Trump stumbles with a solemn responsibility

Consoling the families of fallen soldiers is among a presidents’ most difficult and solemn duties.
Consoling the families of fallen soldiers is among a presidents’ most difficult and solemn duties. AP

From an editorial Thursday in the Fayetteville Observer:

The president of the United States may well be the most powerful man in the world, but he’s also the man with the most difficult job in the world. After all, it’s the president who makes the final determination of who will be sent into harm’s way. And it’s the president who thanks those who have served and consoles the families of the fallen. Those duties aren’t prescribed in the Constitution, but most presidents since George Washington have accepted the responsibility and passed it along as a traditional and solemn part of the job.

President Trump has handled the responsibility unevenly, in the mercurial approach to life that is his signature. Sometimes he responds promptly when a soldier is killed in action, with a letter or a call. Sometimes he delays contact, as he did when four Green Berets from Fort Bragg’s 3rd Special Forces Group were killed earlier this month in an ambush in Niger.

And sometimes, a family experiences what happened last summer when 82nd Airborne Sgt. Jonathon Hunter was killed during a suicide bombing attack in Afghanistan. Hunter’s widow, Whitney Hunter, got an outpouring of condolences from across the country. She was told a call from President Trump was imminent. But he never called. “It felt … like the importance wasn’t as dire, like he wasn’t acknowledged,” she told an Observer reporter. “He is the president. It just kind of bothered me a little bit.”

After waiting two weeks after the death of the Fort Bragg Special Forces soldiers, Trump called Sgt. La David T. Johnson’s widow, Myeshia Johnson, as she was headed to the airport, where her husband’s body was being returned. She took the call on a speaker phone. She was accompanied by Sgt. Johnson’s mother and by Congresswoman Frederica S. Wilson, a Florida Democrat. Wilson said Trump told Mrs. Johnson that her husband “must have known what he signed up for.” Trump immediately denied it, but Sgt. Johnson’s mother, Cowanda Jones-Jonnson, said she heard the same thing. “President Trump did disrespect my son and my daughter and also me and my husband,” Jones-Johnson said.

This came after the president also alleged that his predecessors didn’t contact the families of the fallen at all. That is a breathtaking falsehood.

We’re accustomed to seeing President Trump shatter traditions and take unconventional approaches to many aspects of his job. That’s what his supporters wanted him to do. But we doubt that anyone wants him to be upend the traditions of caring for the families of the fallen, and he should expect nothing but scorn if he continues to turn soldiers’ deaths into political circus.

Prison security must be a priority

From an editorial Thursday in the (Raleigh) News & Observer:

In April, Bertie Correctional Institution prison Sgt. Meggan Callahan was killed after inmates set fire to a trash can and an inmate beat Callahan with a fire extinguisher she had brought to put out the flames. Now two prison employees were killed Thursday at Pasquotank Correctional Institution in Elizabeth City. Early reports are that inmates set a fire and attacked the prison workers – Justin Smith, a prison officer, and Veronica Darden, a manager at a prison sewing plant – in an escape attempt.

Prior to Callahan’s death, it had been seven years since a prison officer had died as a result of an inmate assault.

Gov. Roy Cooper showed the right sense of urgency in meeting with his Public Safety Secretary Erik Hooks and state prison officials the day after the deaths. Cooper said the number of officers in areas where inmates work will be increased, the prison work program at Pasquotank will be suspended and all such work programs will be reviewed.

There are personnel shortages in almost all the state’s prisons. In a regular business, that would mean more employees having to do more work, overtime, etc., but in a prison, it also means danger. A shortage of officers is, for example, seen by inmates as a chance to escape.

In April, when Callahan was killed, a survey by the state found that one of every five positions for a correctional officer in that prison was empty.

In addition, a Charlotte Observer series showed a prevalence of drug dealing and gang violence in the state’s prisons and, in some cases, officers who were aiding corruption.

Action – real action – is needed in memory of those who perished and to protect those still trying to do their jobs.