What do you say to someone who has recently lost her husband in tragic circumstances? A woman with two small children and another on the way, whose soul mate died in a foreign country, fighting for his own.
You say, "I'm so sorry for your loss. I can't imagine the pain you're feeling. Your husband was a great man, who will be remembered for his service and sacrifice."
You don't say, "he knew what he was signing up for, but it hurts anyway." You also make sure that you know the name of the person who has died, and that you use it correctly and effortlessly.
That much should be the basic level of respect shown to a grieving widow. This should not be difficult to understand. It should not have to be explained to anyone who has reached the other side of puberty.
It beggars belief that the man at the centre of a global conversation around how to treat the bereaved with compassion is the President of the United States.
This is not a race to the bottom of the barrel. We're well beyond that now. The barrel has been shattered into a million tiny pieces, and still we're descending, perhaps to the fiery depths of hell.
President Trump's treatment of Myeshia Johnson, the widow of Sergeant La David T. Johnson, is beyond disgusting. From his insensitive phone call, to his insinuation on Twitter that Mrs Johnson is not telling the truth, Trump's behaviour has demeaned the office of the Commander in Chief. But as much as has been written about the utterly un-presidential nature and conduct of President Donald J. Trump, I'm beginning to wonder whether his behaviour is conscious, or at least strategic; as repellent an idea as that is.
It's not a theory I can claim as my own. My fellow columnist Heather du Plessis-Allan and I have had heated discussions on this subject, and she recently sent me an article written by American business strategist Roger L. Martin, in which he argues that Trump's outlandish behaviour is all part of a "brilliant" strategy - one that he developed over the course of the election campaign and continues to use today.
Martin's argument hinges on the idea that Trump, faced with a crowded race for the Republican nomination, created a whole new category of political candidate and dominated it wholly. He became the anti-establishment candidate, and then worked to ensure that his behaviour was as consistently anti-establishment as possible, building "cumulative advantage".
He used his political incorrectness to build a brand that established a strong rapport with the disenfranchised and lulled his opponent into a false sense of security - because who in their right mind would've thought that a man who attacked a Gold Star family, who dismissed "p***y-grabbing" as "locker room talk", and who attacked Senator John McCain for being a prisoner of war could do all that and still be elected president?
When viewed through the lens of Martin's theory, Trump's behaviour begins to look almost rational. In acting in a way that consistently causes shock and outrage, Trump reinforces over and over to his base that he is the alternative to the status quo. He alone will be the one to cut through the platitudes and jingoism of the establishment. He alone will represent those who have felt unheard and unrepresented.
I don't for a second believe that he is smart enough to have fashioned himself as a modern Machiavellian villain for political gain, but, as Martin argues, "it doesn't matter whether he consciously set out to pursue that strategy or whether it was the result of his personality and instincts. The outcome is the same in either case."
I believe that his personality was alarming to begin with, it seemed to resonate with the masses, and so he stuck with it. While he may be far from a Fulbright scholar, even Trump can surely grasp the idea that if it ain't broke, it doesn't need to be fixed.
As a case in point, I don't believe that Trump strategically set out to treat a dead soldier's wife with contempt. I think it's far more likely that he simply was incapable of the level of compassion required for such a call, and blundered his way through it.
His refusal to back down and apologise, however, and his willingness to engage combatively in the scandal that ensued may well have been strategic. To his base, he signalled that he isn't the kind of namby-pamby politician who agonises over his words. Sure, he could've said it differently, his supporters would argue, but he spoke to the widow and offered his condolences. And the "biased, fake news, left wing" media is just out to get him anyway.
If you view the president's behaviour from that vantage point, highlighting the fact that it is reprehensible just reinforces his value to his supporters. Which is depressing in itself. When the Democrats concoct their strategy for 2020, they'll need to figure out how to interrupt the self-fulfilling cycle of unreality that Trump has created, and ask what has happened to Americans that they are willing to support a man who not only gives in to, but is seemingly guided by his basest instincts.
Not that any of that will be of any comfort to Mrs Johnson. Or to any person with a shred of human decency.
Sadly, I think the worst is yet to come.