The Trump White House: Just when you think the bar on decency and integrity couldn’t be set lower


A LOT OF GROSSNESS oozes out of Donald Trump’s White House. Yesterday, though, something happened that I’m a bit embarrassed to say left me stunned; I say embarrassed because nothing that the Trump team does should surprise anyone at this point, but they keep finding new ways to lower the bar on integrity and decency. In a snap press conference on Thursday, White House Chief of Staff John Kelly took time out to address the latest controversy that is enveloping his boss — not just the death of four troops in Niger, but Trump’s controversial call to the family of a fallen soldier, Sgt. La David Johnson. In that press conference, he took direct aim at Rep. Frederica Wilson, a Florida Democrat, by recounting the dedication of a new FBI building in her district. Kelly, a retired general, recalled being present for that dedication and used his memory of the event to defame her character and integrity. She spoke at the dedication and he was not pleased.

There are probably only four people who know exactly what was said during Donald Trump’s condolence call to the widow of SGT Johnson. That would be Myeshia Johnson, Rep. Frederica Wilson, the president, and his Chief of Staff, John Kelly. Judging by reactions and news reports, at least two of those people appear to be lying in an effort to cover their tracks. It doesn’t take a Ph.D. in criminology to recognize who those liars are.

Because no slight- whether perceived or real- can be allowed to pass without a fierce and wholly out of proportion counterattack. This is what happens when you elect a narcissist to a position of leadership.

I’m less concerned with what the President said than how it’s being spun. It’s certainly possible he was actually trying to do and say the right thing…and did it rather ham-handedly. If that was the case, Trump and Kelly should have done the right thing- own up to it and apologize. People make mistakes despite their best intentions, and a simple apology goes a long way toward soothing ruffled feathers and hurt feelings. Instead, they’ve gone on the offensive by attacking Rep. Wilson…because going after a Gold Star mother would be truly classless and inhuman.

Showing some class and dignity in light of a woman’s loss of her husband is totally outside of Donald Trump’s skill set…because in the end, it’s really all about him.

Kelly’s attempted takedown of Rep. Wilson was about as despicably low-class a verbal political assault as I can remember. Referring to her as “someone that is that empty a barrel” in denigrating (and lying about) her role in getting a new FBI building built in her south Florida Congressional district.

Unfortunately for Kelly, Rep. Wilson’s remarks were filmed. It’s clear the only honest words utterly by Kelly about her role in the project were “and a congresswoman stood up.” Everything else was fabricated to make her look like a crazy woman taking too much credit for a project she had little to do with.

You can do that when you lack any semblance of a soul or integrity and work for a man who lies as he breathes.

Not once did Wilson ever mention getting funding for the building; it was funded years earlier. She never even broaches the subject of money; she never mentions this $20 million line or getting funding from Obama. It never happened. Period. It’s so dishonest that it’s bizarre.

Instead, Wilson, who was thanked by FBI Director James Comey for helping the building be named posthumously after fallen officers, told the comical bipartisan story of how she and then-House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, and so many others rushed to get the naming through Congress in record time, because the ribbon-cutting had already been scheduled. She thanked her colleagues in her congressional delegation, Republicans and Democrats, by name. She honored the fallen officers and their families. She honored the FBI agents in the audience, then took her seat.

Wilson was understandably proud…and she had every right to be. In 2015, she helped dedicate an FBI building during a time when Congress did almost literally nothing. She was able to get the project through a gridlocked, bitterly partisan Congress, and the dedication of the FBI building reflected an accomplishment she’d worked diligently toward.

What Kelly recalls, though, is a woman taking far too much credit for something she had far too little to do with. Either he’s being willfully dishonest or his ability to recall details is seriously degraded…not something one would normally think about a decorated and dedicated Marine general officer.

[Perhaps] the story he told is a disturbing insight into how his mind works. Consider that Kelly watched Wilson give the remarks she gave in the video. If by some chance he isn’t lying, and he truly believes that’s what he heard, then think about how her speech was transformed by Kelly’s perception of her. He saw her tell, in real life, an amusing story about parliamentary maneuvering to name a building. Yet Kelly heard, in his mind, a story about a money-grubbing, credit-hogging grandstander. And consider that Wilson has been overcoming perceptions like that her entire life.

The truly sad thing about this sorry saga is the last thing SGT Johnson’s widow likely wanted was to become embroiled in a highly personal political pissing match. If Kelly and Trump had simply apologized for their ham-handed handling of the call, any hurt feelings may well have been soothed. Human beings make mistakes, and sometimes the words don’t come out or aren’t interpreted in the way they’re intended. Own up to it, issue a few heartfelt mea culpas, and get on about the business of honoring SGT Johnson for his service and sacrifice.

Instead, what should be been considered a minor faux pas has ballooned into a cause celebre– all because of the President’s inability to admit to a mistake and Kelly’s efforts to cover for him.

John Kelly really should be ashamed of himself…but no one working in the Trump Administration appears capable of experiencing shame.

THIS SHOULD HAVE BEEN THE FOCUS: In this still frame from video, Myeshia Johnson cries over the casket of her husband, Sgt. La David Johnson, who was killed in an ambush in Niger, upon his body’s arrival in Miami. (Photo: WPLG/AP)

You’d think that as a former Marine general, Kelly would possess considerable integrity and humanity…especially considering he’s also a Gold Star parent, having lost his son in combat a few years ago. Instead, he’s shown himself to be devoid of honesty, integrity, and simple human decency. His attack on Rep. Wilson was unconscionable…but also par for this Administration, collectively loathe as they are to admit to mistakes or missteps.

[A] decent human being would’ve said something like, “I have no idea the pain this family is going through. If my words compounded their pain, I am truly sorry. Our nation lost a hero and this family lost a loved one. We are all worse for such a loss. If given a chance again, I will communicate this directly to the family so that my words can match the intent of my heart.” I just made that up on the fly. I didn’t think about it. I just thought about what I might say if I happened to either put my foot in my mouth with a grieving family or was perceived to mean something that I didn’t quite mean.

Trump, though, is not a decent human being. He instead decided to pick a fight with three black women — each of them grieving — and soon enlisted his chief of staff to join this fight alongside him. Perhaps it plays well for their base, but what followed, in my opinion, is rooted in a white supremacist understanding of the truthfulness and veracity of black women and black pain.

All the President needed to do was understand the need for maturity and compassion. He could have taken the high road, own up to his responsibility for the misunderstanding and promised to do better going forward. That’s what a mature, rational adult would have done…but this President is neither mature nor rational. Nor will he admit his fallibility. Nothing is ever his responsibility and any mistakes are blamed on others.

In nine months in office, Trump has engendered so much ill will and created so much distrust that assuming the worst of him seems barely adequate to capturing the depth of his narcissism and insensitivity.

As for Kelly, his pitifully insensitive attack was truly beyond the pale and beneath the dignity of a White House Chief of Staff. He should have been bigger than that. He should have endeavored to be a better person…especially in light of the fact that he knows what it’s like to lose a loved one in combat. His response to Rep. Wilson was truly one of the most piggish and immature statements I’ve heard from a senior military officer.

Wilson was proud. She should’ve been. At a time where Congress gets nothing done, and partisan bickering jams up even routine business, that was put aside and the building was dedicated on time in the honor of the officers. It wasn’t saving the world, but she never made it out to be. Her remarks were witty, beautiful, warm, and gracious. And they were filmed.

The actual speech makes Kelly’s remarks all the more disgusting. That he started off his recollection of Wilson by calling her an “empty barrel” is beyond the pale. Beyond being a member of Congress, she is a hero in her community. She helped mentor Johnson, the soldier who died in Niger, and has done the same with hundreds, perhaps thousands, of young people in Florida. She has a doctorate. She was a celebrated school principal. No woman should be called an “empty barrel” — that Kelly used that as his launching point was a gross insult to a woman with a distinguished life of public service.

Regardless what Rep. Wilson’s personal qualities may or may not be, she didn’t deserve to be treated so shabbily by the President and his Chief of Staff. There’s no requirement that they like or appreciate her…but neither did they have cause to lie about her in the craven, thorougly disrespectful manner they did.

This should have been about the service and sacrifice of SGT LaDavid Johnson. It should have been about the heartbreaking loss suffered by Myeshia Johnson, who’s now looking at life without her husband. Instead, the President, as is his default, made it about himself. John Kelly backed up his boss with a shameful and viciously dishonest attack of his own. It became about their desire to paint Rep. Wilson as “a money-grubbing, credit-hogging grandstander” who desired nothing more than to embarrass the President for his heartfelt condolence call to SGT Johnson’s widow.

In the end, what they’ve done is to underline their inhumanity and utter lack of compassion and decency. This is what happens when we elect narcissistic, thoroughly self-absorbed leaders with no soul, compassion, or integrity. It’s also what happens when soulless “yes men” are tasked with fluffing the Narcissist-in-Chief’s fragile ego.

Nice work, America.

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