The week of October 15 was supposed to be set aside to reflect on character.
“We celebrate National Character Counts Week because few things are more important than cultivating strong character in all our citizens, especially our young people,” President Trump said in declaring it. “The grit and integrity of our people, visible throughout our history, defines the soul of our Nation. This week, we reflect on the character of determination, resolve, and honor that makes us proud to be American.”
There hasn’t been much time to talk about character. Instead, politics this week has been dominated by a peculiar scandal, beginning with one off-base remark from the president on Monday, that has managed to somehow leave everyone it touches worse off than they were at the start of the week—including the president, his chief of staff and spokeswoman, a member of Congress, and the family of a Special Forces soldier killed in Niger earlier this month.
The mess began on Monday, when Trump hastily called a press conference at the White House. The president made several noteworthy statements, some of them deeply dubious, but the one that grabbed the most attention was his unusual response to a question about the deaths of four U.S. soldiers in Niger in early October, about which the White House had been strangely quiet. For whatever reason, Trump took that as a personal attack on how effectively he had offered condolences to the families—not an attack that anyone had made, though one about which, as the next few days would show, Trump had reason to be defensive. Trump made two statements: First, that he had tried to call the family of every servicemember killed on his watch, and second, that previous presidents had not been so generous in their consolations.