(Widow Myeshia Johnson with her daughter at the coffin of her husband, Army Sgt. LaDavid T. Johnson)
Just moments before Chief of Staff John Kelly told the press his story about how Congresswoman Frederica Wilson (D-Florida), had debased a ceremony honoring two fallen FBI agents by indulging in self-aggrandizing comments about how she was responsible for the construction of the very building they were standing in… Just moments before labeling her as an “empty barrel” and refusing to even say her name… Just moments before Four Star General John Kelly tried his utmost to eviscerate the Congresswoman’s character, Trump’s Chief of Staff bemoaned the notion that so little was held sacred these days. Not conversations between presidents and grieving families, not women, not life, not religion, not gold star families.
Kelly’s attack on the African American Congresswoman was shocking. Never before had the General stepped into the swamp-rot of White House politics. Commentators were impressed by General Kelly’s strong defense of his boss. Yes, the newly minted Chef of Staff told the press, despite the President’s denial, he had indeed made awkward and inappropriate comments to the grief stricken widow, but who was Representative Wilson to have listened in, anyway? It turns out the Congresswoman was a family friend of the Johnson’s, sitting in the limo with them as they were driven to Dover Air Force Base to retrieve Army Sgt. LaDavid T. Johnson’s body. Johnson’s widow, Myeshia Johnson, had intentionally put the President on speaker phone so that everyone in the car could hear his condolences. But never mind about that, according to General Kelly, Congresswoman Wilson’s presence in that car at that moment were a stunning affront to all we hold sacred.
Of course we now know that the Chief of Staff’s story about Congresswoman Wilson’s comments on the podium of the Benjamin P. Grogan and Jerry L. Dove Federal Building were a lie. Wilson did not claim to get funding for the building’s construction, those glass towers in Miramar, Florida were slated to be built before Wilson was even in office. What the Congresswoman did say was that at the FBI’s request she worked with republican lawmakers to get the building named for the two fallen officers. It was a salute to their heroism. After which, she honored the agents in attendance by asking them to stand so that the audience could show their appreciation for their work and dedication to the United States of America.
Fortunately for the Congresswoman, there is video of this speech, unfortunately for the Congresswoman and the rest of the country, we live in the days of Trump where truth and accuracy are as malleable as mud.
In a press conference the following day, CBS News reporter Chip Reid asked White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders about Kelly’s “factual inaccuracies,” with regard to Congresswoman Wilson’s remarks at the 2015 meeting. Sander’s response was to slap down the truth. “If you want to get into a debate with a Four Star Marine General, I think that is highly inappropriate.”
While General Kelly bemoans the abstract and undefined notion that few things seem sacred in today’s society, he and the administration he works for are corrupting the very doctrine we have sent people into battle to defend — democracy, due process, a free press. In Trump’s America and in Kelly and Sanders’ adherence to it, we have no right to know the truth. No right to question power. No right to defend a family who feels offended by the President’s carelessness or worse, utter lack of empathy. No right to look behind the curtain or to tell the emperor he has no clothes. And if you are a woman, particularly a minority woman, no right to be heard, much less taken seriously.
General Kelly’s lie was an abuse of power. And Sarah Sanders reaction to this abuse, to warn a reporter away from pursuing the truth, was an abuse of our constitutional right to a free and fair press. If this were an isolated case, it might be easier to walk away. But it was not an isolated case. We are living with a regime that wants you and I to believe that the only thing that can be believed is what comes from the mouth of the President and his minions. If you challenge their version of reality, you will be bullied, you will be harassed, you will encounter the full wrath of an unstable leader and his henchmen and women. You will be able to add one more thing to Kelly’s list of things that are no longer sacred — the voice of reason.