America crossed another disgraceful Rubicon on Monday, when President Trump decided to attack Myeshia Johnson, a Gold Star widow who confirmed that what was intended as a condolence call from the president did more harm than good. One of Trump’s defining characteristics is his instinct to counterpunch, even if his target is a pregnant, newly widowed woman whose husband died in terrible and unexplained circumstances. It’s also wholly in keeping with Trump’s treatment of Gold Star families over the past year or so. These macabre spectacles have made me wonder how this utterly bizarre era would have felt if Trump were actually capable of apologizing, especially to these Americans. So I tried to imagine what those apologies might look like.


Khizr Khan delivers a speech with his wife, Ghazala Khan, standing next to him at the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia. (Michael Robinson Chavez/The Washington Post)

July 29, 2016

Dear Mr. and Mrs. Khan,

I wanted to thank you for sharing your memories of your son, Capt. Humayun Khan, with the country on July 28. Since your speech, I’ve had the chance to learn more about Capt. Khan’s life and death. There is no question that his love for American history, his record of public service both prior to and during his military service, and the courage with which he made the ultimate sacrifice place him in the ranks of great American patriots. He, and you, are exactly the kind of people we hope will continue to come to the United States and contribute your best energies to the improvement of our great nation.

I apologize if my words on the campaign trail have contributed in any way to your grief over the loss of your son. Though I believe that immigration and vicious acts of terrorism inspired by certain Islamic doctrines remain gravely serious issues, and I will continue to speak out about them, I did not intend to sound as if I condemned immigrant and Muslim families such as your own. I will do my best to make this clearer in the future when possible.

With best wishes,

Donald J. Trump


A view of Arlington National Cemetery. (The Washington Post)

Oct. 18, 2017

Dear Mr. Baldridge,

I wanted to apologize for my delay in fulfilling the promise I made to you in June to help you and your family during this difficult period following the loss of your son, Sgt. Dillon Baldridge. This is not an excuse, but I am still settling into the routines of my new job, as is my chief of staff, Gen. John F. Kelly. As a result, I have sometimes been less than diligent in following through on my personal commitments, especially as I navigate a new schedule and a new home. Enclosed, please find a check for $25,000 in the hopes that this will aid you in this time of grief. I know nothing can replace Dillon, but you and your family remain in my thoughts and in Melania’s.

Sincerely,

Donald J. Trump


Myeshia Johnson, widow of Sgt. La David Johnson, is escorted into his graveside service. (Joe Skipper/Reuters)

Oct. 18, 2017

Dear Mrs. Johnson,

I was so terribly sorry to hear that our conversation about your husband, Sgt. La David Johnson, caused you additional pain at what I know must be a tremendously difficult time. I will not pretend to imagine the grief you must feel; I can only hope to reassure you that I value the ultimate sacrifice you and your family have made not only for this country, but for the cause of freedom around the world.

I want to apologize for two specific things that I understand were hurtful to you.

First, I was inarticulate when I suggested that your husband knew what he had signed up for, as if that made his death inevitable or less worthy of mourning. What I intended to express was respect for the bravery demonstrated by your husband and the men and women like him, who accept extraordinary risks on behalf of all of us, in the obvious hope that those risks will never come to pass. I will always remember Sgt. Johnson’s determination and courage.

Second, I believe I gave you the impression that I did not know your husband’s name. I am profoundly sorry if I left you feeling this way.

And finally, I understand that circumstances of Sgt. Johnson’s death and the state in which his body was returned to you have been confusing and immensely painful. Though there are times when national security requires us to remain silent about the way one of our service members died, I pledge that my administration and I will do our utmost to learn the full truth about this incident, and to share as much information as is possible with you and your family.

With my deepest condolences,

Donald J. Trump