Donald Trump's treatment of slain Green Beret Sgt. La David Johnson's widow has become one of the most sickening outrages of his presidency, and according to some, a revealing one. Even on its own, the incident exposes deep issues of character and empathy, but even more so in context.
Congresswoman Frederica Wilson (D-FL) recounted the cold details of Trump's call with Myeshia Johnson in several interviews, revealing that Trump told Sgt. Johnson's widow that “he knew what he signed up for,” and that the sobbing widow had to remind Trump of her late husband's name. Trump accused Rep. Wilson, and by extension the Johnson family, of “fabricating” the details of the call, and claimed he had “proof.”
That was, of course, a lie. It turned out that the only “proof” Trump had was a room full of underlings who allegedly thought the call went fine (none have said so publicly), none of whom disputed the quotes that have been attributed to Trump. Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders herself confirmed the detail that Trump did not use Sgt. Johnson's name on the call, and repeatedly refused to deny the other quotes:
PRZYBYLA: What exactly is the President denying? Is he denying that he ever spoke these words to the widow, “that he must have known what he signed up for”? Or is he just saying that she took it the wrong way and it was taken out of context, his words?
SANDERS: The President's call, as accounted by multiple people in the room, believe that the President was completely respectful, very sympathetic, and expressed the condolences of himself and the rest of the country, and thanked the family for their service, commended them for having an American hero in their family. And I don't know how you could take that any other way.
PRZYBYLA: So it was context. It wasn't that he didn't say those words. It was that the context — he felt that she put it in the wrong context. Is that it?
SANDERS: I'm not going to get into the back-and-forth.
As reprehensible as Trump's actions here have been, to include a disgustingly orchestrated smear of President Obama, Rep. Wilson also proposed an added motivation for Trump's treatment of Mrs. Johnson and her late husband:
“I don't think he has empathy for people who do not look like him. I don't think he pities or has sympathy for a grieving widow who doesn't look like him.”
Even notwithstanding Trump's history of overt racism, this incident alone would send my RAF-O-Meter™ into the red based solely on the confirmed fact that Trump repeatedly referred to Myeshia's late husband as “your guy.”
But lest you think I'm being too sensitive here, Shareblue's Oliver Willis flagged a disturbing pattern among the families who reported that they have not been called by Trump, versus the ones who have:
Sgt. Johnson was black.
Specialist Etienne J. Murphy died in Syria after a vehicle rollover. He was serving as part of Operation Inherent Resolve, the fight against ISIS. His mother told the Associated Press that even after she wrote to Trump and told him “some days I don’t want to live,” he never contacted her. [...] Specialist Murphy was black.
Euvince Brooks told the Washington Post that Trump has not contacted him after his son, Sgt. Roshain E. Brooks, was killed in Iraq. When Brooks saw that Trump claimed he contacted the families of all fallen soldiers, he was angry.
“I said to my daughter, ‘Can you teach me to tweet, so I can tweet at the president and tell him he’s a liar?” He added, “You know when you hear people lying, and you want to fight? That’s the way I feel last night. He’s a damn liar.” [...] Like Sgt. Johnson and Specialist Murphy, Sgt. Brooks was black.
According to The Washington Post, one white family reported not being contacted by Trump, but said they didn't want it to be held against him because their late son was a Trump supporter.
Trump has consistently greeted military deaths with silence or worse. During his second week on the job, he was absent from the Situation Room during a raid that claimed the life of U.S. Navy Seal Chief William “Ryan” Owens, instead spending that time trolling critics on Twitter. He stiffed another slain soldier's father on an offer of the relatively paltry sum of $25,000.00 until the media shamed him into making good on Wednesday. He dragged a Marine's sacred sacrifice into a political attack on President Obama.
But there is a difference in kind to the way he treated Mrs. Johnson and the other two families described in the Washington Post's report. And based on the way Sgt. Johnson's widow was treated, those who were ignored got the better end of the deal.