As Trump Mucks Up Comforting Army Widow, Bush Offers a Taste of Presidential Behavior

Former President George W. Bush. Alex Wong/Getty Images

John Kelly, the White House chief of staff, diverted attention from an extraordinary narrative Thursday when he spoke out in defense of amateur President Donald Trump.

Kelly tried to clean up another Trump mess that began with Trump’s awkward statements about four American servicemen killed in Niger.

A former Marine general and the father of a son killed in a different combat, Kelly spoke in granular detail of how deaths are handled in the armed forces. Then he bitterly attacked Congresswoman Frederica Wilson, a Florida Democrat who criticized Trump for his heavy-handed statements.

After implying on Monday that he is better than President Obama at comforting grieving relatives, Trump made a belated call to one of the families. But they were offended by Trump’s tone. Wilson heard the call in a car along with the wife and mother of the deceased, Sgt. LaDavid Johnson.

Kelly heard Trump’s end of the call in Washington.

“Selfish behavior,” Kelly said of Rep. Wilson. He compared her to an empty barrel which, he said, makes “the loudest noise.” (It just happens that the Congresswoman is African-American and female).

On The Last Word on MSNBC Thursday night, host Lawrence O’Donnell noted the tone of Kelly’s attack on Rep. Wilson.

“I was stunned, stunned, when I watched him dehumanize her and, very deliberately, continue to dehumanize her,” O’Donnell said, “and refused to give her the dignity of a name and call her an empty barrel. He went out of his way to do it.”

All this took much of Thursday’s news cycle away from unusually pointed statements earlier in the day by former President George W. Bush who, like Trump, is a Republican. Bush ripped Trump. Even Fox News Channel figured it out after Bush’s speech in New York.

“Bush didn’t mention Donald Trump by name,” said Fox reporter John Roberts, “but certainly seemed to be talking about the politics surrounding his election.”

Bush spoke at least of that. His remarks were carried live in the 11 a.m. hour only by Fox. CNN and MSNBC monitored the speech and hurried right afterward to rush highlights onto their air.

“We’ve seen our discourse degraded by casual cruelty,” Bush said. “At times, it can seem like the forces pulling us apart are stronger than the forces binding us together. We’ve seen nationalism distorted into nativism, forgotten the dynamism that immigration’s always brought to America.”

Much of the Trump agenda has included shout-outs to nativism and the use of immigrants as scapegoats. Bush seemed to push back.

“People of every race, religion (and) ethnicity can be fully and equally American,” Bush said. “Bigotry or white supremacy in any form is blasphemy against the American creed… Bigotry seems emboldened and politics seems more vulnerable to conspiracy theories and outright fabrication.”

Trump, among other things, said “some very fine people” supported neo-Nazis, Ku Klux Klan backers and white supremacists who marched last summer in Virginia. That weekend resulted in the death of one protestor who opposed the right-wingers who carried torches and chanted, “Jews will not replace us!”

At times, Bush seemed to refer to Trump’s angry Twitter tweets and off-hand comments that demean and disrespect anyone who disagrees with him. Trump likes to ridicule people with nicknames and to insult those he deems weak.

“Bullying and prejudice in our public life sets a national tone that provides permission for cruelty and bigotry,” Bush said.

On CNN, Anderson Cooper called Bush’s speech “a point-by-point takedown of Trumpism.” But on Fox, Karl Rove—known as “Bush’s Brain” when he worked for that administration—didn’t see the big deal.

“People who are talking about this being an attack on this or that public figure are just looking to make a food fight where no food fight exists,” Rove said.

Also on Fox was Ari Fleischer, once a press spokesman for Bush, who was president from 2001 through 2009. He suggested the media would exaggerate Bush’s message.

“It’s just so easy for the press to take swipes and that’s how they write these stories up,” Fleischer said.

Joe Lapointe spent 20 years as a sports reporter for The New York Times and worked as a segment producer for Countdown With Keith Olbermann. Recently, he has taught journalism at New York University, Rutgers and Long Island University-Brooklyn. follow him on twitter: @joelapointe

As Trump Mucks Up Comforting Army Widow, Bush Offers a Taste of Presidential Behavior