""I'm stuffing your mouth with your promises and watching you vomit them out upon my face" -- Anne Sexton, The Complete Poems
I'm curious as to just how many Americans still remember the saga of a presidential promise associated with the death of U.S. Army Sgt. Dillon Christopher Baldridge. The young soldier was a casualty in an "inside attack" by an Afghan police officer on June 10 last year while serving in Afghanistan. When laid to rest, Baldridge was only three weeks shy of his 23rd birthday.
The presidential promise in this saga, came in the form of a perhaps spur-of-the-moment offer by self-proclaimed,"self-made" billionaire" donald trump to donate $25,000 of his personal funds to the family of the fallen soldier. But unlike so many of the promises made by a "president" infamous for stiffing everyone from building contractors to wedding planners, this was a promise trump actually kept although apparently with some reluctance.
"Reluctance" would seem the most apt characterization. That's because by mid-October, some four months after trump's promise, the only item issued to the Baldridges by trump was a mere letter of condolence. The promised $25 grand perhaps a trifling amount to anyone claiming to be filthy rich had not been delivered upon.
One can only speculate why.
Was it a truly sincere offer? Or was it just another of those recidivist moments of compulsion by trump to soak up some of the media attention that was being focused on the dead American soldier? Perhaps trump figured that over time, his promise of assistance would wind up conveniently lost in the swirl of more important presidential prerogatives. Maybe he wagered that polite protocol would prevent the Baldridge family from publicly demanding that the "president" honor his commitment and immediately fork over the cash. Perhaps he was distracted by emerging controversies and burgeoning scandals connected to him personally and to members of his "administration." Maybe it was an honest oversight. Whatever the reason, it clearly took a full public shaming via a cascade of intense media scrutiny before trump finally ponied up.
"I was just floored" (upon receiving the offer), said Dillon's father Chris, according to a report published in the Washington Post. He (trump) said: 'No other president has ever done something like this "but I'm going to do it.'" (Fact: In 2015, former President Barack Obama fulfilled a similar pledge on behalf of Kayla Mueller who had been killed by ISIS, and himself underwent similar criticism from Mueller's parents.)
Trump's reluctant payment to the Baldridge family followed a similar response to a prior military-related financial pledge he made which also remained unfulfilled until its delinquency was magnified by the media.
That episode began on January 28, 2016, when trump blew off a Republican presidential debate to instead host a Des Moines, Iowa rally during which, trump claimed, some $6 million was raised on behalf of veterans groups across the country. Of that $6 million, trump claimed to have personally donated $1 million of his own money.
As it turned out, trump's $6 million figure was inflated. Only $4.5 million was raised, of which $2.9 million had been given to veterans' organizations. But none of the funds raised had been given to any veterans' group until after media inquiries into the delay began to emerge.
As for trump's $1 million promise? At some point that June trump, again, perhaps reluctantly, sent a personal check for a million dated May 24 to a group called the Marine Corp Law Enforcement Foundation, a check that once again didn't show up until four months after the $1 million pledge was originally made. It remains unclear as to whether trump's contribution was counted among the $4.5 million raised.
Word is Bond
There are promises made, promises kept, promises half-filled, promises broken, and promises that general consensus requires should be abandoned out of necessity. And as long as corruption, outright deceit or naked political expediency play no role, there are certainly credible reasons why a president might fail to make good on campaign promises.
Perhaps the most reasonable excuse would be that the president is subject to the will of a Congress that's completely unwilling to pass legislation associated with a particular president's campaign promises. President Obama, for example, failed to shut down Gitmo in part, due to the then-GOP controlled Congress' unwillingness to go along with that idea.
But some presidents have actually utilized Congress as an aid in reneging on campaign promises. George H. W. Bush's infamous "read my lips: no new taxes" campaign pledge made during his 1988 presidential run was broken because a Democratic-controlled Congress concluded that no new taxes would result in extreme budget deficits and potentially deep cuts in entitlement programs. Bush agreed with that assessment and joined Congress in proposing new taxes in his 1990 federal budget.