Over the weekend, Donald Trump was addressing a gathering of religious conservatives in Ames, Iowa, when the moderator referred to Senator John McCain as a war hero. “He’s not a war hero,” Trump retorted. “He was a war hero because he was captured. I like people who weren’t captured.” In numerous interviews Sunday and Monday, Trump refused to back off his comments. In fact, he has piled on, criticizing McCain for not doing enough to help veterans, as a senator. For his part, McCain said, “I’m not a hero. I was honored to serve my country.” He said Trump did not owe him an apology, but did owe an apology to the larger family of veterans. “I think the point here is that there’s so many men and some women who served and sacrificed and happened to be held prisoner. Somehow to denigrate that in any way is offensive, I think, to most of our veterans.”
To his credit, Mr. Trump is trumpeting efforts to improve life for veterans, saying, “No one will help the veterans like I will.” But he refused to apologize for his inflammatory comments. The political season is just warming up, and we already have rhetorical fireworks in abundance. I can’t imagine what the first debate will bring in two weeks, but I’ll be watching. I like debate. But I also like boxing. There is a place for boxing, but public discourse is not that place.
The Bible has a lot to say about the words we speak. “Let your speech always be gracious” (Colossians 4:6). “Encourage one another and build one another up” (1 Thessalonians 5:11). “Gracious words are like a honeycomb, sweetness to the soul and health to the body” (Proverbs 16:24). “Only speak that which builds each other up” (Ephesians 4:29). “A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger” (Proverbs 15:1).
James said that if we can control our tongues, we can control our whole bodies. We live in a day when inflammatory speech makes headlines. The media was “outraged” by Trump’s comments, but the last thing they wanted was an apology that would put the issue to rest. That is exactly why Trump should have apologized. In a day when division and slander make headlines, a simple “I’m sorry” from the most famous billionaire on the planet would have gone a long way.