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.