A pattern has emerged in which President Trump makes some policy gains and earns applause from conservative circles and then blows the whole thing by saying something stupid that distracts from the good that he has done. This was once again the case yesterday when the president made a completely baseless claim in response to criticism that he had not contacted the families of four soldiers killed in Niger. Trump’s claim was such a blatant falsehood that Gregg Popovich, the coach of the San Antonio Spurs, felt compelled to go out of his way to viciously attack the president.
President Trump ignited the firestorm in a press conference yesterday when he claimed that previous presidents did not make condolence phone calls to the families of fallen soldiers. “So, the traditional way, if you look at President Obama and other presidents, most of them, didn’t make calls,” Trump said. “A lot of them didn’t make calls. I like to call when it’s appropriate, when I think I’m able to do it.”
After Trump’s comments, Coach Popovich called Dave Zirin, sports editor at The Nation, and unloaded on the president with both barrels. “I want to say something,” Popovich began, “and please just let me talk, and please make sure this is on the record.”
“I’ve been amazed and disappointed by so much of what this president had said, and his approach to running this country, which seems to be one of just a never-ending divisiveness,” he continued. “But his comments today about those who have lost loved ones in times of war and his lies that previous presidents Obama and Bush never contacted their families are so beyond the pale, I almost don’t have the words.”
After a pause, Popovich continued. “This man in the Oval Office is a soulless coward who thinks that he can only become large by belittling others. This has of course been a common practice of his, but to do it in this manner—and to lie about how previous presidents responded to the deaths of soldiers—is as low as it gets. We have a pathological liar in the White House, unfit intellectually, emotionally, and psychologically to hold this office, and the whole world knows it, especially those around him every day. The people who work with this president should be ashamed, because they know better than anyone just how unfit he is, and yet they choose to do nothing about it. This is their shame most of all.”
The White House defended Trump’s statement later in the day. “When American heroes make the ultimate sacrifice, Presidents pay their respects,” Sarah Huckabee Sanders said. “Sometimes they call, sometimes they send a letter, other times they have the opportunity to meet family members in person. This president, like his predecessors, has done each of these. Individuals claiming former Presidents, such as their bosses, called each family of the fallen, are mistaken.”
It should be noted that no one, including the president, had claimed that past presidents called “each” soldier’s family.
Popovich served in the US Air Force for five years in the early 1970s. During that time, he played for the armed forces basketball team and traveled through Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union on a goodwill tour with the team. Popovich’s military service may have prompted the strong response to Trump’s statement.
Nevertheless, Popovich has never been on the Trump Train. The coach said last year that he was “sick to his stomach” after the election. In a press conference in September 2017, he likened the White House rescinding the invitation for the Golden State Warriors to a “sixth grader” who “disinvites” a friend to party.
The NBA season is just starting, but the Spurs probably should not expect an invitation to visit President Trump in the White House, no matter how well they do.