While other Americans were adapting their Memorial Day rituals to the coronavirus age, President Trump spent part of his holiday weekend tweeting about MSBNC “Morning Joe” co-host (and Post Opinions contributor) Joe Scarborough:

On Saturday, there was this:

And so on:

Trump’s reckless tweet addressed a circumstance that needn’t invade contemporary American life: In 2001, Lori Klausutis, a 28-year-old aide working in the Fort Walton Beach, Fla., office of then-Republican congressman Joe Scarborough, died while at work. Foul play wasn’t alleged at the time: “An autopsy revealed that Klausutis had an undiagnosed heart condition and a coroner concluded she passed out and hit her head as she fell,” notes a fact-check from the Associated Press. “The coroner said the head injury caused the death, but she wasn’t struck by another person.”

Foul play, however, has been half-alleged over the years by a number of folks unconstrained by facts and evidence, including some figures on the left with active imaginations. Michael Moore, for instance, mused about registering the domain name “JoeScarboroughKilledHisIntern.com.”

And this isn’t the first time Trump has mentioned this conspiracy theory. In November 2017, he tweeted:

A little context on the Trump/"Morning Joe" timeline is in order here. As noted in this blog and many other precincts, “Morning Joe” was overtly charitable toward candidate Donald Trump as he established himself in the early stages of the 2016 presidential campaign. Over several months after Trump declared his candidacy in June 2015, he yukked it up with Scarborough and co-host Mika Brzezinski. After his big victory in the New Hampshire primary, Trump said this: “It was great seeing you, and you guys have been supporters and I really appreciate it.” Scarborough was forced to clarify what Trump meant.

Like many others, however, the “Morning Joe” duo eventually came to grips with Trump’s core awfulness. In return, Trump has chosen to smear Scarborough with the ultimate crime. And what an awful thing it was to resurface the Klausutis situation, creating a whole bunch of news that, under a sane and considerate president, wouldn’t have been news. The Post’s Craig Pittman reported on how the swirl of presidential social media activity had affected the family that Klausutis left behind:

No one in Klausutis’s family would talk about Trump’s tweets for this article, fearing retaliation by online trolls of the type who went after parents of the Sandy Hook massacre victims. Their grief has been disrupted by conspiracy theories before — not only over the past few years from the White House, but from some liberals who at the time of her death sought to portray a then-conservative Republican congressman as a potential villain.
“There’s a lot we would love to say, but we can’t,” said Colin Kelly, who was Klausutis’s brother-in-law.

“What the Klausutises — the entire family — have had to endure for 19 years, it’s unspeakably cruel,” said Scarborough on Tuesday morning’s show. “Whether it’s the president, or whether it’s people following the president, it is unspeakably cruel. These are not public figures nor have they ever been public figures.” That’s an important distinction, though what Trump is alleging about the public figure in this case — Scarborough, that is — is also quite cruel.

In November 2017, President Trump took aim at MSNBC’s Joe Scarborough over a death that occurred at Scarborough’s Florida office when he was in Congress. (The Washington Post)

New York Times columnist Kara Swisher obtained a letter that widower Timothy Klausutis sent last week to Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey. “I’m asking you to intervene in this instance because the president of the United States has taken something that does not belong to him — the memory of my dead wife — and perverted it for perceived political gain,” wrote Klausutis, who asked Dorsey for a modest remedy: “An ordinary user like me would be banished from the platform for such a tweet but I am only asking that these tweets be removed.”

Twitter has declined to take the requested action, though its rules disallow “targeted harassment,” invasion of privacy, “hateful conduct” and the like, and it wouldn’t require an elastic interpretation to scrub the Trump tweets about Scarborough.

The company claims to be working on some countermeasures, however: “We are deeply sorry about the pain these statements, and the attention they are drawing, are causing the family,” said Twitter spokesman Nick Pacilio in a statement. “We’ve been working to expand existing product features and policies so we can more effectively address things like this going forward, and we hope to have those changes in place shortly.”

Swisher offers a thoughtful discussion of the various considerations at play here. Trump is a world leader, and therefore Twitter has been reluctant to mess with his tweets. Banning him from the platform will solve few problems. The expansion of “existing product features” — Twitter recently launched a response to coronavirus misinformation — may help alert people more readily to his incessant prevarications. No matter how the company reacts, people will yell at Twitter, either for suppressing free-flowing expression or allowing falsehoods to go unchallenged.

It bears noting that Trump has a way of placing people in positions where no option is good, where no response strikes just the right pitch. That’s how media organizations feel after the president blasts their correspondents for bias; that’s how media organizations feel when Trump calls their correspondents “fakers”; that’s how media organizations feel when Trump’s reelection campaign sues them for illusory infractions; for that matter, that’s how politicians feel when Trump uncorks ridiculous attacks on them — does anyone remember Attorney General Jeff Sessions? There’s no “right” way to deal with any of this.

Except, perhaps, to continue telling the truth. The Post on Sunday published this headline on Trump’s Memorial Day weekend activities: “On weekend dedicated to war dead, Trump tweets insults, promotes baseless claims and plays golf.”

Democratic Party strategist and lawyer Marc Elias says that flaws in ballot design are often overlooked but have huge repercussions on elections. (The Washington Post)

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