Look, White House Chief of Staff John Kelly’s press conference — see the transcript here — was emotionally powerful today. I think it’s grotesque that he felt that he had to go out and make a statement about this political fight over Gold Star families, given that he lost a son in the war. But he made a good point about how rotten it is to politicize this stuff. He also made a glancing reference to his boss, President Trump, doing this by attacking the Khan family at the convention.
The best thing Gen. Kelly said was that calling families of dead soldiers is extremely difficult, and that it’s hard to know what the right thing to say is. What I heard the general saying, in effect, was that we ought to give Trump some grace, because it is a hard, hard thing to do. I think he’s right about that.
But do notice that Gen. Kelly did not deny that Trump said what he said. I think Michael Cohen is correct here:
7) But here's the ugly part: at no point today did Kelly or the WH apologize to Myeshia Johnson or the family of Sgt. Johnson
— Michael Cohen (@speechboy71) October 20, 2017
Look, it’s not the end of the world. Still, the graceful thing to have done, even in context of deploring the politicization of Gold Star families, would have been to express apology to Sgt. Johnson’s widow for upsetting her, even if it was unintentional. That’s what normal people do. President George W. Bush listened while a woman whose brother died in Iraq screamed at him, and then hugged her to console her. He did not lash out. Because whatever his flaws, he is a decent man.
But not Donald Trump. He is too proud ever to admit error, even though in the case of war widow Myeshia Johnson, it would have made him a bigger man. Every man learns in the first year or two of marriage that you apologize when you’ve hurt your wife’s feelings, even though you didn’t mean to. You’re not showing that you necessarily think you’re wrong on the merits; you’re showing that you care about the feelings of your wife, and that you did not mean to hurt her. It’s harder for some of us to learn than for others — ahem — but learn it you do. Eventually, you may learn to treat other people like that, out of ordinary human compassion.
Our president is no ordinary human, as I’m sure he would be the first to tell you.
It is a damn shame that Gen. Kelly has allowed himself to be dragged down into the mud. It’s going to happen to all of them eventually. Peggy Noonan on Trump and the Gold Star drama:
He thwarts himself daily with his dramas. In the thwarting he does something unusual: He gives his own supporters no cover. They back him at some personal cost, in workplace conversations and at family gatherings. They are in a hard position. He leaves them exposed by indulging whatever desire seizes him—to lash out, to insult, to say bizarre things. If he acted in a peaceful and constructive way, he would give his people cover.
Mr. Kelly was moving, fully credible, and as he spoke you had the feeling you were listening to a great man. It was unfortunate that when the controversy erupted, the president defaulted to anger, and tweets. News stories were illustrated everywhere by the picture of the beautiful young widow sobbing as she leaned on her husband’s flag-draped casket. Those are the real stakes and that is the real story, not some jerky sideshow about which presidents called which grieving families more often.
UPDATE: I’m going to type words I have never typed before: Dan Rather is right. A couple of you have linked to this text from his Facebook feed:
This is what happens when you lose credibility. This is what happens when you lie repeatedly about issues big and small. This is what happens when you foment divisions and show no remorse. This is what happens when your words have no meaning. You lose the benefit of the doubt.
Today John Kelly, the White House Chief of Staff issued an emotional defense of President Donald Trump’s phone call to the widow of a fallen soldier. He opened up about the death of his own son in combat. He claimed that Mr. Trump was being sensitive. He said he hadn’t meant to criticize previous presidents when he said he wasn’t sure if they made calls to the fallen. He criticised the conclusion of a Democratic congresswoman who shared her vantage point of the call. Everything that Mr. Kelly said may be true. Or maybe not. This could fall legitimately in the grey area of different interpretations, at least in cases where the president isn’t Donald Trump.
Why did millions of Americans jump to the conclusion that Mr. Trump was criticizing President Obama with his words? Because that is what Mr. Trump always does, including questioning whether President Obama was a real American. Why did millions of Americans not trust Mr. Trump’s denials about what he said and that he had proof? Because Mr. Trump repeatedly lies about what he says and what he means. Why did millions of Americans assume that Mr. Trump could not feel empathy for the death of Sgt. La David T. Johnson? Because he has shown no empathy for the people of Puerto Rico still suffering from a hurricane without power or safe drinking water. Why did millions of Americans think that Mr. Trump could disrespect American servicemen and women? Because he attacked a war hero and a Gold Star Family during the presidential campaign.
The impression of Mr. Trump that fueled the narrative around this phone call is one for which Mr. Trump has only himself to blame. General Kelly has served with distinction and honor. He has born grave personal sacrifices. He has every right to speak in the manner he did today. But he also has to understand that while millions of Americans may be inclined to believe his sincerity and character, they have long since given up on those attributes when it comes to his boss.
Yes elections have consequences. But so do words and deeds.
UPDATE.2: And now, video shows that Gen. Kelly mischaracterized (or, if you prefer, lied about) what the obnoxious Congresswoman said. This whole thing is so unbelievably disgraceful.