Not content to trash-talk a congresswoman, our president went right after a war widow Monday morning, insisting on Twitter that his conversation with Myeshia Johnson was “very respectful” even after she went on television earlier Monday morning to describe how hurtful his words had been during her call. So he essentially called her, this woman whose husband just died for his country, a liar.
Every week, it just gets worse. Now we know, for example that chief of staff John Kelly, originally sold to us as the guy who’d be the good angel on President Trump’s other shoulder, probably fits right in. It wasn’t just that he lied about Rep. Frederica Wilson’s comportment at that building dedication. Much less remarked upon, but far creepier to me, was that section of his press conference where he talked about how women and religion and so on used to be “sacred.” That riff was straight out of pre-World War I ethnonationalist Europe. Besides which, if Kelly’s willing to go out of his way to go public and lie for Trump, I’d suggest we not hold our breaths waiting for him to rein in the president’s more untamed impulses.
Meanwhile, we’ve just entered the point in the news cycle where people are starting to ask about the mission. Senators seemed shocked on the Sunday shows to learn that we have 1,000 soldiers in a country that about 2 percent of Americans could find on a map and whose name we can’t even agree to pronounce one way.
Anytime soldiers die in an operation like this, there has to be an investigation. So let’s see what it produces. But in the meantime, Democrats, let’s not do this. Let’s not say Niger is Trump’s Benghazi.
Rep. Wilson tweeted this out Sunday. I’m on her side here and admire the way she’s held her ground under a barrage whose intensity the rest of us can’t even imagine (just think about the racist phone calls her office is surely getting and worse). But let’s not do that.
We, liberals and Democrats, just spent four years howling about what a bunch of demagogues the Republicans were for trying to hang the deaths of Ambassador Stevens and the other three Americans who died in Benghazi around Hillary Clinton’s neck. What the Republicans did was shameful beyond words. Eight, nine investigations, all of them proving the same thing, which was nothing. Four years of lies, at taxpayer expense. Rep. Trey Gowdy, who spent three years chairing the special Benghazi committee, denying up and down that it was political, has now admitted to The New York Times that “congressional investigations unfortunately as usually overtly political investigations, where it’s to one side’s advantage to drag things out.” Gee, thanks, Trey. Next up, Harvey Weinstein’s going to tell us that having meetings in hotel rooms maybe isn’t a good idea.
But seriously: The temptation is strong, Democrats, but don’t be as sleazy and unprincipled as the other side. For one thing, it just isn’t the right thing to do, to denounce (and properly) the other side’s demagoguery for four years and then start acting like the very same kind of demagogues. But if that’s too noble for you, here are two hard-headed reasons why Democrats shouldn’t demagogue about Trump and Niger until the facts are in.
First, it won’t work in damaging Trump. Democrats don’t have the power to do anything about it, since they’re the minority. But even if they had the majority, it wouldn’t work. They don’t have remotely the same kind of propaganda megaphone behind them that Republicans do. But even if they had that, it wouldn’t work. The Republicans moved heaven and earth on Benghazi, but they didn’t lay a glove on Hillary over it. Other things cost her—emails, not campaigning in Wisconsin, emails, Comey, misogyny, and emails. But I doubt Benghazi cost her one vote. Probably won her a few, if anything, the way she dominated that 11-hour hearing.
Second, it’ll change the subject in a way that’s beneficial to Trump. Right now in this narrative, he’s his usual demented self, occupying an indefensible and totally unsympathetic position. But if Democrats start saying things like “Trump is directly responsible for the deaths of La David Johnson and the three others,” suddenly it’s the Democrats—i.e., the people making charges not supported by evidence—who look indefensible, while they make Trump look sympathetic (not an easy thing to pull off).
Let’s see what the investigation says. Trump was reticent about speaking about Niger at first. Maybe there’s a reason. If there is, we’ll find out, and he’ll pay a political price. In the meantime, there’s plenty to attack him on that’s real and concrete. The Democrats are the party of empirical belief and evidence. The Republicans are the party of fervor and will. What the country needs isn’t for the Democrats to be more like Republicans. It’s for the Republicans to be less like Republicans.