GOP Politicized Military Deaths Under Obama, Now Says Don't Criticize Trump

President Barack Obama lays a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington National Cemetery on Veterans Day in Virginia November 11, 2016. Reuters

“Democrats, they politicize every tragedy,” Fox News commentator Sean Hannity said on Wednesday night. At issue was President Donald J. Trump’s call to the widow of Green Beret Sgt. La David T. Johnson, who was killed in an ambush earlier this month while conducting special operations against Islamic State militants in the West African country of Niger. Trump reportedly told Myeisha Johnson, who is pregnant with the couple’s third child, that her husband “knew what he signed up for.” Many Democrats have seized on the remarks as yet another example of Trump’s temperamental unfitness for office.

“They have now sunk to a disturbing new low,” Hannity said of those charges, expressing outrage at anyone who would dare “trash the president.”


The following day, White House Chief of Staff Gen. John F. Kelly—who lost a son in Afghanistan—made Hannity’s the official stance of the administration. “There’s nothing in our country anymore that seems to suggest that selfless service to the nation is not only appropriate but required,” Kelly said. The remarks were poignant and powerful, but also unusual. Not only does Kelly prefer to keep this grief over his son’s death private, but it is not common for a chief of staff to so forcefully clarify a president’s statements.


But when President Barack Obama was confronted with a similar crisis in 2015, he was afforded nothing like the respect Trump’s supporters are now demanding for him.

The tragedy in question took place on American soil: the killing of five American service-members by Muhammad Youssef Abdulazeez on July 16, 2016, in Chattanooga, Tennessee. Obama called the shooting “heartbreaking,” but in the days immediately following the shooting, he did not order flags flown at half-mast, as some expected and wanted him to do.


“It’s amazing how thoroughly President Obama has snubbed the families of the Marines and Navy petty officer murdered in Chattanooga,” wrote Breitbart News, the extremist news organization.

“No explanation by Obama on flags not lowered to half-staff for Chattanooga shootings,” said a headline in Stars and Stripes, the military newspaper.

“They deserve our respect, and the significance of this event should be matched by the lowering of the flag,” said the chief of staff for Representative Duncan D. Hunter, Republican of California. “ This is one that shouldn’t take any second thought on the part of the White House.”

Representative Scott DesJarlais, Republican of Tennessee, said on Fox News, that the flag-lowering “needs to happen, and it needs to happen soon.” He also speculated that Obama was hesitant to "acknowledge domestic Islamic terrorism."

Curt Schilling, the Red Sox pitcher and self-styled right-wing pundit, tweeted, “ "Flags at half mast for Whitney Houston? 4 Marines and 1 Navy serviceman assassinated by a terrorist on our soil.....nothing?" (The notion that Obama cared more about the passing of Houston than the deaths of men and women serving in the military was a favorite far-right trope, one with obvious racial intimations.)

“Lower the FLAG!!!!!!! Sir,” Marcus Luttrell, the celebrated Afghanistan veteran and Lone Survivor author, posted on Facebook.

Fact-checkers found that it indeed “took more time than usual for Obama to issue a proclamation for the Chattanooga shooting,” but that he was generally quick to acknowledge national tragedy.

Trump, by comparison, took 12 days to mention the death of four American soldiers in Niger. And when did so, it was to blame his predecessors for not matching him in shows of compassion. That delay has not outraged his supporters.