President Trump needs his own ‘Luther,’ in reverse
Remember how critics used to argue that President Barack Obama was more reserved and dispassionate than he ought to be? Nobody says that about President Donald Trump. If anything, the president would do well to take some of his passion down a few notches.
That’s why it has occurred to me that our current president needs a suggestion of the sort that Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele of Comedy Central’s “Key & Peele” created in the character of “Luther,” Obama’s “anger translator.”
“Luther” was based on the racial and political reality that Obama, as an African-American had to be extra conscious of his need to keep his cool. Maybe all he needed, Key & Peele figured, was for someone else to get impassioned on his behalf.
Enter “Luther,” who translated Obama’s courtly and diplomatic public statements into hilarious bursts of colorful rage that Key & Peele figured he almost certainly had to be thinking.
They apparently weren’t too far off, either, judging by the ease with which Obama invited Key to recreate his Luther role with the real president at the 2015 White House Correspondents’ Association Dinner.
When, for example, Obama told his audience, “…(D)espite our differences, we count on the press to keep us informed on the most important issues of the day,” Luther chimed in with, “… And you can count on Fox News to terrify all white people with some nonsense!”
Indeed. Whether Luther was expressing what Obama really was thinking or not, he said what a lot of Obama’s supporters wished Obama would have said.
Restraint has not been Trump’s problem. He doesn’t need a Luther. He needs a Luther-in-reverse. He needs someone who can step up and say, “What the president really means is …” and translate Trump’s Twitter and vocal outbursts into something that won’t keep Americans awake at night with fears of nuclear war.
That seemed to be the task of Trump’s chief of staff, retired Gen. John F. Kelly, when he faced reporters recently. Trump sensibly had turned to the highly decorated Kelly for advice on how best to console Myeshia Johnson after her husband, Sgt. La David Johnson, was killed along with four other soldiers on a mission in Niger.
Kelly, himself a Gold Star father after losing a son, Marine 2nd Lt. Robert Kelly, in Afghanistan in 2010, movingly described to reporters how he described his own experience to President Trump. He recalled how a military official reassured him that his son “was doing exactly what he wanted to do when he was killed” on a mission with his buddies and “knew what he was getting into by joining that 1 percent” when the nation is at war.
Unfortunately, Trump’s notorious tin ear for empathy may have mangled that message. Instead of comforting widow Myeshia Johnson, Rep. Frederica Wilson, a Florida Democrat and family friend, said Trump had upset her by seeming to forget her husband’s name and showing an insensitive tone by saying Sgt. Johnson knew what he was signing up for.
Mrs. Johnson confirmed Wilson’s account in an interview Monday on ABC’s “Good Morning America.”
Even if you think, as some do, that the congresswoman was wrong to rush to make the conversation public, Trump only made matters worse by attacking the congresswoman and insulting the family.
Unfortunately, Kelly blew his reverse-Luther role by failing to avoid wading into the mess that Trump had created. He accused Wilson of being a grandstanding “empty barrel” who took credit in 2015 for securing funding for a federal building in Miami named for two slain FBI agents. But a video of that event, which Kelly also attended, showed quite the opposite of the boasting that Kelly described.
Maybe his flawed memory was at fault. However, whatever the reason, it was another unforced error by an administration in which Kelly has the mammoth task of bringing order and dignity to an Oval Office that often seems mired in chaos.
Worse, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders later brought a ridiculously Orwellian tone to her office by declaring it “highly inappropriate” to question a retired four-star general. In fact, generals are just as accountable to the public as any other public official.
That’s why Trump needs his spokespeople to be reverse-Luthers, people who can calm the waters he constantly roils. That’s not easy but they, too, know what they signed up for.