If you think you had a bad Tuesday, thank your lucky stars you’re not Acting Secretary of Defense Patrick Shanahan. Not only is he withdrawing himself from consideration to be the permanent Secretary of Defense, and resigning as Deputy Secretary of Defense (a position he has held since his Senate confirmation in July of 2017), he’s enduring what can only be described as an excruciatingly embarrassing public examination of a dark episode in his family life.
I’m not sure which is worse: the details of the incident behind Shanahan’s decision to quit, or the way the some are jumping with glee at his downfall, without seeming to comprehend the facts behind the case. Twitter is nasty on its best days; it’s downright toxic right now.
Shanahan has enjoyed an on again/off again relationship with the president since James Mattis resigned in January. He seemed destined to be nominated for the Pentagon’s top job, but hit a snag with the lodging of frivolous ethics complaints that charged him with improperly boosting his former employer, aerospace giant Boeing. After the DoD Inspector General exonerated Shanahan in late April, President Donald Trump announced he would be sending Shanahan’s nomination to the Senate.
But that nomination never made it down Pennsylvania Avenue, and now we know why.
Edwin Edwards, the infamous Louisiana Democratic politician, once said, “The only way I can lose this election is if I’m caught in bed with either a dead girl or a live boy.” These days, you can add domestic violence to that list, apparently even if you’re not the one “credibly accused” (as we learned to say last summer) of committing it.
Let’s get something straight:Shanahan might be guilty of being a crappy husband and absent father. I can’t think of a top executive in any industry about whom one could not say the same thing. But the FBI is not “investigating Shanahan for domestic violence” as the Twitteratti have been blithely throwing around.
It has, however, been taking longer than expected with his background investigation. I won’t rehash all the gory details from the Washington Post article that broke the story, but Shanahan’s messy marriage and messy divorce, and his son’s arrest for assaulting his mother, clearly account for the FBI’s delay.
You can read it for yourself—which would be more than most people seem to have done. What’s clear from both the public record and the Post’s reporting is that Shanahan’s wife was the one arrested for domestic abuse, not he. And the couple’s three children, who are all now young adults, are reportedly estranged from their mother, not their father.
It’s possible for men to be the victims of domestic violence, too. But put the words “domestic violence” and “cabinet secretary” in the same sentence and people’s ability to read seems to go out the window. As the Twitter outrage demonstrates, any attempt to take the nomination forward with this story floating around was doomed to be an exercise in futility. You can’t reason with a mob, and the country has been descending further into tribalism for some time now.
Just like with the Iranian tanker attacks, a very large number of those who oppose the president will believe anything bad about him or anyone he supports, despite clear evidence to the contrary. Who needs “deep fakes,”or Russian misinformation, when we won’t even look at the facts when they’re presented?
Shanahan will soon be gone from Washington, but we’re all left to wonder: why was none of this uncovered in the FBI’s first investigation? An ugly divorce complete with dueling accusations of violence, and a son convicted of assault, seem pretty hard to hide. If Shanahan had been running for office, we’d have known all of this months ago.
As Shanahan himself said in a statement, “After having been confirmed for deputy secretary less than two years ago, it is unfortunate that such a painful and deeply personal family situation from long ago is being dredged up and painted in an incomplete and therefore misleading way as a result of this nomination process.”
The country needs like men like Shanahan, who leave very lucrative careers to serve at the highest levels of government. Incidents like this one serve no purpose other than to drive good people away. While Shanahan and his children are the ones hurt by this latest episode, the nation is most affected in the end.