Three months. That’s all it took was three months for me to reverse my opinion of White House Chief of Staff, John Kelly. This morning, I went back and reviewed my original post assessing General Kelly when he was first assigned the job. My assessment was that he was a good man, a fair man, and while I did not like some of his political stances (immigration, women in the military, the terrorist threat), I thought he had “the right stuff” for the job he had been given, basically the job of babysitting Trump & Co.
During his first weeks in the White House, some of Trump’s rhetoric did tone down, and the standard joke when Trump did go on a Twitter binge was that John Kelly must have had the day off. Things calmed down, it seemed, in the White House as it was reported that Kelly strictly controlled who got in to see Trump and what information Trump was provided. It seemed that maybe, just maybe, Kelly was bringing a bit of sanity to the administration, though some within the administration were grumbling.
But in recent days, I have had cause to re-examine my opinion and it has changed. Something happened somewhere along the line to convince Kelly to toe the party line, to be Trump’s ‘yes-man’ and to take his turn licking Trump’s boots along with the rest of the bunch. Where did it begin? It began when Trump, without Kelly’s prior knowledge, politicized the death of Kelly’s son who died in combat in 2010. Trump himself had, rightly, come under intense criticism for ignoring the deaths of four Green Berets in Niger on October 4th. As is his way, rather than address the criticism, he deflected and said (untruthfully) that none of his predecessors had even called families of fallen soldiers. As an example, he noted that President Obama had not called General Kelly to offer condolences for his son’s death.
I expected Kelly, who has kept that part of his life very private, to be enraged at the disrespect Trump had shown, but if he was, he hid it well. And then came Trump’s disastrous call to Myeshia Johnson, widow of La David Johnson, one of the four slain soldiers. The contents of the call should not be in dispute, as Ms. Johnson was in a car with four other people and the call was put on speakerphone. One of those four people was congresswoman, Frederica S. Wilson of Florida, a friend of the Johnson family. She confirmed what Ms. Johnson told the press, that Trump could not remember La David’s name and referred to him instead as “your guy”, and that he said Johnson ‘knew what he signed up for’, but that he supposed it hurt anyway. Such compassion, eh?
Kelly jumped to Trump’s defense and condemned Representative Wilson, going into attack mode. He has learned from Trump, obviously. Kelly told reporters that Wilson took credit for securing the funding for the building during a dedication in 2015. The building was named for two slain FBI agents. A video of the event was soon published proving Kelly wrong, but he did not acknowledge his error nor apologize. As recently as yesterday, he still refuses to tender an apology,
And now comes the straw that is breaking this camel’s back.
Kelly, appeared visibly pained while Trump spoke in August of the “very fine people” on both sides of white nationalist demonstrations in Charlottesville, Virginia. We all thought it was because he disapproved of Trump’s racist remarks and was aggrieved that he could not stop him. But on the other hand, perhaps he simply had a headache.
During an interview on Monday, for no apparent reason, Kelly launched into a diatribe that made no sense and seemed to show a side of Kelly that we had not seen before, an ignorant and largely racist side.
“I would tell you that Robert E. Lee was an honorable man. He was a man that gave up his country to fight for his state, which 150 years ago was more important than country. It was always loyalty to state first back in those days. Now it’s different today. But the lack of an ability to compromise led to the Civil War, and men and women of good faith on both sides made their stand where their conscience had them make their stand.”
Inability to compromise? The Civil War was about southern states refusing to give up their “right” to own other human beings, slaves. What compromise could be had? Oh, you can keep half of your slaves? Or, you can keep your slaves, but you can only beat them on Wednesdays? C’mon, Mr. Kelly, compromise was not an option. The long and short of it is that I am certain John Kelly is smart enough to know the lie in his words, to know the history behind the Civil War, but he has signed onto the alternative-facts bandwagon aka Kellyanne Conway, and there can likely be no turning back now.
I wanted to respect John Kelly. I had great hopes that he could at last bring some order out of the chaos that defines the White House under the Trump administration. He was supposed to be the adult in the room. As Samantha Bee said earlier, “John Kelly, you were supposed to be the one we didn’t have to watch like a hawk. You were supposed to be the hawk.”
I do not know why this man who had earned the respect of many through his long years of service even consented to take the job in the White House. But whatever his reasons, he is now a part of the Trump Circus Train, and I no longer respect him, no longer expect great things. Just another sideshow. He was our last best hope that someone could rein in Trump and at least keep him from making a fatal blunder. That hope is now dashed.