It was tempting, for a moment there, to believe that President Donald Trump might get through his overseas trip to the United Kingdom and Normandy last week without finding a way to put his foot in his mouth.
But that was simply hoping for too much — which is as disappointing as it is unsurprising.
In the course of a single interview last week with his favorite cable news channel, Trump deployed a series of schoolyard epithets to describe a range of political opponents, including U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif.; former opponent Hillary Clinton; Democratic presidential contender Joe Biden; and Special Counsel Robert Mueller.
The childish language our petulant president used to describe people with whom he may disagree, but whose patriotism is unimpeachable, is easy enough to find. They don’t bear repeating here.
While it would be one thing if Trump just spoke ill of Pelosi and others, he managed to insult Americans as well.
He heaped scorn all over Pelosi’s San Francisco-based district, saying “it has drugs and needles all over the place,” as if the City by the Bay were not part of the United States, but rather located in one of those “s**thole” countries Trump has professed to despise so much.
Pelosi, who was similarly abroad for the D-Day observance, maintained a dignified silence, citing a longstanding policy of not lodging political criticisms while overseas.
It’s true that Pelosi’s needling of Trump set him off in the first place, reportedly saying during a closed-door meeting with fellow Democrats that she wants to see the president imprisoned rather than impeached.
But Trump could have chosen to take the high road during his interview with Fox News host Laura Ingraham, saying he wanted to keep the focus on the historic nature of the day and not on himself.
That’s what adults — and true leaders — do.
But as we know too well by now, it’s better to ask the sun not to rise in the morning than it is to ask our man-child of a president to take the high road on, well, anything.
And as if attacking Clinton and Pelosi were not enough, Trump also used his Fox News interview to go after Mueller, saying that the former FBI boss “made a fool out of himself” the last time he testified in public.
As Vox noted, it wasn’t clear what Trump was talking about, because Mueller has yet to testify in public about his 22-month-long investigation.
Besides being just classless, Trump’s attacks on Mueller are repellent for two big reasons.
First, Mueller, unlike Trump, is a veteran who did not duck the call to serve in Vietnam. As the Washington Post reports, Mueller’s military career was brief, but distinguished: He is a Purple Heart honoree, for instance.
Second, Trump, who claimed multiple deferments to avoid serving, routinely coddles the kind of repulsive strongmen whom Mueller fought against in Vietnam, and for whom the more than 9,000 servicemen buried in the American Cemetery in France gave their lives to defeat.
It’s long been an American tradition to leave politics at the water’s edge, for our leaders to speak with a single voice, as one nation, while we’re abroad, regardless of whatever political disagreements may divide us at home.
And that’s for a very specific reason: to show unified support to our friends, and to remind our rivals that our strength as a nation transcends any partisan bickering on the home front.
Given the chance to live up to the best of those traditions, at a pivotal moment in history, when it mattered the most, Trump squandered yet another opportunity.
And that rendered what should have been a stirring tribute to America’s heroes an empty gesture.
And they deserve far, far better.
An award-winning political journalist, John L. Micek is Editor-in-Chief of The Pennsylvania Capital-Star in Harrisburg, Pa. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @ByJohnLMicek.