Itís Up to Us to Preserve the Sacred
Wed Oct 25, 2017 7:54am

Itís Up to Us to Preserve the Sacred

We cannot allow Gold Star families to become collateral damage in our political combat.

Myeshia Johnson, Sergeant La David Johnsonís wife, has broken her silence, and weíre now getting a clear picture of what happened in the entire sad and sorry controversy over Donald Trumpís phone call. In an interview with George Stephanopoulos, she claims that Trump seemed to struggle to remember her late husbandís name and that Trump did make the statement that ďhe knew what he signed up for, but it hurts anyway.Ē You can see the interview below:

I simply donít believe that Trump intended to disrespect Sergeant Johnson or hurt his family. The available evidence indicates that he was trying to do the right thing. He was trying to honor a fallen hero and comfort an anguished family. At the same time, itís now clear that something about the way Trump communicated with that family deeply wounded them, and thatís a terrible shame. In a well-functioning political system, the congresswoman who heard the call and saw the familyís frustration would quietly circle back with the White House and explain what happened. The president would then do his best to right the perceived wrong. The public would stay in the dark unless the family chose to tell the story. Instead, we saw a Democratic representative publicly attack the president for the call, and the president then publicly respond with repeated tweets claiming she lied:

Donald J. Trump ✔@realDonaldTrump The Fake News is going crazy with wacky Congresswoman Wilson(D), who was SECRETLY on a very personal call, and gave a total lie on content! 10:53 PM - Oct 19, 2017 49,217 49,217 Replies 21,074 21,074 Retweets 90,868 90,868 likes Twitter Ads info and privacy

Donald J. Trump ✔@realDonaldTrump Democrat Congresswoman totally fabricated what I said to the wife of a soldier who died in action (and I have proof). Sad! 7:25 AM - Oct 18, 2017 79,852 79,852 Replies 25,499 25,499 Retweets 99,413 99,413 likes

Trump did what he so often does ó launched into attack mode without regard for context or truth. Thereís now overwhelming evidence that Trump did say something like ďhe knew what he signed up for.Ē Sergeant Johnsonís mother says he did. A Democratic congresswoman says he did. Sergeant Johnsonís wife says he did. Crucially, Trumpís own chief of staff, General John Kelly, affirmed thatís what Trump was trying to say ďin his way.Ē This entire story should deeply grieve Americans. In his searing, emotional press conference General Kelly was exactly right to say that America is losing its sense of the sacred, and if the treatment of a Gold Star family isnít sacred, then nothing is.

Hereís the problem, though. General Kellyís boss bears the primary responsibility. No, I donít agree with a member of the House rushing to publicly broadcast what Trump thought was a private call. But weíre now living in a political world where an opponentís misstep or malfeasance is seen as justifying all manner of revenge and retaliation. ďShe politicized it first!Ē So now, itís what? Game on? And if a Gold Star family is collateral damage in our political combat ó asked to decide whether the president lied (again) to the American people ó then so be it?

After Trumpís attacks last summer on the Khan family ó and after his response to critics last week ó I donít have any real hope that heís going to change. The rest of us, however, can decide that Trumpís tantrums wonít fundamentally change the way we treat Gold Star families. The rest of us can decide that heís an aberration, that the next president can and must respond with dignity, and that we can and must react with one voice against any further degradation of this sacred space.

And make no mistake, this sacred space matters. Itís first and most importantly about basic human decency and compassion. If you havenít been with a Gold Star family in the days after theyíve lost a son or husband or father, itís tough to imagine the unique agony. You get a hint of it in Myeshia Johnsonís interview, where she says she was never able to see her husbandís body. Imagine the horrible implications of that one terrible fact. Then imagine youíre going through this with an entire communityís eyes fixed firmly on you. Sometimes, the presidentís eyes are fixed firmly on you. In a way, itís as if a Gold Star family not only loses a son or daughter, husband or wife, they also immediately assume a form of public office. They become part of our national life in a way that many other grieving families do not. There is a weight to this reality that most of us (mercifully) will never know.

But more than ďjustĒ compassion is at stake. Shared rituals and respect help bind our nation together. Itís one reason why so many people react emotionally to the sight of a person kneeling during the national anthem. Is there nothing that we can share together? But far deeper than any public patriotic display, in which (letís face it) enormous numbers of Americans are only casually observant, is the deeply personal respect owed to those whoíve faced such immense loss. That means our leaders must always ó always ó take the high road even in the face of political criticism or even outright anger.

There are Gold Star families who famously yelled and screamed at President Bush. One Gold Star mom camped outside his ranch demanding an end to the war that killed her son. Gold Star families Left and Right have made their political views known, with deep feeling.

We cannot place the burden on a Gold Star family to respond appropriately to a president. The burden is on the president to respond appropriately to the Gold Star family, and if there is any concern that the president compounded their pain, then the presidentís response should be simple: ďIím sorry. Thatís the last thing I wanted to do. Please forgive me.Ē

I fear that we wonít see that kind of humility for perhaps the next seven years. But weíll need to see it again. We must see it again. If we donít, then General Kellyís anguish about the decline of our culture will be justified. And unless we the people demand better from our leaders, we will share the blame.

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