Marc Thiessen: Frederica Wilson, John Kelly controversy tells us that political contempt is out of control now

Editor's note: The following column is adapted from a post which originally appeared on, the blog of the American Enterprise Institute.

It is hard to imagine that our national descent into political contempt could get any worse than it did this week, when Congresswoman Frederica Wilson accused President Trump of disrespecting the pregnant widow of a fallen soldier during a condolence call, telling her that her husband “knew what he signed up for.”

It should have been obvious to all Trump probably flubbed what was intended as a compliment, praising his courage for volunteering to serve in a vocation he knew could cost him his life.

When I was a speechwriter for President Bush, he often praised our troops for volunteering for military service “knowing all the risks and dangers that come with wearing our nation’s uniform.”

We should have all assumed that Trump was trying to do the same thing, and that it just didn’t come out right.

Now, we know that is the case, as Gen. John Kelly — himself a Gold Star father — confirmed it in a moving statement in the White House press briefing room Thursday.

We have now arrived at the day where the president’s efforts to console grieving families who lost loved ones in a time of war is considered fair game for political attacks.

You can see Gen. Kelly’s remarks at the top of this column. They are worth watching in full.

Trump was under no obligation to make that call. General Kelly advised him not to. But the president wanted to do it anyway. And with unexpected humility, knowing he had never worn the uniform, he asked a close adviser who had worn the uniform what he should say — and then tried to say it. His motive was to praise a hero and comfort a grieving family.

That this congresswoman (who boycotted Trump’s inauguration and has called for his impeachment) would publicize and politicize what the president said in private to this Gold Star family is reprehensible. It marked a new low — one that was exceeded only by her response to Gen. Kelly’s comments declaring that she was now a “rock star” because she was being talked about from the White House podium. If that did not make her motives clear, I don’t know what would.

Also shameful was the media feeding frenzy, with reporters unquestioningly reporting her comments and then calling other Gold Star families to see if Trump had insulted them as well.

And then there was the reaction of the “The Resistance” which was epitomized by former Hillary Clinton spokesman Brian Fallon’s tweet: “Kelly isnt just an enabler of Trump. He’s a believer in him. That makes him as odious as the rest. Don’t be distracted by the uniform.”

Kelly is a decorated veteran who lost a son in service to our country. But don’t be distracted by all that. Trump hate is simply blinding to some.

This is not to suggest that Trump is blameless in this affair. The charge that he had insulted a Gold Star family would not have been believable if he had not previously insulted a Gold Star family during the 2016 campaign (a moment that Gen. Kelly referred to in his statement Thursday) or declared that John McCain was not a hero because he had been captured [while serving our country in Vietnam].

He should not have publicly questioned how his predecessors expressed their condolences to grieving families (though, again, he was inarticulately repeating what Gen. Kelly had told him — that President Obama did not call him when his son was killed in action). And rather than returning fire at Rep. Wilson on Twitter, Trump should have taken the high road and simply said, “I was trying to praise his courage, and I blew it.” He seems congenitally incapable of admitting a mistake.

There are no heroes in this entire episode, except the ones who seem to have been forgotten in the political melee: the four brave Americans who gave their lives on the battlefield.

Many have been mourning the fact that political contempt has infected every aspect of our lives, including sports. But we have now arrived at the day where the president’s efforts to console grieving families who lost loved ones in a time of war is considered fair game for political attacks.

How much hate must someone have in their heart to presume that the president would pick up the phone to call a grieving widow and intentionally insult the memory of her lost loved one?

At some point we have to pull up out of this downward spiral of mutual contempt — before it’s too late.