No, it won’t be pretty. When a draft-evading bone-spur bozo takes on a man of character who put his life on the line for his country and knows what the United States means to the world, the result can only be ugly. Trump will look very small. He will look smaller than his fingers, as small as his spite. No puffed-up chest, no jutting upraised chin will be able to conceal the zero at his heart.
Speaking of putting one’s life on the line, Sgt. La David T. Johnson was the soldier killed early this month in Niger, along with three other American servicemen. Trump, after consulting John F. Kelly, his chief of staff, elected to call the soldier’s widow, Myeshia Johnson, to express his condolences, a risky undertaking for a man who knows nothing of dignity. The president, predictably, blew it.
He said Sergeant Johnson knew what he signed up for. (Trump denies this, but Kelly confirmed the president used these words.)
Wilson, the congresswoman, is a family friend of the Johnsons. She listened to the call. She told reporters about the offense given to the widow. This enraged Trump, who deployed his “wacky” epithet, and upset Kelly, a retired Marine Corps general whose son was killed in Afghanistan. Kelly unwisely decided to come to the defense of his boss.
Kelly’s speech the other day was moving at the outset in its description of ritual and loss. He spoke of “the most important phone calls” for any grieving family. His gravitas was a reminder of all that has been lost in the tacky Trump White House. But then he descended into gross, unprofessional calumny.
Alluding to Wilson’s speech at the dedication in 2015 of an F.B.I. building in South Florida, named for two fallen agents, Kelly described the congresswoman as an “empty barrel” who was “making the most noise.” He falsely accused her of bragging about securing $20 million for the building and of saying she’d twisted President Barack Obama’s arm for funding.
Semper Fi. Well, Semper Fi-ish. Kelly owes Wilson an apology.
There’s a video of Wilson’s speech. She’s wearing a red hat. She’s brash. Kelly evidently found her tone inappropriate. But she did what people do at a ribbon-cutting ceremony, acknowledging lawmakers of both parties, and did not utter the words attributed to her by Kelly.
“Empty barrel” is interesting. Barrels are often locked in the dark in cellars and warehouses. They evoke guns, too. Wilson is black. The Johnsons are black. This is a president who laces contempt for African-Americans into everyday discourse. Lying about them, disparaging them, dehumanizing them, is just business as usual. Why should a four-star general bestir himself over getting his facts wrong or describing a black woman as a barrel?
Because Kelly has some notion of the American idea, knows the military depends on equal value being given to every life, and must understand that when truth dies America is lost.
The empty-barrel bone-spur bozo at the White House can’t apologize or get that. It’s beyond him.
Here’s McCain speaking this month on the America that’s bigger than Trump:
“To refuse the obligations of international leadership and our duty to remain ‘the last best hope of earth’ for the sake of some half-baked, spurious nationalism cooked up by people who would rather find scapegoats than solve problems is as unpatriotic as an attachment to any other tired dogma of the past that Americans consigned to the ash heap of history. We live in a land made of ideals, not blood and soil.”