The heart­felt thanks to our troops that Trump failed to give

Chicago Sun-Times (Sunday) - - OPINION -

The pres­i­dent was vis­i­bly moved as he spoke. “We thank you for your ser­vice,” he said on Thanks­giv­ing Day to Amer­ica’s sol­diers. “We’re proud of you, and Amer­ica stands solidly be­hind you. To­gether, you and I have taken an oath to de­fend your coun­try. You’re hon­or­ing that oath.”

This wasn’t Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump talk­ing on Thurs­day, of course. That was Pres­i­dent Ge­orge W. Bush, speak­ing to a gath­er­ing of troops on Thanks­giv­ing Day in 2003, on a sur­prise visit to a sand­bagged bunker in Iraq.

What Trump ac­tu­ally said on Thurs­day amounted to naked po­lit­i­cal gas-bag­ging:

“That’s why we’re do­ing a strong bor­der,” he said in a phone call to a brigadier gen­eral in Afghanistan. “Large num­bers of peo­ple, in many cases we have no idea who they are, and in many cases they are not good peo­ple. They are bad peo­ple.”

Then again, there were these words of heart­felt thanks:

“I can’t tell you how im­pressed I am by the courage and com­pas­sion of our troops. ... Call­ing you is the least I can do be­cause I ad­mire the mil­i­tary so much.”

But, as you’ve guessed, that wasn’t Trump, ei­ther. That was Bush again, this time talk­ing by phone to sol­diers in Iraq on Thanks­giv­ing Day in 2007.

Trump, for his part, barely man­aged on Thurs­day to squeeze in a thank you. He drifted in­stead from beat­ing up on im­mi­grants to beat­ing up on judges:

“There have been a lot of very bad court de­ci­sions, from the 9th Cir­cuit, which has be­come a big thorn in our side, al­ways lose, and you lose again and again, and you hope­fully win at the Supreme Court,” the pres­i­dent said in his call from his golf club, Mar-a-Lago, while wait­ers set ta­bles for din­ner in the back­ground. “But it’s a ter­ri­ble thing when judges take over your pro­tec­tive ser­vices, when they tell you how to pro­tect your bor­der. It’s a dis­grace.”

OK. Small con­fes­sion. Just typ­ing that quote was de­mor­al­iz­ing.

But this one should cheer us all up:

“If you strip it all away, the num­ber one prob­lem in this old world to­day is the prob­lem of Bos­nia, the prob­lem of Kosovo: It’s racial and eth­nic and re­li­gious ha­tred and de­hu­man­iza­tion. All you’ve got to do is look around the room to­day, and you see that our mil­i­tary is a stun­ning re­buke of that. This is the Amer­i­can idea in flesh and blood, all of you. You come from all dif­fer­ent back­grounds, all dif­fer­ent races, all dif­fer­ent re­li­gious faiths, all dif­fer­ent walks of life. And you’re here work­ing to­gether as a team.”

Those thought­ful words, so op­po­site in spirit to Trump’s self-serv­ing pet­ti­ness, were spo­ken by Pres­i­dent Bill Clin­ton when he visited with Amer­i­can troops in Bos­nia shortly be­fore Thanks­giv­ing in 1996. His daugh­ter, Chelsea, came along and helped serve the tur­key and mashed pota­toes.

We could go on, but our point is made: Ev­ery Amer­i­can pres­i­dent sends a spe­cial mes­sage to our na­tion’s armed ser­vice mem­bers on or close to Thanks­giv­ing Day. They do so pub­licly and some­times, as in the case of Barack Obama, also pri­vately, spend­ing hours talk­ing qui­etly with in­di­vid­ual sol­diers.

And al­ways, without ex­cep­tion, they keep the par­ti­san pol­i­tics to a min­i­mum while ex­press­ing a na­tion’s deep grat­i­tude. Un­til this pres­i­dent.

Once again, Trump showed him­self in­ca­pable of em­pa­thy. Once again, it was all about him­self.

Once again, he was an ob­ject les­son for our chil­dren: This is the kind of per­son we do not want you to grow up to be.

Amer­i­can troops — some 170,000 ac­tive­duty per­son­nel — are serv­ing our na­tion in 150 for­eign coun­tries. They were far from home on this Thanks­giv­ing, and we hope they know how dearly they were missed.

Their fam­i­lies prayed for them. Their friends toasted them. Their fel­low Amer­i­cans held them in their hearts.

We thank them, just as we thank Amer­ica’s 1.3 mil­lion ac­tive ser­vice mem­bers, at home and abroad.

We thank them for stand­ing guard. Well, hell, some­body had to say it.

SU­SAN WALSH/AP

Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump talks with troops via tele­con­fer­ence from his Mar-a-Lago es­tate in Palm Beach, Flor­ida, Thurs­day.

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