Today’s White House press briefing opened with Sarah Huckabee Sanders reading another reverent letter from a kid to Trump (which always sound more like something written by a Trump staffer than a kid), and things just went downhill from there.
Seven-year-old MacKenzie, of Dalton, Georgia was today’s enthusiastic Trump supporter. “I think you’re awesome,” she wrote, “in fact, I voted for you in my school election.”
Now, I have to stop here and mention that 7-year-old Mackenzie must go somewhere other than public school, because public elementary schools – at least, according to my experience – do not hold mock elections using the actual candidates for POTUS in a current election cycle… in fact, they’re typically advised NOT to do that because a.) it’s not considered best practice because it would b.) put teachers and/or administration at risk of being accused (or at least giving the perception) of possibly endorsing one candidate over the other, and c.) it would allow strong emotions and national political divide to seep into elementary school classrooms. How? Because second graders are too young to understand most political platforms and therefore just repeat whatever their parents are saying at home. Not to mention, the ire of national political divide has no place in public elementary school, but I digress…
Young Mackenzie continues, “I know you’re a busy man but if you could meet me, or at least see your office, it would make my day, and I would love to shake your hand. You’re our leader, a hero, and a great man, and I can’t wait to see you and help make America great again. Sincerely, Mackenzie, your biggest fan. P.S. If you would like, I can bring something to eat when I come. I’ve always heard food brings people together.”
Just once, I’d like them to read a piece of mail they’ve received that at the very least, questions them. I’m sure they get plenty of that kind of mail. It’s pretty gross how they choose to share this ego-stroking fan mail at press briefings.
Immediately afterwards, Sanders announced that she had already answered a number of questions regarding outreach efforts. She said today she thought it would be more appropriate to have the Chief-of-Staff, General Kelly, address some of the questions that were specific to outreach to Gold Star families. She said he’d address questions on that topic only, (subtext: we’re controlling today’s content) and if they had other questions, the press staff would be there after the briefing to answer them.
General Kelly began with a somber tone: “It is a more serious note so I just wanted to perhaps, uh, make more of a statement than an explana–give more of an explanation than what amounts to the traditional press, uh, interaction.” (Freudian slip with the word “explanation,” perhaps? I’m sure he finds himself explaining the President’s words A LOT.) He then began by stating how “most Americans don’t know what happens when we lose one of our soldiers (subtext: Trump doesn’t understand what happens when we lose one of our soldiers) …in combat, so let me tell you what happens.”
The picture Gen. Kelly portrayed was moving and he presented it to a silent, captive audience. His descriptions were chilling as he explained how first, “their buddies wrap them up in whatever passes as a shroud,” and they are taken by helicopter to one of two stops to be packed and re-packed in ice before ultimately landing at Dover Air Force Base. There, he explained, “Dover takes care of the remains, embalms them, meticulously dresses them in their uniform with the medals that they’ve earned, the emblems of their service, and then puts them on another airplane linked up with the casualty officer escort that takes them home.”
Gen. Kelly then took an odd moment to tout the movie, “Taking Chance,” a 2009 HBO American historical docudrama that depicts the process of bringing home fallen marine PFC Chance Phelps, who was killed under General Kelly’s command, right next to him.
Gen. Kelly continued, “while that’s happening, a casualty officer typically goes to the home very early in the morning and waits for the first lights to come on. And then he knocks on the door. Typically the mom and dad will answer, or wife, and if there is a wife this is happening at two different places, if the parents are divorced, three different places. And the casualty officer proceeds to… break the heart of a family member, and stays with that family until, well, for a long, long time, even after the interment. So that’s what happens.”
I was held captive, listening carefully at this moment. This was helpful to know. I never did know exactly how family members of fallen service-folks were notified. And General Kelly was certainly having a poignant, well-articulated moment here where I almost, almost wished for a moment “Can he be President instead?”
Kelly continued, “Who are these young men and women? There are the best 1% this country produces. Most of you, as Americans don’t know them. Many of you don’t know anyone who knows any of one of them. But they are the very best this country produces. And they volunteer to protect our country when there’s nothing in our country – anymore – that seems to suggest that self-service to the nation is not only appropriate but required.”
Now, here I was starting to get uncomfortable. It sounded like he was insulting all the average, every-day Americans who contribute in numerous, unmeasurable, countless other ways that also – though perhaps differently – have a lasting impact and legacy on our country.
“But that’s alright,” he quickly tossed out, as if he realized he was veering off track and trying to right himself.
Getting back to the topic at hand, Kelly continued, “Who writes letters to the families? Typically the Company Commander, in my case as a marine, the Company Commander, Battalion Commander, Regimental Commander, Division Commander, Secretary of Defense, typically the Service Chief, Commandant of the Marine Corps, and the President, typically writes a letter. Typically, the only phone calls the family receives are the most important phone calls they can imagine and that is from their buddies. In my case, hours after my son was killed his friends were calling us from Afghanistan, telling us what a great guy he was. Those are the only phone calls that really matter. The letters count, to a degree, but there’s not much that really can take the edge off for the family members going through it.”
So the subtext here was, “the President’s phone calls don’t matter to a grieving family. This whole thing is a non-issue.” Still, I was waiting for him to somehow address that Trump falsely accused President Obama of not having called families of fallen service-people, a claim that’s been widely disputed in just a couple of days.
“Some presidents have elected to call. All presidents, I believe, have elected to send letters,” he continued. “If you elect to call a family like this it is about the most difficult thing you can imagine.”
Well, here we go, I thought. This is it, the moment where he will say, “there’s no good/perfect/easy way to make those phone calls.” And then he said, “There’s no perfect way to make that phone call.” Predictable. But also, the subtext came across as go ahead right now and forgive Trump’s words, God bless him, he can’t help himself. He tries, but he just can’t help himself.
Kelly then said, “When I took this job, and talked to President….ah…” (uncomfortably long pause) “Trump… about how to do it… my first recommendation was he not do it” (subtext: because he’ll f*ck it up.) “Uh… because, it’s not the phone call that parents, family members are looking forward to. It’s nice to do in my opinion, in any event.”
Kelly admitted, “He asked me about previous presidents” (subtext: because he’s insecure in his job ability) “and I said I can tell you that President Obama, who was my Commander-in-Chief when I was on active duty, did not call my family. That was not a criticism. That was just to simply say, ‘I don’t believe President Obama called.'”
So, in my mind right now, I’m picturing Trump as the middle school gossip girl, who couldn’t wait to take something non-controversial you’d just said, something you’d neither assigned love nor hate to, put a decorative spin on it, and then tell everyone else to try and ruin your reputation in order to further her social standing. Okay, General Kelly, I hear you. I feel you, go on…
“That’s not a negative thing” Kelly said. “I don’t believe President Bush called in all cases. I don’t believe any president – particularly when the casualty rates are very very high – that presidents call. But I believe they all write. So when I gave that explanation to our President, three days ago, ahm… he elected… (I could see the struggle here on his face as he selected a euphemism for the phrase ‘defied my orders’) “he elected to make phone calls in the case of the four young men we lost in Niger at the earlier part of this month. But then he said, ‘y’know, what, how do you make these calls?'”
Okay, fair question. I can totally see a person – regardless of their stature – not knowing what to say in the given situation. However, this just serves as another reminder of why our Commander-in-Chief should not be lacking in the areas of empathy and candor, and why he should have a solid mastery of what basic, acceptable social interactions among human beings look and sound like.
“The call in question that he made were to four family members, the four fallen,” Kelly continued. “So he called four people the other day and he expressed his condolences – in the best way that he could” (again, God bless him, he knows not what he’s doing) “and he said to me, ‘what do I say?'”
“I said to him, ‘sir, there’s nothing you can do to lighten the burden on these families. But let me tell you what I’d tell them. Let me tell you what my best friend Joe Dunford told me, because he was my casualty officer.” It was evident here that this had become suddenly personal for General Kelly, almost too personal. He strained to not show any emotion.
It’s a pretty well-known fact that General Kelly is private about losing his son, Marine 1st Lt. Robert Kelly, who was killed in combat in Afghanistan. But today, all bets were off. Kelly continued, “He said, ‘Kell, he was doing exactly what he wanted to do when he was killed. He knew what he was getting into by joining the Mar— that one percent. He knew what the possibilities were because we’re at war. And when he died – the four cases we’re talking about in Niger and my son’s case in Afghanistan – when he died he was surrounded by the best men on this earth, his friends.'”
Leave it to Trump to hear that and think, “ooohhh that’s good,” but then manage to spit out his uniquely garbled version of what Kelly had said so eloquently. The message relayed by Trump to Myeshia Johnson, the widow, as confirmed by both Sgt. La David Johnson’s mother, Cowanda Jones-Johnson, and Congresswoman Wilson (a family friend who also happens to be their Representative), was received by all as disrespectful. They all heard Trump say, “He knew what he was signing up for, but I guess it hurts anyway.” Also, while speaking to Johnson’s widow, Trump never used his name. Rather, he referred to him as “your guy.”
However, Kelly pressed on. “That’s what the President tried” (and failed) “to say to four families the other day.” (Dear God, did he disrespect four families and not just the one?)
Then Kelly launched into the part where everything went to hell. What came next was bizarre, to say the least, but also was nothing short of hypocrisy and projection. “I was stunned when I came to work yesterday morning, and broken-hearted, at what I saw a member of Congress doing. A member of Congress who listened in on a phone call.”(subtext: what a deviant; she was listening in, she was spying!) From here, I’m just going to have to put all subtext in General Kelly’s voice, because I truly believe he was not saying out loud what he was really thinking. Either that, or he was hardcore projecting.
Kelly continued, “And in his way” (his deranged, anti-social way) “he tried” (and failed) “to express that opinion” (one I advised him not to make in the first place because he lacks empathy and a moral compass and cannot coherently express an emotion he’s actually devoid of) “that he was a brave man, a fallen hero, he knew what he was getting himself into – because he enlisted. There’s no reason to enlist. He enlisted. And he was where he wanted to be, exactly where he wanted to be, with exactly the people he wanted to be with when his life was taken. THAT was the message” (that Trump so miserably failed to get across). “That’s the message that was transmitted” (Okay I gotta step back in for this next part. Subtext here is either a. I understood, because I know the man very well, and I get what what he thinks he’s saying even if others don’t, or b., in saying “that’s the message that was transmitted,” Kelly meant that was the message that was transmitted from himself to Trump, only Trump got it wrong.)
Very passionately, Kelly then ranted, “It stuns me that a member of Congress would’ve listened in on that conversation. Absolutely stuns me.” (But remember, she’s not just a member of Congress, she’s a family friend, who was riding with the family to receive the body, and Trump’s call was on speakerphone in the limo). “And I thought, at least that was sacred. Y’know when I was a kid growing up, a lot of things were sacred in our country” (Oh brother, here we go again. This was a hearkening back to Trump’s #MAGA message that points to both no specific historical era and also a very specific non-existent rose-tinted historical era).
“Women were sacred, looked upon with great honor, that’s obviously not the case anymore as we see from recent cases.” (Kelly, did you grow up catholic, by chance? And also, let me connect you with the many, many recordings of horrible things Trump has said about women in general, because it seems like you haven’t heard them yet).
“Life, the dignity of life was sacred, that’s gone.” (Kelly, have you actually watched a full episode of The Apprentice?)
“Religion. That seems to be gone as well.” (Then maybe people who are religious, people who practice Christianity, for example, should take a good hard look at themselves and find out why they’re driving people out of churches in massive droves. You know, Ghandi said something like, “I like your Christ, I don’t like your Christians.” Good quote to reflect on here.)
“Gold Star families, I think that left in the convention over the summer.” (This sounds like insider information to me. I have no clue what this is about. I got nothing.)
“But I just thought, the selfless devotion that brings a man or a woman to die on the battlefield, I just thought, that that might be sacred.” (No one is disputing the sacredness of Sgt. La David Johnson here. This is a huge deflection. HUGE.)
With contempt Kelly then said, “and when I listened to this woman” (THIS. WOMAN. UGH. Say her name, damnit! She has a name!) “what she was saying and what she was doing on that TV, the only thing I could do to collect my thoughts was to go and walk among the finest men and women on this earth” (ok, we get it. You think they’re better than everyone else. NO REALLY, we get it.) “and you can always find them, because they’re in Arlington National Cemetery. I went over there for an hour and a half, walked among the stones, some of whom I put there, because they were doing what I told them to do when they were killed.” (By now I’m thinking this little speech is more for Kelly, speaking to himself, consoling himself over this mess he has somehow found himself in, always cleaning up Trump’s elephant loads of shit piles).
I won’t publish Kelly’s final remarks following his “I’ll end with this” comment, but suffice it to say, he lost all my respect in that moment. Party lines aside, I at least respected this man for seeming like a decent human being. But wanna talk about “politicizing?” That’s exactly what he spent the next two minutes doing, digging deep into his collective memory for some detail – any detail – to bring down this black congresswoman who merely shared the sentiments of over half of Americans right now: “Trump is rude and crass and should not be President.” General Kelly took those last moments to call Rep. Wilson an “empty barrel” and to misplace his anger on her, instead of on Trump, where it should be. Then he announced he’d only take a question or two from someone who was either a Gold Star family member, or someone who knew a Gold Star family. (what the actual hell? Since when did this become a requirement for the press corps?)
Before leaving the room, Kelly got one last dig in, a dig at the wrong people. He said, “we don’t look down upon those of you who haven’t served. In fact, we’re a little bit sorry. (He literally just said we don’t look down on you but we do look down on you.) “Because you’ll never have experienced the wonderful joy you get in your heart when you do the kind of things our servicemen and women do. Not for any other reason than they love this country. Just think of that. And I do appreciate your time.”
So, a couple things here. If Rep. Wilson had instead gone on the news and lavished praise on Trump’s phone call with Sgt. La David Johnson’s bereaved family, I’m sure General Kelly wouldn’t have come forward speaking of how “nothing is sacred anymore.” Trump’s staff would’ve printed a transcript and paraded it around like a kid who got their first ‘A’ on a spelling test. They would’ve published the phone call transcript on the White House website to prove how great of a job Trump’s doing at winning. Winning all the things. So this bizarre “statement/explanation” was exactly about misplaced, misdirected anger. Kelly isn’t mad at the Congresswoman from Florida. He’s mad at Trump. He’s mad at himself. And he needs a scapegoat.
And here again, we have yet another example to add to the large list at the intersection of misogyny and racism, where an old white guy with power is using his voice to talk over and silence a black woman with power.
And the fact is, this chaos has only erupted because Trump started it himself. That General Kelly even had to come to the podium and try to clean up this never-ending shitshow is a direct result of Trump’s anti-social behavior. Trump ignited it in the first place by deflecting (as usual) when asked on Monday if he would contact the families of the fallen, and rather than respond yes or no, Trump falsely accused President Obama of not having called families in the past.
Trump made the matter even worse on Tuesday when he threw General Kelly under the bus and directly made him part of the conversation by using Gen. Kelly’s slain son as a political pawn. (Which by the way, was a conversation Kelly wanted to keep private). So, General Kelly, and the entire Trump administration have no right to accuse Rep. Wilson of “politicizing” this. As usual, Trump is the one who politicized it from the start. And no amount of deflecting, diversion, projection, or misplaced anger can hide that.
I used to have some respect for General Kelly. After what I saw today, I no longer do. He could’ve covered for Trump’s socially awkward behavior and careless verbiage without attacking a black woman. That part was simply unnecessary. It demeaned everything else he said, and gave the impression that Trump is leading Kelly more than the other way around, as it’s supposed to be right now.
It twas extremely bizarre that Kelly’s theme of choice towards the end of the speech turned nostalgic as he tossed around various things he felt were no longer “sacred.” He thinks women are no longer sacred. What does that say about him? Why would he say that? We women haven’t really changed over the decades. We may be a bit louder, bolder, and more enlightened now, but that’s only because we’re still shouting for total equality that we haven’t yet achieved, because men haven’t yet changed. So why does he think women aren’t sacred anymore?
I could just as easily argue that Generals aren’t sacred anymore. There was a time when Generals didn’t run the White House simply because its occupants couldn’t control themselves. There was a time when Generals wouldn’t dare sink to the level of working for a man-baby like Trump. There was a time when our country could feel protected by servicemen & women. After seeing how General Kelly has sold his soul to the devil to protect Trump – to cover for the blatant lies, bullying, and other misbehaviors – I believe I know that Generals aren’t sacred anymore.
2 thoughts on “Today’s Bizarre White House Press Briefing, Annotated”
Thank you for this. I can’t bing myself to watch these press conferences anymore. I think your subtext additions were well written and a useful analysis of the situation. It hurts to see the shitstorm. But talking (or writing) helps
Well written!! I totally agree!!