I had mixed feelings watching Wednesday as the Donald Trump White House walked back his ludicrous, false and self-serving claim that Congresswoman Frederica Wilson had lied about a conversation between the president and the widow of a fallen soldier from Miami Gardens who he said “must have known what he signed up for.”
It was a little bit exciting, I must admit. And vindicating. And hopeful. Because Trump, or his administration, was finally forced to go from doubling down on twitter and beating his chest with “I have proof” that she lied to “I was misunderstood” and/or “taken out of context” after the national media picked up the story and the soldier’s widow and mother confirmed the congresswoman’s recounting.
But it was also a little bit nauseating. And infuriating. And sad. Because many if not most of his outraged supporters kept insisting on Facebook and Twitter that Wilson was the one who lied, attacking her with memes ridiculing her cool signature hats and calling her crooked. And none of them have expressed the same, or any actually, outrage at the multiple times Trump said she lied and had the “proof” to boot.
“Democrat Congresswoman totally fabricated what I said to the wife of a soldier who died in action (and I have proof). Sad!” That was his tweet Wednesday morning.
He later reiterated his lie and dared her to repeat it: “I didn’t say what that congresswoman said. Didn’t sy it all. And she knows it,” Trump told a reporter later that day. “I had a very nice conversation with the woman, with the wife who was — sounded like a lovely woman. Did not say what the congresswoman said, and most people aren’t too surprised to hear that.”
This sad episode for the poor, emotionally exhausted family of Sgt. La David Johnson is, however, the perfect example of what Ladra finds the scariest thing about the Trump presidency: His die-hard fan base and their blind, knee-jerk, defend-him-at-all-costs campaigns that use smear tactics to discredit anybody that has the nerve to say anything except how great he is.
Remember how San Juan Mayor Yulin Cruz Soto nearly cried on live television after Hurricane Maria ravaged Puerto Rico last month, literally begging Trump to step up and “save us from dying.” It sort of reminded Ladra of Kate Hale when the former Miami-Dade Emergency Operations Management director also criticized the federal response after Hurricane Andrew hit South Florida in her famous “where the hell is the cavalry” speech. Nobody villified Hale. Nobody said she was politically motivated. Hale was a hero as far as anybody was concerned.
But not Cruz Soto. Despite the fact that she was wading in waist high water, personally looking for survivors, while Trump played golf and insulted her on the internet, she was demonized. Immediately — as people on the island still struggled a week after Maria to get clean water to drink — she was attacked as a leftist Democrat who was only critical of Trump to help her party and build her profile so she could run for governor. After all, how could things really be so bad in Puerto Rico if she had the time and resources to get a custom t-shirt printed with “we are dying” and another one with the word “nasty” after Trump’s critical Cruz Soto tweetstorm? Huh? Huh? They lambasted her for vacationing in Cuba in 2015, even though Trump toyed with doing business there, and called her a socialist because she has supported labor unions, which are more American than hot dogs.
To top it all off, they accused her of hoarding relief supplies in her home instead of distributing them to her desperate constituents, which is as fake news as it can get. Today, a month after Maria landed on the island, there are people still posting that Yulin Cruz Soto has been or is about to be “impeached” by the city council for “stealing hurricane supplies.”
Why don’t they just call her a whore and get it over with? Oh, I know. Because they have moved on.
The target del dia is Wilson, who was in the limousine when Myeshia Johnson, the soldier’s widow, took the call from Trump and put him on speakerphone. “She was crying the whole time, and when she hung up the phone, she looked at me and said, ‘He didn’t even remember his name.’ That’s the hurting part,” Wilson was quoted as saying.
“He was almost like joking. He said… something to the effect that ‘he knew what he was getting into when he signed up, but I guess it hurts anyway.’ You know, just matter-of-factly, that this is what happens. Anyone who is signing up for military duty is signing up to die,” Wilson said, communicating what the whole family, who she has known for years, was feeling.
“That’s the way we interpreted it. It was horrible. It was insensitive. It was absolutely crazy, unnecessary. I was livid,” Wilson said.
As most of us were when we heard about it. Except the Trumpistas who cannot ever see anything the president does as bad or wrong. Like he said during the campaign, he could “shoot someone and not lose any voters.” By gosh, I think he was right.
After all, it was only a few days ago that Trump suggested he is doing a better job of honoring war dead by saying he is the only president who had called the families of all the fallen soldiers and said or implied that previous presidents, specifically Barack Obama, had not done that. He went so far as to invoke the dead son of his chief of staff, John Kelly, who was killed in Afghanistan in 2010. Well, several families have already come forward to say that they did, indeed, get calls from Obama. And at least four families who have lost loved ones in the military since Trump was elected have said he did not call them. Trump has not apologized for or acknowledged these lies — told hastily and under pressure when he was asked why was waiting so long to call the families of Sgt. Johnson and three other fallen soldiers after they were ambushed in Niger Oct. 4 by militants believed to be linked to ISIS. That’s bad but it’s come to be expected of the narcissist manchild devoid of any empathy.
Karen Meredith, who lost her son in Iraq, bristled at his remarks and said they were “disgraceful” and “unbecoming.” In a statement, the Gold Star and Military Families coordinator for VoteVets said, “This is not about you, it is about them. It is about all of us who lost our loved ones in war. For once in your life, please stop making everything about you. For once in your life, at least pretend to know what empathy is. For once in your life, at least try to care about other people and their feelings.”
You kind of expect Trump supporters to attack her, too, and dig up something awful she did or said in college, don’t you?
By late afternoon Wednesday, the White House walked back its insistence that Wilson had lied and said the president was simply misunderstood — all the while still insisting that the congresswoman took advantage of a sacred moment for political purposes. “This is a president that loves our country very much,” his spokeswoman said, changing the narrative, “who has the greatest level of respect for men and women in uniform, and wanted to call and offer condolences to the families. To try to create something from that, which the congresswoman is doing, is, frankly, appalling and disgusting.”
That gave license to the Trumpistas to continue their campaign, some questioning why she was there in the first place. “Why was crooked Fredricka there when the president called? She orchestrated the entire scheme. Disgusting,” one woman wrote in TrumpTweet style on her Facebook page.
Well, because she has known this family for years, since he was a member of her 5000 Role Models of Excellence Project mentorship program, which she started at the Miami-Dade County School Board. She is probably the one who got the limo to take them to Miami International Airport to receive Sgt. Johnson’s remains. It probably comforted them to have her there.
How is it possible that it is easier for these people to continue to attack the congresswoman than to admit that their beloved president made a mistake or said something wrong? This is not so unique or even terrible — if he admits it. What he said could, indeed, have been a clumsy attempt to give Johnson’s death some meaning, to provide some comfort to the family about Johnson being where he wanted to be. How many of us have not said the wrong thing at a funeral or memorial service? I know I have. I once told the boyfriend of a dear friend who took her own life that maybe I could have done something if I had reached out. Of course, immediately it ocurred to me that it may have sounded like I was saying I could have done more than he and I clumsily apologized in tears. He embraced me and said he understood. Nobody was hurt. It’s hard to come up with the right words in these circumstances. People understand that.
Trump could have done that. He could have apologized as soon as it was brought to his attention that it was taken the wrong way. He could have said, “You know, what I said sounded terrible. I’m sorry. It didn’t sound that way in my head but I can understand why you might have been hurt. Please forgive me. It’s difficult to find the right words.” Man, he would have been a hero. Even I would have had to stand up and take notice.
Instead he lies and lies to defend himself. And his legion of supporters lie even more so they can continue to laud him. They won’t call him out on anything.
Not even on the other Gold Star widow in Indiana who told reporters Wednesday that she was still waiting for Trump’s call after her husband was killed in Afghanistan — over the summer. Whitney Hunter stayed by the phone for days after military officers told her to wait for the president’s call. But it never came.
I’m waiting for Trumpistas to call Hunter a liar and post memes insulting her tomorrow.