You often hear how something Trump has just done is a “distraction” from something else worse — Russia, taxes, his alliance with the lizard people, whatever. Maybe, but his methods of misdirection are so crude as to be laughable — as was shown last week by the chaotic way he and his cat’s-paw chief of staff, John Kelly, former hero of dumb liberals, tried to reverse the blame for his clumsy call to a war widow.
But what the administration lacks in message discipline is more than made up for by the conservatariat — the pundits, Twitter trolls, and rightbloggers who explained to the nation how tales of Trump’s gross insensitivity to Myeshia Johnson just didn’t ring true, and that the real villain of the affair was the family friend and congresswoman who spoke on the widow’s behalf.
You probably know by now about the original problem — that after a bungled military operation in Niger (where America has troops because shut up) killed Sergeant La David Johnson and three other special forces troops, Trump called Johnson’s widow and, in a rambling “condolence” call, told the bereaved woman that her husband, whose name he apparently didn’t remember, “knew what he signed up for” — a fake tough guy variant of “hey, everybody dies.”
This was revealed to the world by family friend Representative Frederica Wilson (D.-Fla.) — and later confirmed by Sergeant Johnson’s mother — to have made Mrs. Johnson feel exactly the way any human being without severe emotional deficits would expect it to have made her to feel.
The brethren’s early responses to Trump’s insult suggested some uncertainty as to the play. Rich Lowry of National Review admitted the “statement seems horrible in isolation,” but pleaded for “context,” which he did not supply; he also suggested that Trump was right in saying that “if you look at president Obama and other presidents, most of them didn’t make calls, a lot of them didn’t make calls [to the bereaved military families]” by twisting it to seem as if Trump had only said Obama didn’t call all “the families of the fallen.” That’s how the pros do it, folks!
But rightbloggers quickly caught the thread, and asked who the real victim was here — some black chick who felt all snowflakey-offended, like they always do, or the eternal martyr Trump?
“As many Democrats weaponize Gold Star families against the GOP,” said Brian Flood at Fox News, “mainstream media outlets now seem to be approaching the families of dead soldiers one by one in an attempt to find the next controversy surrounding President Trump.”
Apparently the media were just roaming the streets with their Gold Star detectors, looking for dead soldiers’ families to use against the president, when they fortuitously stumbled on the bereaved dad Trump offered 25 grand (which he didn’t send till the Washington Post ratted him out) and Myeshia Johnson.
Eventually, Trump enlisted chief of staff John Kelly to slather patriotism on his boss and to denounce and attempt to demean Wilson, not to mention the press, from members of which he would only take questions if they were part of or knew a Gold Star family. Kelly also lied about Wilson (and I mean it’s-on-tape lied) for no apparent reason except to make his boss look better.
Press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders straight-faced that it was “inappropriate” for anyone to challenge the word of a right-wing COS if he’s a retired four-star general, and rightbloggers got in formation.
“Kelly emerging as important — and most capable — admin spox in times of relative crisis,” swooned Politico’s Eliana Johnson. A poll asking followers “Do you know or are you a Gold Star family” — with the comedy answer being “Of course not, I’m press” — was tweeted by the Federalist publisher Ben Domenech, best known not for ever serving in the military but for his “stolen valor” in editorial work.
At the Federalist, “former Army captain and a veteran of the war in Afghanistan” James Hasson demanded everyone “Stop Using The Military As A Pawn In Your Culture War.” The only conservative he named, though, was Steve Bannon, and he mainly focused his wrath on Barack Obama “trading five senior Taliban terrorists for admitted deserter Bowe Bergdahl” — because that whole thing about never leaving a soldier behind only counts when you like the guy — and Chuck Schumer, who “protested the Trump administration’s enforcement of immigration law by highlighting the deportation of a service member’s relative” — a policy dispute in which Schumer, despite being a U.S. senator, had no right to engage, because Hasson doubted he’d “know the name or even the unit of the specialist killed in Iraq by a (very likely) Iranian improvised explosive device two weeks ago.” Maybe they should make senators pass a Gold Star test, like the one Kelly used to allow or deny questions at his press conference. By God, we’d have a very different kind of country then!
Representative Wilson still refused to be cowed by either Trump or Kelly (“John Kelly’s trying to keep his job. He will say anything”), and even had the bad taste to mention the botched raid for which Kelly was apparently covering up. So the brethren went apeshit on her.
A major theme was that Representative Wilson was wacky — cowboy hat, big boutonniere, and did you catch her skin color? Some operatives circulated a fake Facebook post purporting to show Myeshia Johnson disowning Wilson. And of course there were “rodeo clown” tweets from people like James Woods, and even worse from various internet scumbags (“Cock Star, Crack Whore, Cotton Coon, Pimp Thread Hooker” gurgled one such).
“Rep Wilson is just one anti-Trump tirade away from becoming Crazy Maxine Waters,” tweeted Aryanette Tomi Lahren. Former Milwaukee sheriff/military cosplayer David Clarke said — well, his self-own on this subject is probably well enough known to everyone that I don’t have to repeat it. Sean Hannity on Fox raved that Wilson was “the number one Trump hater in the country.” Congratulations on the promotion, congresswoman!
Meanwhile, Johnson had his funeral, which Wilson attended, and Trump continued to rant and rave about his call in various forums (“I was so nice. Look, I’ve called many people”). His staff is rushing to send condolences to Gold Star families heretofore uncontacted — without any public apology for the delay, of course — and his daughter-in-law pretended she’d read a transcript of the Johnson call because who knows why.
And Representative Wilson has been inundated with lynching threats — as anyone could have expected because that’s how these things work now, as this case makes plain: When a dead soldier and a bereaved widow are black, they can’t expect honor or dignity. And if someone — especially a black person, especially a black woman — points this out, they can expect only filth in response from the white men who run things. You may count it a “distraction” from some other Trump horror, but I think it’s as meaningful as whatever rap he’s trying to get out from under, and the damage it represents is more long-lasting and dangerous.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on October 23, 2017