Counterview: Trump’s Cynical Exploitation Of Navy SEAL’s Wife

During President Trump’s congressional address on Tuesday night, he offered a tribute to William “Ryan” Owens, the Navy SEAL killed in a raid in Yemen, a raid Trump approved at a dinner that included his son-in-law Jared Kushner. Owen’s wife Carryn, seated next to Trump’s daughter Ivanka, was seen looking up to the ceiling in tears while applause carried on for several minutes.

The television punditry class reacted with expected praise, and there’s no doubt it was a moving moment. On CNN, Van Jones said, “That was one of the most extraordinary moments you have ever seen in American politics.” Maybe, maybe not, but any human being with even a minimal well of empathy could feel the weight of the moment. And of course we should honor the sacrifices of our volunteer military and their families, especially when that sacrifice is death.

But Trump’s cynical use of a grieving widow is the definition of exploitation. Many presidents, including Obama, have done similar, but for Trump it is particularly egregious. When pressed, he and his administration have rather flippantly dismissed responsibility, responding with an immaturity unbecoming of the White House. For Mr. Trump, the buck stops elsewhere.

He literally said of his generals, “They lost Ryan.” They! That’s some bullshit. Donald, the correct thing to say there is we lost Ryan. Don’t insulate yourself like you had nothing to do with this. You gave the order, you wear the consequences.

Talking about the raid, press secretary Sean Spicer said, “It’s absolutely a success, and I think anyone who would suggest it’s not a success does disservice to the life of Chief Ryan Owens.” Later, after Owen’s father did just that, Spicer said, “As I mentioned before, I think you can’t ever say that when there’s, most importantly loss of life and people injured, that it’s 100 percent successful.” Well no, you didn’t mention that before.

Trump used the image of Carryn Owens as a tool to build emotional solidarity during a speech intended to highlight his divisive policies. Even if the gesture was sincere, it’s placement in a policy speech was nonetheless a political stunt by a president who holds everyone to account except himself.

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