When John Kelly was working his way up the ranks in the Marine Corps to become a four-star general, he was known as a hard-liner on everything from immigration to his opposition to women serving in combat roles — but if nothing else, he had a well-deserved reputation as a competent manager and superb military leader.
Nowadays it's beginning to look like the general, who retired from the military in mid-2016, is having too much of Donald Trump rub off on him in his role as Trump's chief of staff. Or, as my colleague John Nichols has written in his book "Horsemen of the Trumpocalypse," no one should have been fooled. Kelly has always been worse than Trump himself.
Kelly initially was Trump's secretary of Homeland Security, where he quickly brandished his hawkish attitudes about immigration, dismantling Obama-era guidelines on deportations and even ignoring the former president's protections for the so-called DACA or "Dreamer" kids.
Nevertheless, when he was moved from DHS to take Reince Priebus' chief of staff job, it was widely believed that he would help mitigate Trump's recklessness and inject the presidency with at least some decency. Instead, as we've been witnessing in recent days, he has morphed into the chief enabler for Trump's dishonesty and name-calling of anyone who doesn't bow down to him.
Kelly has adopted his boss's name-calling, frequently referring to "self-appointed opinion makers" and the "chattering class" to show his disdain for those who don't agree with administration policies. Only last week he characterized "Dreamers" who didn't register under the DACA program as "too lazy to get off their asses." Before that, there was his famous excoriation of Florida Democratic Congresswoman Frederica Wilson, who had the temerity to call out Trump's tasteless call to the widow of a soldier killed in Niger.
The general claimed the congresswoman — an "empty barrel," according to Kelly — had sullied a ceremony naming an FBI office for two agents killed in the line of duty by claiming credit for securing the money for the building. Archived video of the event showed Kelly's claim to be totally false. She never said such a thing and, in fact, wasn't even in office when the funding for the building was obtained.
But, a la Trump, Kelly never apologized.
Nor did he apologize for his rewriting of history in defending Trump's laudatory remarks about Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee, whose monuments the president believes need to be preserved. Kelly quickly backed Trump, claiming that Lee was "an honorable man" who chose duty to his state over loyalty to a federal government.
"It was always loyalty to state first back in those days," the retired general added, ignoring the fact that Lee was a West Point grad who took an oath as all West Pointers did even back then "that I will bear true allegiance to the United States of America, and that I will serve them honestly and faithfully against all their enemies or opposers whatsoever, and observe and obey the orders of the president of the United States."
In other words, Robert E. Lee was a traitor and had the Union's ranking general, U.S. Grant, not interceded, he would have been hanged as one upon his defeat.
Kelly has also insisted that the Civil War could have been avoided and the tens of thousands of lost lives saved if only the North and South would have compromised. Compromised? The only compromise, Abraham Lincoln soon discovered, was that slavery had to continue to be sanctioned in the South.
Historian Ron Chernow's currently best-selling book, "Grant," provides an excellent account of that. Hopefully, Kelly is taking time to read it.
What was most revealing, though, was Kelly's interview with Fox News earlier this month in which he talked about Trump's decision to declassify the so-called Nunes memo on supposed FBI and Justice Department mishandling of the Russia investigation.
"This president is so unique," he pontificated, adding that Trump wants everything out "so American people can make up their own minds."
Really, Gen. Kelly? Trump wants "everything out"? How about his tax returns, or the names of foreign visitors who stay at Trump hotels and golf resorts, or the White House visitor logs that every other president has made available to the public, or the foreign governments with which the Trump organization has financial interests, or the volumes of other information the public ought to have?
And now there's the revelation that Kelly protected staff secretary and wife-beater Rob Porter for more than a year because he believed him to be an honorable man despite FBI reports to the contrary.
It's become clear that John Kelly needs to step down. One Donald Trump in the White House is quite sufficient.
Dave Zweifel is editor emeritus of The Capital Times. firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @DaveZweifel. Zweifel is the co-author, along with John Nichols, of the new book "The Capital Times: A Proudly Radical Newspaper's Century Long Fight for Justice and Peace," published by the Wisconsin Historical Society Press. It's available on the Historical Society website, and at Amazon and Barnes and Noble.
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