More than a week after White House staffer Kelly Sadler allegedly said that Senator John McCain, suffering from terminal brain cancer, is “dying anyway,” making his vote on CIA nominee Gina Haspel irrelevant, there remains no public apology.
No apology, though McCain’s daughter Meghan says Ms. Sadler promised one. No apology, though any decent public servant, any decent human being, would have clamored to give one. No apology, because this is the No Apology Administration, led by a man who once said, without a scintilla of remorse, that McCain is only “a war hero because he was captured. I like people who weren’t captured.”
We have grown both exhausted and accustomed. We are not surprised. We now both tolerate and expect, from our highest office, this decimation of decency.
And yet the sea of red “Make America Great Again” hats we witness at Trump rallies would have us believe differently.
As recently as last week, hardcore Trump supporters lined up outside for hours awaiting his rally in Elkhart, Indiana. Inside, the packed crowd cheered with abandon when he proclaimed, “America is being respected again!” He then touted his upcoming summit with North Korea, reminding us of his unique powers of persuasion while getting in his customary dig at the American free press. “You remember everybody in the fake news, when they were saying he’s going to get us into a nuclear war?” he said to boos. “And you know what gets you into nuclear wars, and you know what gets you into other wars? Weakness.”
Ah, the perception of weakness. Or, as we have come to know it, Trumpian kryptonite.
So long to doing what is decent, what is right. So long to the delicate and time-honored art of diplomacy. Like the offering of an apology, diplomacy in the Trump era means weakness, and if we know nothing else about our dear leader by now, we most certainly know this: he operates with a singular, destroy-the-enemy determination, and he reminds us of this regularly, as he did in his May 4 speech before an adoring NRA crowd when, after throwing a printed Wall Street Journal article theatrically to the ground, he bellowed, “I love fighting battles.”
And while he bellows and fights, Americans pay. We still can’t afford decent healthcare, mass shootings remain the norm, his proposed tariffs threaten farm exports, and we have withdrawn from our allies in everything from the Paris Climate Accord to the Iran Nuclear deal. Refugees trying to enter the U.S. illegally will soon be met with an unconscionable decree, family separation, because we are now people who rip children from the arms of their mothers as punishment. We even champion the importing of elephant trophies, which will no doubt increase their slaughter by uber-wealthy, big-game hunters, one of whom is the president’s own son. And for what?
“This is not who we are,” I often hear. And yet, our president’s own public appearances prove otherwise. More than a year post-election, while goading his supporters to scream at, or even spit at, the free press, he looks out upon that sea of red “Make America Great Again” hats along with t-shirts that still read things like “Trump that bitch” and “Hillary sucks but not like Monica.” And he revels in it.
I recall the story billionaire businessman Richard Branson told about meeting our future president back in the 1990s. “I thought we would have an interesting conversation about a whole range of issues,” Branson said, but “he just spent the whole lunch talking about five people he rung up to try to get help from … and how these people had refused to help him and how his life’s mission was to going to be to destroy these people.”
This is the man we elected President of our United States. This is, I would argue, exactly who we are.
On May 15, the president spent considerable time on Capitol Hill with Republican senators. Afterward, it was reported that no one—not a single lawmaker in the room—challenged him or even mentioned the “he’s dying anyway” comment about cancer-stricken war hero McCain or that a public apology would be the decent thing to do. How could they, a person inside the meeting reported, “He talked nearly the entire time.”