Had Trump found it necessary to justify himself, he could have said he was telling the truth, taking the position first formulated by IF Stone that “funerals are always opportunities for pious lies”. But neither staying consistent nor optimizing conventions was Trump’s primary goal. After all, nobody needed Trump to remind anyone that Iraq was Powell’s big failure; it was one he himself recognized. This corrective sentiment could be found in most of the ledes of the obituaries and assessments that came out. The AP even ran a story that dealt solely with the particular hatred Iraqis still harbor for Powell for his role in promoting the invasion.
So the autopsy smear didn’t shed light on Powell. But it helped clarify some truth about Trump. With no Twitter, no Chyron-to-Chyron coverage from Fox News, and no vibrant presidential campaign to reinforce his messaging, Trump relies on his shock-jocking skills to make his way into the public eye and front page. Such a vicious assault might look smart and calculating, but it’s a good bet that it has become his first instinct for Trump to swing wildly when no one is paying attention. Shouting through a megaphone to get the cheap seats is also a technique he uses in court to file ridiculous lawsuits against Facebook, Twitter and YouTube, overturn election results or punish his niece, Mary Trump. His grandstand shouldn’t work after all this time, but it still works.
The Powell incident isn’t the first time Trump has dug up a body and danced around trying to get the limelight and score some political points. Trump continued to verbally assault political rival, Arizona Republican Senator John McCain, for months after his death in 2018. In 2019, Trump suggested that former Michigan Democratic MP, John Dingell, who was only 10 months dead at the time, “look up” from Hell. (Trump was furious with Dingell’s wife, Rep. Debbie Dingell, also a Michigan Democrat, who supported the impeachment process against Trump despite approving the lowering of the flags for the late member of Congress.) And he was never sentimental about America’s war dead . In 2020, Atlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg reported that Trump was calling them a “loser” and a “sucker” behind the scenes.
Trump seems to intuitively understand that those cheap shots don’t cost him his base, which applauds his caustic Moxie. Given his history of explosive comments, he has set a basic expectation of rude behavior that he must exceed in order to entertain his fans and keep his critics appalled enough to get his “testimony” into the news. To be honest, he probably didn’t care about Colin Powell, but when he saw the general’s death sparking a wave of news, he decided to paddle out and ride ashore in hopes of getting noticed. But the downside to Trump – if there are downsides in Trumpworld – is that as he descends deeper and deeper to hack his way into the news, he ends up sending the equivalent of an audition to the social media channels that just him suspended (Facebook, Instagram, YouTube and Twitch) that they should never let him return.
That leaves Trump there, smoldering, not lacking enough rhetorical fuel to hit the political prelude, waiting for his next countdown.
The Trump obituaries will be awesome. Imagine an LED and mail it on [email protected]. My email notifications read the Irish sports pages first thing every morning. My twitter feed imagines few flags will be lowered when Trump expires. My RSS feed just wants to survive it.