Many days after American soldiers died in Niger, Donald Trump finally decided to call the grieving widow of one of the lost soldiers. He bombed spectacularly, telling the widow her husband “knew what he was signing up for, but I guess it still hurt.” A car full of mourners heard the president disregard an American death because they should have seen it coming and been emotionally prepared.
Donald Trump, when faced with the natural outrage that followed his most recent stunning lack of basic human empathy, decided to attack Congresswoman Wilson, a longtime family friend of the deceased, on Twitter, labelling her account of the conversation as fake.
Democrat Congresswoman totally fabricated what I said to the wife of a soldier who died in action (and I have proof). Sad!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) October 18, 2017
As usually happens when Trump claims to have proof that vindicates his side of the story (see his threat of releasing tapes on James Comey which the White House ultimately conceded did not exist), Trump lied. He’s lied to the American people well over a thousand times; this one just so happened to concern a Gold Star family, a label which Trump has long disrespected.
To soothe things over, the administration trotted out Chief of Staff John Kelly, a retired general whose son died while serving the country. Kelly, faced with the impossible task of defending Trump’s callous and entirely heartless remarks, decided not to and instead resorted to the logical fallacy of whataboutism.
Whataboutism, a common propaganda technique, shifts focus from one wrong to another (whether real or imagined) to dilute outrage and signal loyal partisans that the offending party actually did nothing wrong, or is simply the lesser of two evils.
In Kelly’s case, he decided to attack the family friend and congresswoman present with the family during the phone call, saying “it stuns me that a member of Congress would have listened in on that conversation. Absolutely stuns me. I would have thought that was sacred.” What Kelly fails to mention, however, is that the family invited the congresswoman to listen to the call, putting it on speakerphone when all were together.
Kelly decried Wilson’s “selfish behavior,” but not the president’s callous remarks. He attacked a friend supporting a widow faced with raising children alone, but admitted that the president spoke without sympathy or empathy and offered no support in such a trying time.
John Kelly tried to create phony outrage by slandering a widow’s friend while letting the president off the hook for his ineptitude. That’s perfect whataboutism — shifting the focus from the president to the supposed evils of someone else.
It’s also a complete lie, and John Kelly knows it. He purposefully lied to the American people in an effort to help a man who said he prefers military members “who weren’t captured.”
Mr. Kelly, I must ask: What is wrong with you?