As reported widely (here as well), Donald Trump visited a friendly audience of workers at an army tank factory in Ohio on Wednesday. Because some synapse in his brain must have connected “tank factory” with “military,” Trump proceeded to spew the first thoughts about the “military” that popped into his head, and it didn’t go well.
That’s because, apparently, when Trump thinks of the “military,” he thinks of the late Arizona senator John McCain. And since Trump believes he has such brilliant instincts (genetically superior, you know), he must have thought that whatever came out of his mouth thereafter would be equally brilliant, dazzling and awesome. After all, that is what always works for him.
So, heedless of the probable impact of his words, Trump proceeded to complain about the deceased McCain. Loudly. Viciously. He started out by whining about the fact that no one thanked him for “giving” McCain a state funeral.
“I gave him the kind of funeral he wanted which as president I had to approve. I don’t care about this, I didn’t get thank you, that’s OK,” Trump said, to a crowd of workers at the Lima Army Tank Plant in Lima, Ohio.
The audience, which had applauded and cheered through much of the speech, sat silent during the attack on the late senator and decorated war hero.
Even the poorest of stand up comedians knows when they’re bombing with an audience. But not Trump, who recklessly dug himself deeper into the hole.
“So I have to be honest, I’ve never liked him much. Hasn’t been for me,” Trump said, the room descending into awkward silence.
“I’ve really probably never will, but there’s certain reasons for it and I will tell you, and I do this to save a little time with the press later on, John McCain received a fake and phony dossier, did you hear about the dossier? It was paid for by crooked Hillary Clinton, right,” Trump continued, to a smattering of boos. “And John McCain got it, he got it, and what did he do? He didn’t call me. He turned it over to the FBI hoping to put me in jeopardy, and that’s not the nicest thing to do. You know when those people say, because I’m a very loyal person…”
Meanwhile, the same crowd was growing tense. Trump proceeded to bash McCain for voting against Trump’s attempt to repeal the Affordable Care Act (a perennial grudge that seems to have mushroomed into a full-blown obsession for Trump). Then he flat-out blamed McCain for getting us into the war on Iraq.
[T]housands and thousands of our people have been killed, millions of people overall, and frankly, we’re straightening it out now but it has been a disaster for our country.”
(It was actually Obama who proceeded to get us out of Iraq, but hey, at least he was correct about the number of people pointlessly killed in that fiasco.)
At this point the audience’s stony silence itself became the dominant feature of this event. Trump didn’t much care, and he continued to throw low blows at the deceased, decorated, former POW, finally winding down. To say this was an embarrassing performance would be a colossal understatement. It was a cringe-worthy example of everything wrong with this damaged, so-called human being we have had to put up with for two years running.
But I want to talk about the silence. Because this was a Trump-friendly crowd, remember? These were people who voted Trump into office. Many were wearing their MAGA hats and hooting it up before Trump started attacking McCain. Whatever could that long, awkward silence mean?
It was the silence of people realizing for a fleeting instant they had done something terribly wrong. It is the silence that takes over when your brain is racing to reconcile the irreconcilable in your head. It is the silence of realizing that you compromised yourself and you compromised this country you claim to believe in when you voted for that person. It is the silence of tacitly sensing, that no, this is not what a president should sound like. The silence was also the awkward realization that it was you who put him there. It is the silence of thinking, I don’t agree with this guy and he’s really quite a scumbag but hey, we owned the libs, right? It’s the silence of hearing that little voice of conscience in your head like an annoying mosquito, saying something is really, really fundamentally wrong with disrespecting and attacking a war hero just to get some cheap laughs, and then just as quickly swatting that thought away before it gets too real.
It’s the silence of hypocrisy. It’s the silence of knowing deep down that you sacrificed your own values and integrity by voting for this person, but you didn’t care. And it’s the silence of knowing in that brief instant that your integrity is something that’s impossible to get back, but it really doesn’t matter to you much anyway—if it ever did.