Donald Trump loves conspiracy theories, which he wields as a weapon to attack his opponents and deflect blame, all while conveniently mobilizing his supporters by transforming the pesky unfortunate realities of the world into a shape that his narcissistic mind can comprehend.
Take Trump’s weeks-long campaign to throw entirely unfounded suspicion onto MSNBC host Joe Scarborough, which began in earnest on May 4. In a tweet, the conspiracy theorist currently occupying the White House suggested that Scarborough had murdered someone, which, if it must even be said, did not happen.
Trump was referencing the 2001 death of 28-year-old Lori Kaye Klausutis, who was at the time working for then-Representative Scarborough in Florida and was found dead in his Fort Walton Beach office one morning. There is no “cold case”—Klausutis had an undiagnosed heart condition, had fainted while at the office, and then died after she hit her head on a desk. Both the medical examiner and local law enforcement concluded it was a tragic accident, an incredibly sad loss that her family is still mourning.
But when have annoying things like reality ever deterred Trump, and when has he ever cared about the consequences of exploiting the grief of someone’s family? His paranoid mind, which often casts detractors as supreme villains, has now fixed on Scarborough, who has been highly critical of Trump’s horrifically incompetent and callous handling of the covid-19 pandemic. “Did he get away with murder? Some people think so,” Trump wrote on May 12. And this past weekend, as he golfed and engaged in a rather massive amount of misogyny while the rest of us marked the incomprehensible loss of almost 100,000 people in our country to covid-19, Trump found time to tweet repeatedly about Scarborough and Klausutis. On Tuesday morning, he continued to call for Scarborough to be investigated. “ So many unanswered & obvious questions, but I won’t bring them up now!” he wrote, adding, “Law enforcement eventually will?” Tellingly, Trump hasn’t ever mentioned Klausutis’s name in his attacks, seeing her not as a person but merely a prop.
Her parents, according to the Washington Post, are wary of speaking out against Trump, fearing retaliation and more online abuse. But Klausutis’s widower Timothy responded, writing a letter to Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey asking the company to delete Trump’s tweets about his wife. “Her passing is the single most painful thing that I have ever had to deal with in my 52 years and continues to haunt her parents and sister,” he wrote, adding, “I’m asking you to intervene in this instance because the President of the United States has taken something that does not belong to him—the memory of my dead wife—and perverted it for political gain.”
If this is a political distraction, meant to redirect our attention away from the very real deaths that have occurred because of Trump’s incompetence and inaction, then it’s also a patently cruel manipulation of the personal tragedy of a very real family. The true victims here are Klausutis’s family, forced against their will to be a part of a smear job and spectacle pushed by the most powerful man in the world. But we know all too painfully now that Trump has never cared for other people’s pain, only his own perceived grievances.