Donald Trump will never stop serial lying, because it’s embedded in his low character. It’s a reflex, like an eye twitch. It’s what he does to compensate for his abysmal sense of self. But on rare occasions — Monday, for instance — his lies are challenged in real time and we get the chance to see him squirm.
Hey, it’s better than nothing.
During an impromptu press conference in the Rose Garden with fake best friend Mitch McConnell, Trump was compelled to explain why he had gone 10 days without saying or tweeting a word about the deaths of four U.S. Special Forces soldiers who were killed on patrol in Niger earlier this month. (On the day one of the bodies arrived back in America, he played golf; during his 10 days of silence, he played golf five times.) He replied that letters to the grieving families “have been sent — or they’re going out tonight,” that he wanted “a little time to pass,” and that “I will at some point” call the families.
That response was lame, but what he said next — it’s a reflex, folks — was a lie:
“So the traditional way, if you look at President Obama and other presidents, most of them didn’t make calls, a lot of them didn’t make calls. I like to make calls …”
Knowledge is not one of Trump’s strong suits. If he or his staffers had done an scintilla of homework, by checking with counterparts in the Obama and previous administrations, they would’ve quickly learned that presidents do make such calls (as Obama Pentagon chief Leon Panetta points out), but they typically don’t publicize what is best kept private.
And, just as importantly, presidents often meet with grieving family members in person. One Gold Star mother recalls that she met with Obama and “cried all over his suit.” The press reported in December 2009 that Obama went to Arlington National Cemetery “in a bone-chilling drizzle” and hugged graveside visitors to the burial area for soldiers killed in Iran and Afghanistan. Photos show Obama saluting coffins arriving at Dover Air Force Base. George W. Bush comforted grieving families at military hospitals, even the mothers who got mad at him.
As Gen. Martin Dempsey, a former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, tweeted yesterday, “POTUS 43 & 44 and first ladies cared deeply, worked tirelessly for the serving, the fallen, and their families. Not politics. Sacred trust.”
Working tirelessly on behalf of others, especially those who have suffered extreme misfortune, is not Trump’s metier; his reflex is to spout fake news, to take others down in order to build himself up. Hence his lie Monday. But fortunately, he didn’t get away it. Late in the press conference, he was confronted with his remark that Obama didn’t call the families. He was asked, “How can you make that claim?”
His response — a motley of weasel words, the equivalent of slamming a car in reverse at 60 mph:
“I don’t know if he did. No, no, no. I was told that he didn’t often … President Obama I think probably did sometimes and maybe sometimes he didn’t. I don’t know. That’s what I was told. All I can do is ask my generals.”
So, as it turns out, he didn’t know what he earlier had professed to know. And what he had known, or thought he knew, was supposedly told to him by someone else — because, as we know, Trump never deserves the blame for anything, it’s always someone else’s fault. Although, in this case, the blameworthy person may well be fictional. Which is something we’ll probably never know, because we’re already moving on …
But no so fast! Gregg Popovich, the iconic NBA leader of the San Antonio Spurs known as “Coach Pop,” who served five years in the U.S. Air Force and later coached at the Air Force Academy, phoned into a podcast Monday with some words of wisdom:
“(Trump’s) comments today about those who have lost loved ones in times of war and his lies that previous Presidents Obama and Bush never contacted their families, is so beyond the pale, I almost don’t have the words. This man in the Oval Office is a soulless coward who thinks that he can only become large by belittling others. This has, of course, been a common practice of his, but to do it in this manner — and to lie about how previous presidents responded to the deaths of soldiers — is as low as it gets. We have a pathological liar in the White House: unfit intellectually, emotionally, and psychologically to hold this office, and the whole world knows it.”
Thanks, military vet. I’ll simply add that if Trump truly wants to be accurate, he can certainly brag that no previous president has ever comforted hurricane victims by wrist-flicking paper towels. That superlative will stand the test of time.