It is not controversial to state that Donald Trump is a bully. Dictionary.com defines a bully as a “blustering, quarrelsome, overbearing person who habitually badgers smaller and weaker people.” Donald Trump amply meets this description. Though no one is immune to being tormented by him, including members of his own cabinet, he and his administration seem to reserve a special level of venom for black women. Whether it’s black women journalists, elected officials, or even a gold star widow, Trump’s treatment of black women reveals a disturbing trend.
Trump’s feuds with other people, though unseemly, had almost always had at least a veneer of parity. Senator John McCain, though currently fighting terminal brain cancer, is a former Republican presidential nominee, and has served in the Senate for over 30 years. Trump’s feuds with Hillary Clinton, Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio, Lindsey Graham, Jeb Bush, and Carly Fiorina began when they were all presidential candidates during the 2016 election. The derisive nicknames and ad hominem attacks he launched at his political foes were unbecoming, to be sure, but at least they were launched at people who had chosen to enter presidential politics. There were times that he allowed the bar to sink even lower, like when he attacked the Khan family, whose son had died serving in the military in Iraq in 2004, but more often than not, his attacks were launched at people who were also wealthy and/or politically well-connected. Typically, when he attacked people who weren’t politicians, he attacked them as an entire group, as he had Mexicans and Muslims.
Then the inauguration happened, and all bets were off. No longer were his tweets and insults reserved for the wealthy and politically powerful or entire ethnic and religious groups. He and his administration set their sights on specific black women to single out for condescension and vituperation. Former press secretary Sean Spicer’s now infamous exchange with April Ryan serves as one of the earliest examples of the Trump administration trying to bully a black woman into silence. While trying to do her job as a White House correspondent, Spicer repeatedly interrupted her and told her to stop shaking her head when he was giving evasive or otherwise unsatisfactory answers. Then there was Jemele Hill, who called Trump a white supremacist on Twitter. She wasn’t the first journalist to have called Trump out for his sympathies towards white supremacy, or even the first black journalist to suggest it. Both Ta-Nehisi Coates and Charles Blow, who are black men, have either stated or implied it, but neither Donald Trump himself, nor anyone in his administration suggested that they be fired for their sentiments the way that Trump dispatched Sarah Huckabee Sanders to suggest for Jemele Hill.
Then the inauguration happened, and all bets were off. No longer were his tweets and insults reserved for the wealthy and politically powerful or entire ethnic and religious groups. He and his administration set their sights on specific black women to single out for condescension and vituperation.
Last Monday, in the wake of the Nigerien ambush attack that claimed the lives of four U.S. soldiers in early October, including Sgt. La David Johnson, Trump used the power and prestige of the American presidency to wage a war to impugn the integrity of Congresswoman Frederica Wilson, who was in the car when he called Sgt. Johnson’s widow, Myeshia Johnson, to offer his condolences. In a now infamous and corroborated account of the call (which occurred on speakerphone), Rep. Wilson took umbrage to the clumsy and disrespectful way in which Trump executed the call. Rep. Wilson declared that the president told the grieving Mrs. Johnson that her husband “knew what he signed up for.” These words, whether intentionally or unintentionally, conveyed the sentiment that the family shouldn’t be upset at Sgt. Johnson’s death because he knew the risks and accepted them anyway. Trump responded by taking to Twitter to accuse her of lying.
Democrat Congresswoman totally fabricated what I said to the wife of a soldier who died in action (and I have proof). Sad!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) October 18, 2017
As the imbroglio ensued, the president then dispatched no less than a four-star marine general, in the form of White House chief of staff John Kelly, to get up and launch a mendacious smear campaign against the congresswoman. General Kelly abdicated any sense of moral authority he may have once felt he had the moment he set in motion a completely fallacious and ad hominem attack against Representative Wilson, repeatedly calling her an “empty barrel.” Though Trump had repeatedly denied Wilson’s characterization of the condolence call, General Kelly confirmed that it was he, in fact, who had inspired the president’s use of the phrase “he knew what he was signing up for.” Of course, this jibes with the congresswoman’s account of what was said, but Kelly used his opportunity to set the record straight as the time to smear the congresswoman. The general falsely claimed that Representative Wilson had taken the occasion of an FBI building ceremony to lavish praise on herself for having obtained the funding for the construction of the building. Video evidence surfaced within 24 hours revealing that Kelly’s characterization of Wilson’s behavior at the event was a complete falsehood. Wilson never mentioned money. She never praised herself. She never claimed to have been instrumental in getting the funding. Still, the White House, and the president himself maintained their attacks.
When no less than Myeshia Johnson, the gold star widow at the center of the controversy, sat down for an interview yesterday on Good Morning America to give her version of events–a version of events that matches perfectly with the one Congresswoman Wilson described–the president then took swipes at her on Twitter. Let that sink in. The sitting president of the United States attacked the credibility of a gold star widow who had just buried her husband 48 hours ago. Mrs. Johnson said that Trump not only made the “he knew what he was getting into” comments, but he didn’t even know her husband’s name when he called her. There she was–beautiful, dignified, gracious, and poised–giving an explanation she owed no one, and Donald Trump felt that even she was fair game for his vile and odious attacks on Twitter.
I had a very respectful conversation with the widow of Sgt. La David Johnson, and spoke his name from beginning, without hesitation!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) October 23, 2017
The question remains as to why the president and his administration pick fights with and single out black women whom they know are less powerful than they are. The Trump administration hates all media, but it was only April Ryan they tried to strong-arm into not shaking her head, in a move that stunned even her journalism colleagues. Jemele Hill wasn’t the first journalist to suggest that Donald Trump was a white supremacist, but she was the first one that the administration called on to be fired for criticism of the president. Congresswoman Wilson was not only the congressional representative from the underserved community of South Florida, she was also a close family friend of the Johnsons who shared in their grief at La David Johnson’s passing, and was therefore uniquely qualified to speak about the family’s dismay. Congresswoman Wilson is certainly not the first elected official who has criticized Trump for his behavior. Yet, it was only Congresswoman Wilson for whom the president recruited the gravitas of his typically camera-shy four star general chief of staff to discredit for her accurate rendering of the disputed condolence phone call. And then we have Myeshia Johnson—a 24 year-old pregnant war widow and mother of two from Miami Gardens. Her husband rode the bike to his job at Walmart every day and laid down his life on the battlefield in Niger. If ever there existed anyone to whom a Commander-in-Chief should grant deference, it would be her, but Trump unaccustomed to the general decency with which most of us are familiar, was unable to offer even that. When asked if she had anything she would like to say to the president, Mrs. Johnson simply replied, “No. I don’t got nothing to say to him.” If only the president showed her level of restraint and grace.