Donald Trump might be the least articulate president of the modern era, by which we mean since most Americans owned radios and TVs and thus occasionally heard their president speak.
So we’re not shocked that things went awry when Mr. Trump decided to make a phone call which requires not only exquisite eloquence but the utmost in tact — another skill for which the president has not displayed much flair.
And yet the controversy over the president’s phone call to the widow of Sgt. La David Johnson, a Green Beret killed in Niger, Africa, on Oct. 4, seems to us the sort of salacious political scuffle that serves only to divert attention away from the ultimate sacrifice that Johnson and three other American soldiers made.
To be sure, Trump, as is his wont, is partially responsible for the recent intense scrutiny of how presidents console relatives of servicemen and women killed in combat. Trump bragged about his commitment to making phone calls to bereaved relatives, and he suggested that his predecessor, Barack Obama, hadn’t been as attentive.
This is the sort of unnecessary, unprovoked and unwarranted verbal attack for which Trump is prone.
But we think those adjectives also aptly describe what Congresswoman Frederica Wilson, a Democrat from Florida, did after Trump’s phone conversation with Johnson’s widow, Myeshia.
Wilson was riding in a car with Myeshia and other members of Johnson’s family when the soldier’s widow received the call from the president. Although Wilson didn’t hear the actual conversation, she told reporters that Trump, in talking with Myeshia Johnson, said something similar to “you know that this could happen when you signed up for it ... but it still hurts.”
Wilson, who has been among Trump’s more vociferous critics, said Johnson’s wife and other relatives considered the president’s words disrespectful to the soldier’s memory.
Wilson’s intention here is obvious — she wants people to believe that Trump’s character flaws are so severe that he intentionally inflicted emotional pain on a family that was already suffering intensely.
We understand the antipathy many people have for the president, but Wilson’s implication is absurd.
The likely explanation for Trump’s statements to Johnson’s widow — beyond his aforementioned difficulty in coming across as empathetic — became much clearer after White House Chief of Staff John Kelly made an impassioned statement Thursday at the White House.
Kelly, a retired three-star general whose son, Robert, was killed in Afghanistan, said Trump had asked him about telephoning families soldiers killed in combat. Kelly said he advised Trump not to make the calls because nothing he could say would ease the families’ pain.
But when the president insisted that he wanted to make such calls, Kelly said he told Trump what Gen. Joseph Dunford, who’s now the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told Kelly after his son was killed. Kelly recalled that Dunford told him his son “was doing exactly what he wanted to do when he was killed. He knew what the possibilities were because we’re at war.”
Kelly said he believes that’s the message Trump was trying to convey to Johnson’s family. This seems patently obvious, no matter that Trump failed.
Trump has said or tweeted many things which are ripe for criticism; we don’t doubt that he’ll continue to do so. But it’s unconscionable to make spurious claims about the president’s motives when the subject is not proposed legislation or NFL protests, but the death of an American hero.