By MOHAMED HAMALUDIN
In the American system of government, the Office of the President embodies three roles: commander-in-chief, head of state and head of government. The death of Sgt. La David Johnson, 25, of Miami Gardens, one of four soldiers killed in action on Oct. 4 in Niger, puts those roles in sharp focus.
As commander-in-chief, the president had the responsibility to call Johnson’s widow to respectfully express his condolences. As head of state, the president had the responsibility to express to her the nation’s gratitude for his ultimate sacrifice.
As head of government, the president had the responsibility to explain why American soldiers are on combat duty in the bushes of a West African country 6,391 miles away.
That is how it is supposed to be but this is 2017 and the president is Donald Trump.
When Trump eventually got around to calling Myeshia Johnson – a few days after her husband’s death – his expression of sympathy included the words, “you know that this could happen when you signed up for it …” He was quickly criticized for such a callous remark and he promptly denied saying it. Johnson is insisting that he did, as does Cowanda Jones-Johnson, mother of the dead soldier, and Florida Congresswoman Frederica Wilson, a family friend who was accompanying them to Miami International Airport to receive the fallen soldier’s body when Trump’s call came.
At this point, the president should have produced the proof he says he has or apologized for his unfortunate choice of words. Instead, he shifted the focus to Wilson, calling her “wacky” and tweeting that she is “the gift that keeps on giving for the Republican Party, a disaster for Dems. You watch her in action & vote R!”
As the manufactured controversy raged, the White House chief of staff, retired Gen.
John Kelly, not only defended his boss but also chose to drag Wilson into a dispute over the funding and naming of an FBI building in Pembroke Pines. Footage of the congresswoman’s speech shows Kelly was wrong but he too has not apologized.
As Kelly stayed silent, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders took up his cause, describing Wilson as “all hat, no cattle” – a term defined by Wiktionary as “full of big talk but lacking action, power or substance.” Sanders also insisted that it is “inappropriate” to question the words of a former general, a position which was rejected by another retired general, David Petraeus.
So what should have been a time of mourning by the nation, led by the commander-in-chief/head of state/head of government has turned into another ugly example of how Trump sees his role as president. It has led to a very personal attack on a Member of Congress who responded by calling him a “jerk” and a “liar.”
And, as usual, Trump has drawn sharp criticism, some of it from fellow Republicans. And, just as usual, the criticism has little effect in showing him his behavior is unacceptable.
This is not the first time the president has offended military heroes. During the campaign, he said Sen. John McCain was not a hero, because he was captured, and he insulted Khizr and Ghazala Khan, parents of Army Capt. Humayun Khan, who died saving his comrades-in-arms.
It may be unfair to claim that racism is involved in the Trump-Johnson-Wilson controversy, because the president picks fights with all those he deems as attacking him, but there seems to be little empathy in the current White House towards people of color. What is certain, though, is that Trump and the men and women he has put in high office are trying to destroy the legacy of his predecessor, Barack H.
Obama, the nation’s first black president. Whether through executive orders or agency actions, there is a concerted effort to rollback policies in a wide range of areas, many of them affecting minorities, such as policing and criminal justice, education, gender equality and voting rights, along with health care and global warming.
Still, Trump is the duly elected president and he will remain in the White House until 2020 – unless the ongoing investigation into Russian influence in his election shows otherwise and he is impeached and removed from office. So, even knowing his behavior during the campaign, it is difficult to understand why he has not been using his time in the White House to rise above himself and establish a legacy of which all Americans can be proud.
It would be nice if, even now, he has an epiphany and changes course but those who are holding their breaths in hope that this will happen run the strong risk of suffocating.