “Well, if you look at President Obama and other presidents, most of them didn’t make calls…A lot of them didn’t make calls,” he responded. “President Obama, I think, probably did sometimes, and maybe sometimes he didn't. I don't know. That's what I was told. ... Some presidents didn't do anything."
This statement is, of course, false. Past presidents regularly reached out to mourning military families by either letter or phone call, or even both. Former President Obama often made the heartbreaking visit to the Dover Air Force Base, where many fallen soldiers are returned home. He even honored military families in The White House by decorating their Christmas tree with a “Gold Star” and photos and notes from those who have lost loved ones in war.
You see, President Trump’s strategy, when cornered, is to lash out in a lie. Rather than publicly expressing his condolences for these families, he instead blamed Barack Obama for his so-called inaction. His administration seemingly justifies behavior as well. Chief of Staff John Kelly, whose son died in Afghanistan in 2011, joined in on the feud against Congresswoman Wilson and Myeshia Johnson. Kelly admitted he was “stunned” by what the congresswoman told reporters, although he did not contradict her account of the phone call. White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders, on Congresswoman Wilson, had announced that “it is appalling what the congresswoman has done and the way she has politicized this issue…”
Read that again: Politicized the issue. Wasn’t it the president who had stoked the fire of politicization in the first place? After all, for someone who never once served in the Armed Forces (and was deferred) he isn’t too shy about making Gold Star families political pawns.
In 2015, Trump began a political feud with Arizona Senator John McCain by refusing to acknowledge the former Navy pilot as a war hero. “He was a war hero because he was captured,” he said. “I like people who weren’t captured.”
In 2016, Trump had criticized Khizr Khan and his wife Ghazala whose son, Captain Human Khan, was killed by a suicide bomber in Iraq in 2004. Khizr Khan spoke at the Democratic National Convention to voice his opposition to Trump and his proposed Muslim ban. Trump responded to the soldier’s father by saying that he delivered the entire speech because the soldier’s mother was “not allowed” to speak — an obvious belittlement and stereotyping of Islamic culture.
During his campaign for presidency, Trump called Army sergeant Bowe Bergdahl “a dirty rotten traitor,” and repeatedly called for his execution. Bergdahl, who abandoned his post in Afghanistan, was captured and held captive for years by the Taliban in 2009. Trump’s recent comments on Bergdahl have interfered with Bergdahl’s sentencing because presidential involvement in a military case prevents a fair trial. You’d think the Commander in Chief would understand that.
President Trump has completely eviscerated the norms by which we hold our presidents accountable. His actions and behavior go unchecked and his lies are accepted, and his politicization of Sergeant La David Johnson and defamation of Congresswoman Wilson is no exception.