EDITORIAL: Trump aide follows the leader

York Dispatch

It is beyond ludicrous that President Donald Trump’s White House refuses to even acknowledge, let alone apologize for, the hard-hearted insult slung at Arizona Sen. John McCain last week by one of its aides.

What it wasn’t, unfortunately, was surprising.

The name-caller-in-chief hasn’t just lowered the bar for civility; he hasn’t just knocked that bar to the ground; he has dug a pit and buried it. Trump’s belligerence, mean-spiritedness, childishness and testiness — broadcast in public remarks and via social media — have set a tone of schoolyard nastiness that permeates the White House and, increasingly, the nation.

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The aide in question is Kelly Sadler, a special assistant to the president. While discussing McCain’s opposition to Trump’s nominee to lead the CIA, Sadler said of the senator, who has been battling stage four brain cancer “It doesn’t matter; he’s dying anyway.”

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Maybe Sadler was being an icy-veined calculator; maybe it was a bad example of gallows humor. Whatever, when the insult reached the public, the White House should have quickly renounced the comment and apologized.

Sadler seemed to sense this. According to The Hill, she called McCain’s daughter, Meghan McCain, to do just that.

No such contrition from the White House, which responded to queries about the comment by issuing a general statement praising McCain for his military service, then circling the wagons. White House spokesperson Sarah Huckabee Sanders declined repeatedly during a Friday press conference to provide an administration response to the comment, offering a pile of twaddle along the lines of “I’m not going to validate a leak one way or another out of an internal staff meeting.”

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The White House has clearly learned nothing from its mishandling of the Rob Porter affair, in which a former top aide continued to work closely with the president even though he could not obtain top security clearance owing to testimony of spousal abuse from two previous wives. In that case, the administration hemmed, hawed and harrumphed for days – pumping oxygen into a story that would likely have succumbed to a traditional news-cycle death following a timely acknowledgement and apology.

Such is the case again, with calls increasing for Sadler’s dismissal as the White House refused to address the issue.

The Washington Post may have identified the reason behind the recalcitrance: “The White House probably thinks it cannot punish Kelly Sadler for her awful comment about John McCain because President Trump has also said nasty things about McCain. It may worry that showing her the door would set a troubling precedent for a president who may one day cross a very similar line.”

“May one day”? How about, “has already repeatedly”? Otherwise, touché!

This is a president that can’t help slinging insults at friends and foes alike. (McCain, as the Post noted, is already on his sizeable hit list, having been insulted for his POW status.) And this is a Republican Party that countenances such behavior.

Where is the moral outrage that followed then-candidate Barack Obama saying small-town voters cling to guns and religion, or then-candidate Hillary Clinton referring to Trump supporters as a basket of deplorables? These were, after all, benign comments when compared with characterizing Mexicans as rapists and murderers, describing personal acts of sexual assault, or insulting a sitting senator battling an almost certainly terminal prognosis.

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And where are the gatekeepers of first lady Melania Trump’s new “#BeBest” campaign, with its aim to reduce cyber-bullying and nastiness?

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There have been a few voices in the wilderness, such as that of former President George W. Bush, but they have been mild and ineffective.

The inability of the president to govern himself civilly — and of his aides, friends and family to impress upon him the wisdom of doing so — has contributed to an increasingly disrespectful political culture … and can only spill out into the culture at large.

It is a sad reflection on the White House, its culture, its staff and its leader.