Occupying a position of leadership carries great responsibility. Responsibility for those you lead and for the choices you make to protect, honor, and respect them. When confronted with great adversity suffered by a grieving American family, the President must stand strongly with them to ensure justice and support. The inconceivably heartbreaking case of Otto Warmbier exemplifies how a leader’s misguided choices and actions can manipulate such a tragic situation for political gain.
In such cases, the President becomes the grieving family’s messenger. But President Trump chose to accept North Korean Chairman Kim Jong-un’s “word” that Kim was unaware of the cruelties that his regime inflicted on Otto while he was in custody. Although Kim’s “word” may be worthy of notice, the profound wrongdoings his regime committed against Otto, and the resulting devastation imposed on his family, are too egregious to accept any man’s word – much less Kim’s word – that he was not at fault.
The United States of America is built under the notion of “one body, one Nation”. As such, our nation absorbs and adopts Otto’s family’s tragedies as its own. Otto was brutalized while imprisoned by Kim’s regime. Shortly after his release and return to the U.S., in a vegetative state, Otto tragically passed away from his injuries. Given Kim’s position of absolute power atop his dictatorship, it is simply inconceivable to give any credence to his self-serving claim that he was “unaware” of the inhumanities his regime inflicted on Otto.
Equally inconceivable – and far more disturbing – is President Trump’s expressed acceptance of Kim’s “word” and half-hearted condolences. The President repeatedly claims he is all for America and has built his administration on his promise to be a president “for all Americans”. He boasts that the country’s well-being is his utmost priority. In this critical moment, however, he abandoned all such pretenses to foster and maintain a personal relationship with a despot whose henchmen assaulted and ultimately killed one of our citizens.
Our leader failed in his duties to the Warmbier family. Strength in leadership demands that leaders refuse to compromise your country’s values and its citizen’s beliefs. In Otto’s case, however, President Trump instead opted to “save face” with Kim by accepting his dubious claim that he was unaware of his underlings’ atrocities. Such cowardly actions prioritized a tenuous personal relationship with a hostile dictator over the fundamental relationship with our nation’s citizens which he swore upheld in executing his office’s solemn duties. Such a choice violates and degrades the leadership responsibility of his position.
Otto’s parents have been rightfully outspoken about the President’s disgraceful mishandling of their son’s case. They hold Kim responsible for their son’s murder and criticized the President’s acceptance of Kim’s “word” to the contrary. Throughout their hardship and heartbreak, the Warmbier family has remained honorable, respectable, and poised. They say what they believe, stand by it, and refuse to compromise their values. As such, they present a complete juxtaposition of President Trump, who continues to publicly defend Kim in his “innocence”. By doing so, the President has undermined a troubled American family, thus repudiating his own, previously claimed, values. His irresponsible choice does not protect, honor, or respect those he is duty-bound to lead.
While our country’s highest representative is willing to forfeit our nation’s values at Otto Warmbier’s expense, we must instead harbor the strength and nobility shown by Otto’s parents. We must stand by them in their time of need in order to preserve our own beliefs and values, regardless of how bleak or hostile the political climate may seem.