According to Trump’s rendering, Debbie Dingell called him in desperation, beseeching him to provide official honors for her late husband, Rep. John D. Dingell, the longest-serving congressman in U.S. history, with 59 years under his belt. Debbie Dingell was elected in 2014, becoming the first non-widowed woman in Congress to succeed her husband.
By Trump’s telling, he agreed to her request, and she thanked him profusely, saying how happy it would make John Dingell as he peered down from heaven. “That’s okay, don’t worry about it,” Trump said he replied to the widow, which is an odd way of saying: “It was my pleasure to honor such a great public servant. He deserved it.”
However, Debbie Dingell said she never called the president. He called her, she said, to tell her he was lowering the flags, for which she expressed gratitude. To his audience, Trump said he didn’t have to be so nice, and insinuated that John Dingell might be in hell, “looking up,” rather than down from heaven.
Why would he make up such a mean-spirited lie? Ah, you had to ask. Revenge. Trump no doubt expected Debbie Dingell to reward his beneficence by voting “no” on impeachment, which didn’t happen. He was angry. But Trump’s is no ordinary anger. When he lashes out, he goes for the kill. He clearly wants to inflict pain and then spit on his prey’s grave.
The problem for supporters involuntarily exposed to such meanness is that Trump corrals all bystanders into his madness and makes them complicit. It was apparent that many in the audience were uncomfortable with his remarks, even as some laughed or applauded. Given the season, one may also charitably concede that sometimes folks don’t know what to do when they’re suddenly participating in something untoward. Maybe they laughed out of nervousness — or fear.
Immediate condemnation followed Trump’s tale, including from another widow, Cindy McCain, whose late husband, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), also was mocked by the president. It’s apparent by now that Trump has a problem with men who are his superiors and, in Debbie Dingell’s case, he relishes torturing their spouses. One needn’t be a psychologist to sort out such odious, misogynist behavior.
For the record: John Dingell is widely considered one of the finest public servants ever elected to office. And Debbie Dingell has picked up where he left off. Two more decent people you’re unlikely to meet. Debbie tweeted directly to Trump that she was hurt by his remarks, which is understandable, but, frankly, Trump isn’t worthy of her thoughts, much less her pain.
Trump’s timing, as always, couldn’t be worse, as Debbie approaches her first Christmas without her husband. In an email to me, she passed along an op-ed her husband had written for the Detroit News upon the death of former president George H.W. Bush, his longtime friend from the other side of the political aisle. John Dingell’s words provide a stark contrast to this president and this time.
Dingell and Bush were both World War II veterans, among the last politicians of their kind. Dingell wrote: “We were from a political generation that understood delivering for the American people was more important than political wins. . . . Remember the note he left President Clinton on inauguration day: ‘You will be our president when you read this note. Your success now is our country’s success. I will be rooting hard for you.’ ”
Imagine Trump writing any of that.
Ironically, Bill Clinton, who also was impeached, became friends with the man he defeated in 1992. The two were recruited by President George W. Bush to help with the aftermath of the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami with a private fundraising effort. They remained close thereafter, which speaks to John Dingell’s description of the senior Bush as “a public servant in the highest definitions.”
“President Bush always cared about people,” he wrote.
The same can be said about both Dingells but surely not about Trump. What a shame that cruelty isn’t an impeachable offense.