Despite the preponderance of evidence to the contrary, why would President Donald Trump start off this week with a continuation of his lies against Myeshia Johnson, the Gold Star widow of Sgt. La David Johnson?
Appearing on ABC’s “Good Morning America,” Johnson expressed the pain and emotions she felt when Trump called her to offer condolences after her husband was killed during a mission in Niger. She said the president’s tone was callous and that he didn’t call her husband by his name, referring to him as “your guy.”
Johnson also supported the account of the call made by Rep. Frederica Wilson (D-FL), who was in the car when Trump called and heard the conversation on a speaker phone. Wilson told reporters last week that Trump was insensitive when he told Johnson that her husband “knew what he was signing up for, but I guess it hurts anyway.”
Trump denied it all, essentially saying the Gold Star widow was a liar. “I had a very respectful conversation with the widow of Sgt. La David Johnson, and spoke his name from beginning, without hesitation!” Trump tweeted Monday morning.
What’s to be gained? How does the petty and petulant palaver from the President of the United States advance anything for the benefit of the nation? Or, for that matter, how does it benefit Trump to abuse his bully pulpit by lying about what he said and did to a Gold Star widow? Why won’t Trump merely apologize and let the matter gracefully disappear?
This is a mystery, worthy of Sherlock Holmes, currently captivating political Washington and distracting from the administration’s and Congress’ more pressing agenda. The chattering classes and media poobahs have noticed Trump’s anti-social behavior and some posed questions about what makes him run off the rails. So far, there’s no consensus or agreement about why he behaves as he does.
Yet, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, author of the Holmes mysteries, offers a wedge of insight into figuring out Trump’s motivations. Doyle, for example, once had his famous detective say, “Once you have eliminated all which is impossible, then whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth.”
Applying this Holmesian principle to The Case of Trump’s Combative Tweets, Nate Silver at FiveThrityEight deduced the president’s behavior is, at its core, “irrational, incompetent or bigoted.” He arrived at this conclusion by eliminating a series of rational possibilities.
One of those theories, which I’ve made on occasion, is that Trump makes outrageous and racist comments in a deliberate effort to rally his base of white supremacists. This seemed obvious in Trump’s embrace of white supremacists in the wake of the neo-Nazi, KKK and white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia in August, calling some of them “very fine people.”
Or, perhaps, Trump’s comments are, as Silver put it, “impulsive and primarily emotions,” suggesting a presidential personality that can’t tolerate criticism, especially from individuals and groups that aren’t white, male, and wealthy like himself. Witness, for example, Trump’s Twitter rants going after Rep. Wilson, the mostly black NFL player protests, ESPN anchor Jemele Hill, former Fox News anchor Megyn Kelly, San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz, and, particularly resonant in the current case, Gold Star parents Khizr and Ghazala Khan.
Silver acknowledges these theories aren’t mutually exclusive. “But the theories are in conflict because they’re about the intent and motivation for Trump’s behavior and not necessarily its effects,” Silver writes.
[J]ournalists come up with overly convoluted explanations for Trump’s behavior (“This seemingly self-destructive emotional outburst is actually a clever political strategy!”) when simpler ones will suffice (“This is a self-destructive emotional outburst.”). . . . One can understand why journalists who rely on having close access to Trump avoid explanations that portray Trump as being irrational, incompetent or bigoted. But sometimes they’re the only explanations that make sense.
For those of us in Washington, and I suspect for concerned people well beyond the Beltway, across this nation and around the globe, trying to fathom Trump’s mind is a deadly serious and risky business. But for those who aren’t blinded by the truth, it’s elementary. Trump’s stubborn deceit about the pain and suffering of a Gold Star widow reflects the cruel, cold heart of a bullying bigot.
Or, as Sherlock Holmes once said: “There’s nothing more deceptive than an obvious fact.”