Another week…another self-inflicted political mess brought about by the reckless actions of the President of the United States.
Rattled by the intense criticism resulting from the president’s false claim that many of his predecessors failed to contact the families of fallen soldiers; the Trump administration wheeled out the only person in the White House who could extinguish the embarrassing firestorm. Trump’s Chief of Staff: Retired General John F. Kelly. If the Trump White House is as described, an “adult day care center,” then Kelly is the facility’s chief administrator.
Kelly took over the daily White House press briefing, and in a moving speech sought to defend his boss against the firestorm of criticism brought about by the president’s reportedly insensitive condolence call to the family of Sargent La David Johnson; a Green Beret who had lost his life while serving in Africa.
What transpired during Kelly’s press briefing was a confluence of emotional catharsis, wrongheaded finger pointing, and not so veiled condemnation of the man he works for.
I like and respect John Kelly. I respect him for his service, his loyalty, his sense of duty and his strength of character. Ever the loyal soldier, Kelly went out before the press and provided an emotional account of the series of events that occur when an American soldier is slain in battle. It was lost on no one that in those 12 minutes Kelly was recounting the death of his own son who lost his life serving in Afghanistan. This was a very private matter that Kelly has heretofore refused to discuss publically. Kelly set aside his very personal feelings to serve his country and serve his president. For that he is to be commended.
His condemnation of Fredericka Wilson, was cringe worthy. Kelly went out of his way to voice his frustration over the words of Fredericka Wilson; the Florida congresswoman who in response to a reporter’s question detailed the president’s message and how that message angered and upset La David Johnson’s widow and mother. General Kelly noted that he was “stunned” that the congresswoman would listen in to that call. So “stunned” that he took a 90 minute walk amongst the fallen in Arlington Cemetery to calm himself. He never called congresswoman Wilson by name; referring to her only as an “empty barrel.”
Congressman Wilson, is a lifelong friend of the Johnson family. She was riding in the limo with the Johnson’s and overheard the president’s remarks on speaker phone. She was asked a question by a reporter and she answered it. As a leader of men Kelly should know that you can control what you say and how you say it…but you can never control how your words are received. Apparently Trump’s words were not well received by the Johnsons. Congresswoman Wilson was merely the messenger.
Kelly also expressed his anger and frustration towards the press. In closing Kelly took questions from the press pool…but only from those reporters who acknowledged knowing a Gold star Family. Again, the press was reporting what they were told by a first hand witness. To close by shunning select members of the media demonstrates a level of pettiness that we have come to expect from this president…not his Chief of Staff.
I’m sure that the Trump Administration was quite pleased with General Kelly’s defense of the president and giddy over his scolding of the president’s opponents. But as I listened to the general’s remarks I sensed he was speaking to the president as well. If I am right it was a scolding long overdue.
Kelly said that he advised the president not to make the condolence calls. I believe Kelly was well aware of the disastrous consequences that have occurred whenever this president wanders off script. I believe Kelly understands this president’s shortcomings and knew what the outcome would be would be if his empathy bereft boss tried to offer condolences to a grieving family. Kelly even went so far as to provide the president with the right words to say. The president ignored Kelly’s advise, made the call, butchered the script and set off another firestorm.
It has been often said the Trump’s aids understand that the best way to communicate with Trump is to do so through the media. Knowing full well that the president would be glued to the television, I believe that Kelly was speaking to his boss when he scolded his audience about how certain things once held as sacred are no longer held in such high esteem.
Kelly said that women, once considered sacred were no longer held in such high accord. Think…Billy Bush tape and Megyn Kelly.
Kelly said that religion was no longer considered sacred. “I Donald J. Trump call for the immediate ban of all Muslims entering the country…”
Kelly said that Gold Star Families were no longer considered sacred. Think…Mr. and Mrs. Khan at the Democratic Convention.
And while we ping pong the particulars of these phone calls let us not forget what got us here in the first place. Yet another lie from the President of the United States.
In an unscheduled conference that the Trump administration hastily called at the last minute, President Trump was asked why neither he nor his administration had spoken publically about the loss of four Green Berets that had been killed two weeks prior in an ambush in Niger. The worst day militarily in Trump’s nine months in office. Trump didn’t answer the question. Instead he deflected by riffing on about how he has done a better job of calling the families of the fallen than his predecessors. How he had called all of the families left behind since taking office while his predecessors had not. “Obama didn’t make calls. I don’t think Bush did either.” All lies! Bold faced lies from a man who had been caught in dereliction of his most sacred duty.
When reporters pushed back on the obvious lies Trump panicked and went on about how he’d written letters which were being mailed that day or the next. More lies!
When Fredericka Wilson revealed Trump’s remarks, Trump lied again saying he never made such comments. Kelly’s’ recounting of events make it clear that the very words Wilson says Trump spoke to the families are the exact words Kelly prompted him to say.
Trump only made those condolence calls because he was embarrassingly bullied into them by reporters. We know this because Kelly’s counseling occurred right after the disastrous press conference. Trump ignored the advice of a man experienced in such matters, delivered the message in a manner that offended the grieving family of a fallen warrior and then lied…again…about the result. Neither the press nor Ms. Wilson are to blame here. This mess is all on Trump.
There are some who believe that Trump’s failed efforts were well intentioned. Perhaps. Sadly, in my view, by manner of his persistent stream of lies, misstatements and half truths, this president has forfeited any right to receive the benefit of the doubt.
Yesterday, former president’s Bush and Obama gave poignant speeches about the state of our union. They called for the end of the inflammatory, divisive politics that have become prevalent in our society. They didn’t mention anyone by name but it was clear to anyone listening who they both were referring to.
Former presidents Bush and Obama were talking about Trump.
So was General Kelly.