The first sign of trouble came over the weekend with a presidential tweet. Donald Trump wrote that the last time he’d spoken to Rep. Debbie Dingell (D-Mich.), she’d called to thank him for “granting top memorial and funeral service honors” for her husband, Rep. John Dingell (D-Mich.), after his passing.
“Now I watch her ripping me as part of the Democrats Impeachment Hoax,” Trump added. “Really pathetic!”
It was a reminder that in the Republican’s mind, everything is transactional. Trump approved Dingell’s funeral arrangements, which he believes entitles him to loyalty from Dingell’s family. Debbie Dingell may be a duly elected congresswoman, and she may have been polite to the president at a difficult time, but as far as Trump is concerned, she’s “pathetic” unless she shows her gratitude by siding with him on impeachment.
Last night, Trump traveled to the Dingells’ home state of Michigan for a campaign rally, where he went much further, blasting the congresswoman and suggesting her late husband might be in hell.
Trump said he gave Dingell an “A-plus” memorial. “I gave him everything. I don’t want anything. I don’t need anything for anything,” Trump said. “She calls me up: ‘It’s the nicest thing that’s ever happened. Thank you so much. John would be so thrilled. He’s looking down. He’d be so thrilled. Thank you so much, sir.’ I said, ‘That’s OK, don’t worry about it.’
“Maybe he’s looking up, I don’t know. I don’t know. Maybe,” Trump said to loud laughs and groans. “But let’s assume he’s looking down.”
The Daily Beast’s Sam Stein, an MSNBC contributor, noted overnight, “You just don’t meet too many people in life who consciously pick fights with widows by suggesting their husband is in hell.”
It’s tempting to think Trump is succumbing to the pressure of being impeached, but the unfortunate truth may be that his comments were simply a reflection of the president’s true character.
Indeed, this wasn’t even the first time we’ve seen Trump, while in office, attack a celebrated deceased lawmaker in macabre terms.
Trump may not understand this, but John Dingell, a World War II veteran and a federal lawmaker for six decades, earned his memorial services. For the president to think he deserves some kind of reward is ridiculous, even by Trump standards.
For her part, Debbie Dingell issued a statement last night that read, “Mr. President, let’s set politics aside. My husband earned all his accolades after a lifetime of service. I’m preparing for the first holiday season without the man I love. You brought me down in a way you can never imagine and your hurtful words just made my healing much harder.”
Around the same time, Rep. Fred Upton, a Michigan Republican, wrote, “I’ve always looked up to John Dingell – my good friend and a great Michigan legend. There was no need to ‘dis’ him in a crass political way. Most unfortunate and an apology is due.” (Note, even in this context, the GOP lawmaker avoided using Trump’s name, preferring passive voice.)
I suspect those waiting for the president to choose an honorable course will be waiting a very long time.