Quick Hit: Trump, Atlantic, McCain, Kelly
How Trump's ongoing resentment of McCain reveals unintended truths.
The Atlantic’s landmark report yesterday on Trump’s treatment of military veterans living and dead was not so much a bombshell as it was a comprehensive survey of a bombed-out landscape.
Much of what was compiled for the article had been reported on previously, and much of it had even played out fully in the public eye. Where the story went deep was in getting Trump staffers to confirm things that had been speculated or whispered about and to add fresh new personal details.
That the story is true is beyond question. Multiple reporters from other outlets, including the AP and also Fox News, have gotten corroboration from the same or similar sources.
What I find revealing in this is how Donald Trump’s reaction, to me, just backs up the portions about the drama he created around John McCain’s funeral.
Now, bearing in mind that so much of his disrespect towards McCain was public — he publicly questioned the label of hero in exactly the same terms the article describes him using with regards to other military personnel, he proudly retweeted reporting on him calling McCain a loser, and we watched the White House flags bungee jumping up and down after McCain’s death — I would like to call attention to the way he describes the funeral preparations for McCain.
Pointing out they had to be approved by him and making a big deal out of having done so “without hesitation or complaint”, especially given the larger context, strikes me as the language of aggrieved resentment.
“Did I complain? No! I didn’t say a word.” is the language of somebody who definitely had complaints to air, and probably did, and is technically still airing them. He didn’t say he was happy to do so, or proud, or even insist that it was all routine and never for a second in question. He’s presenting himself as the chokepoint in the process, letting us know that he could have held it up, but he didn’t.
Now, I make absolutely no predictions of this being “the thing that sinks Trump” or even sticking much more than anything else, especially since so much of it had a chance to stick before and didn’t do lasting harm to his electoral chances.
I have a feeling which I would call more an intuition than anything I could reason out that this might cost him some votes but I don’t want to count on any effect lasting all the way to November.
Ultimately, this is a story that confirms what we already knew about Trump… both things about his general character and specific events, like the rained-out cemetery appearance. I think it resonates with a lot of service members — particularly marines — because it speaks to things they have suspected, felt, or feared about the current commander-in-chief.
Whether that translates to different choices at the ballot box is an open question. The standard, all-purpose denial of “fake news” is already doing its usual job, and the Donald the Dove takes were already circulating on Twitter yesterday, with some managing to suggest with a straight face that Donald was offering a principled philosophical objection to the costs of war being born by those less privileged.
If this fails to move the needle in any significant fashion, it will be one more confirmation of something I have long believed: nothing, generally speaking, can change a person’s mind except for the person whose mind it is.
Trump’s base and the people who don’t like him but are depending on him to defend the Republican stranglehold on the government don’t want to change their minds about him now, not with the election on the line. They’ll continue to believe what they want to believe.
If you doubt the power of this phenomenon, consider this excerpt from the Atlantic piece:
Trump was meant, on this visit, to join John Kelly in paying respects at his son’s grave, and to comfort the families of other fallen service members. But according to sources with knowledge of this visit, Trump, while standing by Robert Kelly’s grave, turned directly to his father and said, “I don’t get it. What was in it for them?” Kelly (who declined to comment for this story) initially believed, people close to him said, that Trump was making a ham-handed reference to the selflessness of America’s all-volunteer force. But later he came to realize that Trump simply does not understand non-transactional life choices.
When Donald Trump disparaged his son to his face and at his son’s grave, as part of a larger pattern of similar dismissive and insulting treatment, Kelly’s response was to try to wank the words away into something positive and meaningful, to interpret them as clumsy praise for the valor of the fallen.
Kelly has since soured on Trump, though perhaps not enough to override his party loyalty or his reverence for the sacred chain of command and convince him to come forward and corroborate these events publicly, but that’s what we’re dealing with from the people who are still on board with him. That level of abject denial and that level of ability to carry water in defense of the indefensible.
We’re only a couple of months out from the election, but it’s going to be a long couple of months.