Leadership: Gold Star Madness

Trump, Right and Wrong

Sgt. La David Johnson

U.S. Army Sergeant La David Johnson was killed in action in Niger, one of four soldiers who died in an apparent ambush.

The exact circumstances of his death remain in dispute as does the manner in which President Trump attempted to console his family including his wife Myeshia Johnson, and mother Cowanda Jones-Johnson.

But the problem started before that.

When confronted about reaching out to the families of service members killed in action, President Trump instinctively went on the attack by making comments about former president Obama.

Not surprisingly, that resulted in folks coming to the defense of Obama and ensuring that the matter would remain in the news cycle for at least another day.

Then came the fateful call to Mrs. Johnson where Trump apparently referred to the dead soldier as “your guy” and went on to say, “He knew what he signed up for.”

White House Chief of Staff John Kelly came to the defense of Trump late last week in an attempt to provide some perspective.

Kelly’s son, Marine Second Lt. Robert Kelly,  was killed in Afghanistan and when General Joseph Dunford came to notify him, he said, “He [Kelly’s son] was doing exactly what he wanted to do when he was killed.” 

Lt. Kelly’s Marker

Trump’s “He knew what he signed up for” sounds like a crude appropriation of Dunford’s words that while correct comes across as one step up from “tough shit, get over it”, especially when paired with the dismissive “your guy.”

Any firefighter, paramedic or police officer killed in the line of duty was almost certainly “doing exactly what he wanted to do when he was killed” but their family would likely not be consoled by hearing that “your guy” “knew what he signed up for” from a chief officer.

Trump and his team, especially Sarah Huckabee Sanders, then went on the offensive again, this time taking on Florida Congresswoman Frederica Wilson for her comments about Trump’s call.

That effort included John Kelly making assertions about Wilson’s prior comments that have been shown to be false.

Kelly also chided Wilson for listening into the call yet he did the same.

Trump hasn’t learned or is incapable of learning that as president it is sometimes best just to remain quiet, especially when criticized by Gold Star families; he seems to even relish attacking them.

John Kelly

Kelly has advised Trump not to call these families and here he is most certainly right for he knows his man–Trump is incapable of heartfelt sincerity especially when it requires absorbing the pain, anger and sensitivity of bereavement.

Good for Kelly but bad for the presidency and our country as we look to our presidents to be both tough and compassionate, stern while kind.

As Lincoln said, let us “strive…”to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow, and his orphan.”



  • Victoria Huckenpahler says:

    As usual, Trump’s sentiments were not well packaged. It’s absolutely true that any soldier who volunteers knows what he is signing up for, but grief is a process, and in its opening hours or days people don’t want to hear certain stark realities. Trump’d response is equivalent to that of a person who tells a grieving parent, “Oh, well, you have three other kids.” That’s simply not the point when loss is fresh. Trump desperately needs someone to shape his responses for him, but lacks the humility to engage such a person.

  • Willie Sanderson says:

    I always appreciate your thoughtful articles, comments and analyses. It’s great to be in touch through common interests and reactions.
    Keep it up!
    Best, Willie

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