All Donald Trump had to do was nothing. As officials from across the political spectrum issued statements honoring former Secretary of State Colin Powell following his death, it would’ve been easy for the former president to ignore the news altogether.
If he felt pressure to recognize Powell’s passing, the Republican had the option of issuing a perfunctory and unremarkable statement. But Trump — according to some, a man who continues to lead the Republican Party — is who he appears to be. Here’s the four-sentence statement he issued earlier today:
“Wonderful to see Colin Powell, who made big mistakes on Iraq and famously, so-called weapons of mass destruction, be treated in death so beautifully by the Fake News Media. Hope that happens to me someday. He was a classic RINO, if even that, always being the first to attack other Republicans. He made plenty of mistakes, but anyway, may he rest in peace!”
There’s something to be said for statements that Trump obviously had a hand in writing for himself. The inclusion of phrases such as “but anyway” suggests ghostwriters weren’t involved.
The point is not to overlook the complexities of Powell’s record or the importance of his missteps. Rather, what’s extraordinary about statements like these is Trump’s overt hostility toward class and grace.
John McCain’s passing created an easy pass-fail exam for the president. All he had to do was issue a pre-written statement honoring the heroic American’s lifetime of service and lower the flag to half-staff. This proved too difficult for Trump. Asked last year to assess John Lewis’ legacy, Trump said, “He didn’t come to my inauguration.”
The fact that the Republican has long struggled with public policy is unsurprising. We are, after all, talking about a former reality-show personality who never saw the need to familiarize himself with the basics of governing. It stood to reason that Trump would spend four years in the White House unable to tackle substantive challenges.
But a politician need not be a policy guru to be respectful of a prominent American leader in the immediate aftermath of his death. Trump just can’t help himself.
As a candidate in 2016, the Republican boasted, “I have one of the great temperaments.” It was ridiculous at the time, but it’s far worse now.