It’s true, it’s true, I have been incredibly lax in keeping up with my posting. Yes, I’ve been keeping somewhat busy, but it’s not like I haven’t had time. Arguably I’ve been given immense amounts of material to work with as well, but the simple fact is that what many observers predicted would happen with Trumpian news in 2017 ended up afflicting me:
I just got burnt out by it.
Hurricane Maria, Graham-Cassidy, Trump’s NFL bickering, Harvey Weinstein, the reprehensible inertia regarding Puerto Rico… at some point, it just adds up to a monumental challenge of where to even begin. What do you say in the face of such fast-moving and malicious negligence? How does one keep up?
Honestly? You don’t. You don’t need to, really: there will never not be a fresh supply of Trump-flavored evidence that America is currently in the hands of an incompetent narcissist. Donald J. Trump is simply not capable of letting anyone catch a breath, providing even a single day in which he hasn’t been involved in an unforced error. Any number of things could have brought me back online, and I hope to speak to them over the coming days, but one in particular sticks out immediately.
The phone calls.
It’s not, of course, the lawful duty of the commander-in-chief to personally telephone the families of slain American soldiers. This is to say that it is not a responsibility of the office as codified by law. It is, however, the privilege of the person in that position to honor America’s military dead and their families by personally addressing them and sharing the gratitude of a nation with them. While it has no force of law, it is expected of the resident of 1661 Pennsylvania Ave that they do this service for the families of those who gave their all to the United States of America.
When Trump didn’t, he blamed everyone else.
Two weeks after four soldiers died in Niger, Trump was asked why he still hadn’t called any of their families. This resulted in the classic Trump defensive play: Lie, boast, accuse, imply, discredit. It’s practically a new Washington dance craze at this point. Lie: “It’s very difficult to be able to do that, but I have called, I believe, everybody.” Boast: “To the best of my knowledge, I think I’ve called every family of somebody that’s died.” Accuse: “”Other presidents did not call. They’d write letters. And some presidents didn’t do anything.”” Imply: “President Obama, I think, probably did sometimes and maybe sometimes he didn’t. I don’t know. That’s what I was told.” Discredit: “There’s nothing to clarify, this was, again, fake news CNN. I mean, they’re just a bunch of fakers.”
In other words, why did it take so long for official comment on the Niger deaths, or contact to the soldiers’ families by their commander-in-chief? There will be contact, I contact everybody, I’m the best at contacting, many other presidents didn’t even bother anyway. This is all fake news. One almost has to congratulate Trump for finding yet another nadir to sink to – not just politicizing calls to the loved ones of America’s fallen soldiers, but making the act of honoring the dead all about him. Politically, this is one of the few errors that can’t be covered up with his usual naked partisan provocations – in lashing out not just at Obama but at the notion that he isn’t the best and most special, Trump hit past Republican presidents as well. They’re not having it.
People have started to come forth with their personal stories of loss, and of the compassion shown by Barack Obama, George W. Bush, and their predecessors. Several have pointed out that their contact wasn’t a matter of public fanfare – because why should it be? Obama and Bush quietly performed this act of service on behalf of their station, in some cases going above and beyond. Obama would sometimes go to Dover Air Force Base to be present when soldiers were returned to American soil. A moving story from one grieving woman shares how President Bush sat and embraced her while she sobbed and screamed at him until she was able to calm down.
It’s not hard to imagine President Obama sitting with a family and offering to pray with them. Nor is it difficult to imagine President Bush participating in a solemn religious observance. Trump has no such charity, compassion, or dignity to impart to anything. If there was ever a question about that, it began and ended when he decided to use his own chief of staff as token political cover.
That’s right, he invoked the death of John Kelly’s son for a cheap political defense.
Gen. Kelly has never been public about his son’s death, which occurred during Obama’s first term while Robert Kelly was serving overseas. The Kelly family has not seen fit to make their grief part of the public record, and it’s nobody else’s place to ask them to. Yet here we have Trump, pulling it out at the drop of a hat, for the sake of being able to say “Why don’t you ask John Kelly whether Obama called him?”
Now, Trump’s staff has the White House records in hand. It’s reasonable to assume that they already know the answer, and that it’s probably a no – why else would Trump play that card? Of course, two things come to mind here: firstly, why would Trump and his staff have prepared this “defense” in the first place? I doubt Gen. Kelly signed off on Trump invoking his son’s death for a point of pride. This means that Trump or his staff independently decided to pursue this information. Secondly, Kelly and his wife were honored by the Obamas at a private breakfast with other military families, where the Kellys were seated with the First Lady. Trump’s defenders will surely argue “six months!” and “That’s not a phone call!”
They are welcome to fester in their own obtuse juice.
As for me, I’m legitimately sorry that the Kellys have had this dredged up by Trump. I’m legitimately sorry that Robert Kelly’s death is now part of the political discourse, when it should be anything but – that Trump’s invocation does to it what it does to everything else, and makes it into a political point. To even discuss it as I have, as someone who opposes this sort of rank political closet-tossing on principle rather than “because it was Trump,” still creates a narrative in which a Trump opponent discusses it as a mark against Trump. I don’t know how one is expected to escape the binary.
Regardless, this is classic Trump: a series of escalating unforced errors, all predicated on his own narcissism, to be defended at the expense of anyone and everyone else. We’re now in the stage where there’s no pulling out of the tailspin; the classic Trump follow-up involves leaping to a new disaster to push the previous one out of people’s minds. Brace yourselves.