As we await Donald Trump’s promised “proof” that Congresswoman Frederica Wilson is lying about what the president said to the widow of Sgt. La David Johnson—proof, we can fairly assume, that he’s keeping in the same file drawer as his proof that Barack Obama was born in Kenya, and that those dozen women who came forward last fall to describe how he groped them were all lying—we should step away from the sordid details for a moment (we’ll return to them, rest assured!) and look at a bigger question:
What psychic toll is this man’s presidency taking on us, as he demolishes one standard of decency after another?
We have a president who is such a relentless narcissist that he make the tragic deaths of American soldiers into a story about his manhood. And notice how this time it wasn’t just Obama, Trump’s usual punching bag. It was “other presidents”—George W. Bush, Bill Clinton, Bush Sr., all of them. The insecurity is mind-boggling, that he has to make this tragedy about himself.
But far worse than the insecurity is the politicizing of these deaths. Presidents make these calls all the time. No one but no one disputes this. And they don’t go around bragging about it. They expressly do not talk about it, because to talk about it is to defile it. Retired Joint Chiefs Chairman General Martin Dempsey tweeted:
Exactly. It’s unspeakable what Trump is doing. And then to drag his own chief of staff into it! John Kelly lost a son in Afghanistan in 2010. Trump says that Obama never called Gen. Kelly (Trump didn’t say, and maybe doesn’t know, if Obama had called Captain John Kelly’s widow, Heather). As the Times reports this morning, friends of Kelly recall him expressing no dissatisfaction with the way the White House responded to his loss. The younger Kelly was given a posthumous promotion, and the Kellys sat with Michelle Obama at a Gold Star families dinner in 2011. But why even put these facts on the table? We should not even be discussing this. This is something—until now—that presidents do privately with grieving families.
If you haven’t read an account of Trump’s phone call to Johnson’s widow (according to Wilson), do so. It’s beyond comprehension. The commander in chief told the widow—more than once—that Johnson “knew what he was getting into.” Myeshia Johnson, the widow, said: “He didn’t even remember his name.”
Here’s what the soldier’s mother says about the call:
What Trump is doing to this country is something we can’t even begin to wrap our heads around. The constant lies, incessant preening, the dumping of piles of salt onto open civic wounds. He is the rightful president of perhaps one-third of the country. That would bother most presidents. But in Trump’s case, that’s all he wants to be. He wants the adulation of the Homo MAGArectus, and the rest of us, whether we’re political opponents or parents of fallen soldiers (Khizr and Ghazala Khan) can go stuff it.
If this doesn’t wake up the Republicans, what will? I know. What a stupid question. But they tell us all the time how much they honor these fallen warriors. When are their leaders going to say something that isn’t, “Well, gee, you know, the president has his own way of expressing himself”?
Speaking of the Republicans, let’s be honest here. Americans learned the name La David Johnson mostly this morning, two weeks after he was killed. But here’s a question that isn’t stupid: When do you think Americans would have learned Sergeant Johnson’s name if Hillary Clinton were in the White House?
I’ll tell you when. Two weeks ago. We’d already have been hearing for those two weeks that Clinton was responsible for his death, because there wasn’t sufficient air cover (which was true in this case) or for a host of other reasons. There’d be Niger hearings up and running. The politicization of Johnson’s death would be off to the races. And imagine if President Clinton had waited two weeks to call Myeshia Johnson? Hoo boy.
And all that would be on top of the renewed Benghazi hearings (which they promised last fall in the event of a Clinton win), and the email hearings (which they also promised), and the Harvey Weinstein hearings (hey, they’d have found a way).
So no, let’s not look to them to save us from this man. Although maybe this will spur some of the party’s still living but retired elder statesmen and women to say “enough.” One hopes against hope. Meanwhile, the candidate who made fun of physically handicapped people, joked that Second Amendment enthusiasts might want to take aim at his opponent, launched a racist tirade against a federal judge, and mocked a grieving Gold Star mother has just belittled a soldier’s service to his bereft widow, with two small children and a third on the way.
Unless of course he has the proof! Right. But speaking of proof, here’s some proof the president could make public. His tax returns. His records of business dealings with Russia. The Apprentice Tapes. If he’s as clean as he says, why not?
The world he is creating, which he has the power to create because he’s the president of the United States, is a world where every known moral law is turned upside down. We’re headed to a very dark place.