Or, Van Jones, what the fuck is wrong with you?
President Donald J. Trump enjoyed the first two minutes of love during his young but embattled administration during Tuesday’s prime time State of the Union-style speech to a joint session of Congress.
The administration, which has thus far been pockmarked by a steady flow of lies (there were 13 whoppers in total during his hour-and-change speech), totalitarian aspirations in a Burger King uniform, the egregious draining of the public dialogue into racism, sexism and nationalism, reductive reasoning (stronger military! Tax breaks! Vouchers for Jesus Rode Dinosaurs or Death Metal academies to replace public schools!) and a constant stream of embarrassing tweets that have led to therapists and eye-twitch specialists billing more in 2017 thus far than all of 2015 and 2016 combined …not to mention ketchup on steak.
But the evening’s most memorable, and most dissected in the aftermath moment, was Trump’s masterful shout out to Carryn Owens, the widow of William “Ryan” Owens, the Navy SEAL killed during the Trump administration’s first counterterrorism operation, a badly botched Jan. 29 attack on an al-Qaeda stronghold in Yemen’s Bayda province that yielded no captures or intel and resulted in Owens’s death as well as the deaths of more than 30 civilians including women and an eight-year-old girl.
Owens applauded and tried to hold tears back as the president belabored a tribute to her husband. Trump, a master showman, milked the moment for an applause line and then did what he does best — he made an innocent woman cry. “Ryan died as he lived: a warrior, and a hero, battling against terrorism and securing our nation,” he said.
Even Democrats, including the congressional Dem women who all wore white in protest and a nod to women’s suffrage, applauded. Because, military.
Then he kept it going.
After the first half minute, Owens, who was seated next to first daughter Ivanka Trump, mouthed “thank you.” The applause ebbed but Trump persisted. After a minute, the widow Owens’s waterworks started and the president, in a creepy way only he knows, now had his eyes locked on her as he continued to milk applause.
Trump wouldn’t release his gaze for an interminable 42 additional seconds, doing the sadness version of a joke that’s not funny anymore that becomes funny again, then hilarious.
The consummate carnival barker and king of crowd control ended the exchange with an exploitative, “And Ryan is looking down, right now, you know that,” he said, pointing at the SEAL’s wife. “And he’s very happy because I think he just broke a record.”
You know, making a loss so tragic, and one that he himself could have prevented, all about him.
Pundits from both sides of the political spectrum praised the political theater and exploitation tactic as presidential. Even Van Jones jumped on the Trump Train Tuesday night calling the exchange “one of the most extraordinary moments you have ever seen in American politics, period” and lauded the interminable call-out as the moment Trump “became president of the United States.”
Beyond the fact that Trump put a grieving woman in the national spotlight and bubbled up her feelings for his own political gain, Trump earlier Tuesday did not hold himself accountable for the failed mission. Every modern president from FDR through Obama has had fuck-ups — Bay of Pigs, Beirut, Bosnia, Hurricane Katrina and Iraq, Benghazi …and of course, Obama’s dad jeans — and all have taken responsibility.
Trump failed his first major test to act presidential. Ordering a raid that was ill-advised and ill-fated and putting soldiers and civilians in harm’s way is one thing. But refusing to put the failure on his own shoulders is something else entirely. Then, on top of that, turning around and using the moment to curry favor is …unconscionable.
On Tuesday, during a Fox News interview just hours before his speech, Trump said the Yemen mission planning “was started before I got here,” casually dismissing his involvement as if the generals already had it on their Outlook calendars like Friday cake in the conference room. It was “something that was, you know, just — they wanted to do,” he said. “And they came to see me and they explained what they wanted to do, the generals, who are very respected. And they lost Ryan.”
Operative word, they.
Trump is correct that the raid did result in Ryan’s death, as well as loss of dozens of aforementioned civilian lives and the destruction of a $75 million aircraft all because he ordered the operation without sufficient intelligence or ground support.
Had Trump deigned to be in the Situation Room for his maiden voyage of sending soldiers to their death, a call out of Owens and a tribute to his service may have been appropriate during his first major address. But as it is, the president signed off on the raid without much (or any) knowledge of the details, did not take responsibility for its failure and was even tweeting about his favorite subject, FAKE NEWS, as real lives were ending abroad at his behest.
Somebody with aptitude and conviction should buy the FAKE NEWS and failing @nytimes and either run it correctly or let it fold with dignity!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 29, 2017
Conspicuously absent Tuesday night was Owens’s father, Bill Owens. The elder Owens refused to meet with Trump in February at Dover Air Force Base when family members had gathered to receive his son’s remains. Owens has questioned the necessity and the timing of the operation and demands a full investigation.
You know, like Benghazi.
Instead of an investigation, we are treated to an exploitation of the tragedy for political gain and “one of the most extraordinary moments you have ever seen in American politics.”
To me, it was one of the saddest.