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Seeking true justice for Ryan Owens

(Olivier Douliery/Abaca Press/TNS)

The most emotionally driven moment of President Trump’s address to Congress, his first since taking office, was when he thanked and acknowledged Caryn Owens, widow of fallen Navy SEAL Ryan Owens. Owens was part of the commando raid, authorized by Trump, against Al-Qaeda operatives in Yemen on Jan. 27. There is no doubt that these moments of the president’s address were perhaps the hardest to watch. The compassion from Congress was absolutely genuine. But the ambiguity surrounding the success of the investigation raises deeper questions, making the moment during the address seem more like propaganda and less like a genuine remembrance of a heroic life lost.

We should also not forget that Trump authorized the raid while having dinner. Such decisions are typically made in the situation room, at least that was the case for former Presidents Barack Obama and George W. Bush.

There are three issues at stake with regard to this part of the president’s speech. The first component is the personal: Carryn Owens. My heart mourns for Ms. Owens and this nation owes a great deal of gratitude for her husband’s service. The least this country can do is acknowledge his service, as former President Obama and countless presidents before Trump have operated in similar fashion.

The second component is one of propaganda. Trump is aware of the complexities of the raid, along with the criticism that comes with it. Whether or not actual intelligence was gained as a result of the operation remains to be seen. This is perhaps best exemplified by Owens’ father, William Owens, declining to meet with the president following the death of his son. His father’s criticism is well founded and entirely legitimate. This question of  “why?” and “why now?” is something the entire nation should be asking themselves.

This raid killed 30 people, eight of whom were children. With the exception of a terrorist’s daughter, none of the other 29 were mentioned or acknowledged in the speech in part because they weren’t American. The fact that they were indigenous to Yemen means that as far as the U.S is concerned, their lives hold no weight in history. Trump was able to keep the American response to the raid popular by dehumanizing the enemy, which in this case extends to the larger foreign population, the indigenous locals who get caught up in the unfortunate crosshairs of U.S. involvement.

When Trump says, “These savages keep killing us, so we have no choice but to fight them,” a black and white picture gets created and the military logistics become simplified, not because they need to be, but rather because nationalistic fervor is necessary for supporting foreign wars, or in this case, a raid in Yemen.

Trump reaps the benefit of not having to take responsibility for his actions while also betraying the U.S. military, who are forced to follow their Commander in Chief. Although it is of little surprise that Trump considered the raid to be successful, he is able to conveniently take credit for all the supposed good that came from the mission while removing himself from all that went wrong.

The third component is the failure of the media. Indeed, let us not forget how the media played along and fell for the politicization of the Owens tragedy.

CNN political correspondent Van Jones responded to this portion of the president’s address by saying, “He became president of the United States in that moment, period … That was one of the most amazing moments you have ever seen in American politics, period.”

Really? It was amazing? Give me a break. Also, I thought Trump became president on Jan. 20?

The problem with this kind of praise is that it becomes a testament to the double standard by which Trump’s presidency will be judged. Because he ran as a candidate who played by a different set of rules, his actions will be judged by a much lower standard. Katy Tur of NBC news responded on Twitter in a similar fashion: “What the President did [with] Owen’s widow was capital P Presidential, it was the single most extraordinary moment I’ve seen from Trump — by far.” I would argue the opposite. It seemed as if the almost four-minute applause quickly became more about Trump and less about Ms. Owens. This became evident when the president proclaimed that a record had been broken, one that Trump had created.

This of course plays into a larger syndrome for which the media suffers. Political pundits have made on-air concessions in an effort to gain further credibility from their viewership. Van Jones might not actually believe the nonsensical praise he showered upon Trump, but he was definitely aware of the 3.9 million people that watched CNN during the address. His analysis was for them, and in the end, himself. For some reason political commentators like Jones and Tur have been inoculated with the notion that they’ll be more respected if they seize upon the more admirable (or perhaps less un-admirable) moments of Trump’s presidency. Conservative radio show host Charlie Sykes defined this as “battered pundit syndrome,” where the media showers praise upon the ultimate media bully in a further effort to not receive possible repercussions in the future. Ultimately, the decision for the mainstream media to play along is a way it furthers the legitimizing narrative of the administration.

There should absolutely be an investigation into what went wrong. There is no question that Owens acted heroically, if only our president had the capacity to do the same.

Isaac Simon is a Collegian columnist and can be reached at isimon@umass.edu.

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