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Shameless Exploitation of Grief

March 1, 2017


For me, the low point of Trump’s falsehood-laden speech to Congress last night came in his shameless exploitation of the widow of Navy Seal William “Ryan” Owens, who was killed on a botched anti-terrorist raid in Yemen on January 27.  [Video here]

The problem here is not his recognition of Owens’ service and sacrifice or his widow’s loss, but rather the fact that Trump himself refuses to take any responsibility for approving the raid or for the circumstances in which it took place. In fact, only the day before his speech, Trump appeared on Fox News to repeat his false claim that the raid had been approved by the Obama administration and to pass the blame for losing Owens onto “the generals.” Moreover, Owens’ father refused to meet with Trump when the latter showed up at Dover Air Force Base when the body was returned and has called for an investigation of how the raid was authorized.

According to the New York Times, Trump rather casually gave the operation the green light five days after he took office, while having dinner with Steve Bannon, Jared Kushner, Defense Secretary Mattis, VP Mike Pence, and then-national security adviser Mike Flynn. And, of course, there has been no call in the Republican-controlled Congress for any Benghazi-like investigation of what went wrong.

Obama administration officials who were involved in the planning process for such operations have said that the Pentagon had worked up a general proposal that asked for the authorities to do raids in Yemen, but that this mission was not specifically a part of that. Nor did then-President Obama  make any decisions because he thought it represented an expansion of the war in Yemen and believed the Trump administration should assess how to proceed.

Trump notoriously refuses to acknowledge his mistakes and failures, while eagerly claiming credit for accomplishments he had nothing to do with. The hypocrisy of Trump’s exploitation of what has been widely assessed (including by John McCain) as a failure and turning Owens’ death into the emotional climax of his speech is as mind-blowingly cynical as anything he has done thus far. Now miraculously, according to Trump, the operation has become “a highly successful raid”.

The hypocritical apogee occurred after a very long ovation for Owens and his widow when Trump declared that “Ryan is looking down–you know that–and I think he’s very happy, because I think he just broke a record.” (You know, like he had gotten really good ratings.) Amazingly, that line got laughs!

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