I decided to let the John Kelly-Frederica Wilson flap marinate over the weekend before chiming in. I thought that something that started as a diversion from the mess in Niger might fade or that General Kelly would take the advice of medal of honor winner Colonel Jack Jacobs and apologize to Wilson for smearing her. If Kelly were really the moderate, competent man depicted by the MSM, he would have done so. Instead, he’s stuck by the lie he told about her while conceding that Trump said what Wilson said he said to Sgt. Johnson’s widow. (That’s a lot of saids in one sentence, he said.) Trump continues to deny it and spent the weekend depicting Rep. Wilson as a wacky hat-wearing nutjob as if she were a character on a bad sitcom.
What we’ve learned about John Kelly is that he’s a more polished version of his master. He views Rep. Wilson as a three-time loser: a black female Democrat who deserves derision for doing what he himself did, which was to listen in on Trump’s now infamous phone call to Myeshia Johnson. They both had permission to do so but as far as Kelly is concerned a mere civilian should not have intruded whereas he has the right as a retired General.
There were many disturbing things about Kelly’s press conference but one of the worst was this ode to an America that never existed:
It stuns me that a member of Congress would have listened in on that conversation. Absolutely stuns me. And I thought at least that was sacred. You know, when I was a kid growing up, a lot of things were sacred in our country. Women were sacred, looked upon with great honor. That’s obviously not the case anymore as we see from recent cases. Life — the dignity of life — is sacred. That’s gone. Religion, that seems to be gone as well.
Gold Star families, I think that left in the convention over the summer. But I just thought — the selfless devotion that brings a man or woman to die on the battlefield, I just thought that that might be sacred.
This sounds like either a bar room screed from an angry old white dude OR something overheard at a Trump rally. Women are sacred as long as they know their place, which Rep. Wilson clearly does not. Plus, she’s an uppity black woman who dares to blaspheme against a commander-in-chief who is better described as the pussy-grabber-in-chief. In Kelly’s world view, criticism of Trump is criticism of the troops. This is, of course, nuts as was Sarah Huckabee Sanders’ admonition:
“If you want to get into a debate with a four-star Marine general, I think that is something highly inappropriate.”
First, he’s a retired General. Second, debate is what one does in a democracy. Third, when did John Kelly become sacrosanct in a way that Generals Grant, Pershing, Eisenhower, or MacArthur never were? One would think that a Marine could take the heat, especially one who works for Donald Trump who is a screamer as well as a liar.
Like everyone else with any common decency, I was appalled by this mendacious and dehumanizing passage from Kelly’s presser:
And a congresswoman stood up, and in the long tradition of empty barrels making the most noise, stood up there and all of that and talked about how she was instrumental in getting the funding for that building, and how she took care of her constituents because she got the money, and she just called up President Obama, and on that phone call he gave the money — the $20 million — to build the building. And she sat down, and we were stunned. Stunned that she had done it. Even for someone that is that empty a barrel, we were stunned.
We subsequently learned that Rep. Wilson said nothing remotely like this and even if she had, it would not be improper. It’s the height of hypocrisy and the epitome of Trumper projection for the chief of staff to the braggingest man in the country to denounce someone else for braggadocio. Hypocrisy is one of the few things Team Trump is good at. I guess Kelly decided to play to their strength. #sarcasm.
I googled the phrase “empty barrel” since I was unfamiliar with it. It’s a surprisingly highfalutin reference for a man who works for a fucking moron:
Many credit Plato for bringing “empty barrel” into the vernacular: “An empty vessel makes the loudest sound, so they that have the least wit are the greatest babblers.” Some believe the proverb truly has Jamaican origins, while others credit it as Spanish. A book of world proverbs gives 21 variations of the expression.
Shakespeare channeled Plato in Henry V, writing, “I never heard so loud a voice issue from such an empty heart. It’s true what they say, the empty vessel makes the greatest sound.”
In short, it was Plato’s way of calling a loudmouth a loudmouth. That would make Trump the emptiest vessel of all. The odds of Trump knowing who Plato was are slim. He probably confuses Plato with Play-Doh…
Rep. Wilson has called Kelly’s use of the term empty barrel racist and, in context, it certainly is. It’s part of a pattern displayed by Trump and his lackeys of demeaning and dehumanizing minority and female critics. Trump and Kelly have sparingly used the names of Rep. Wilson and Myeshia Johnson while attacking them. They see them as uppity black women who should remain nameless because they don’t matter. So much for women being sacred.
There are many dreadful lessons to be learned from this dreadful mess. First, Team Trump’s response is the best illustration yet of its authoritarian proclivities, which is brilliantly explained in Masha Gessen’s eerily titled New Yorker piece, John Kelly and the Language of the Military Coup. Second, this is another example of this administration’s tendency to distract attention from a problem with something that is equally bad. I don’t recall anyone attacking gold star families before the Insult Comedian began running for office. As far as he’s concerned, it’s okay if they’re Muslim or African-American. Finally, Donald Trump is only president* of people who voted for him: nobody else matters. The fact that Frederica Wilson is a Johnson family friend means that they are not worthy of Trump’s compassion.
John Kelly is the latest in a long line of Trump dignity wraith. Trump is toxic: he destroys everything and everyone he touches. It conjures up another barrel related image: everyone who associates with Donald Trump sinks to the bottom of the barrel and becomes the dregs of our polity.