Reprinted with permission from Creators.
WASHINGTON — White House Chief of Staff John Kelly was an officer, but he’s not a gentleman.
So much for the deft touch his job demands and the high hope we held he’d be a voice of reason, the innkeeper for the inmates of the Trump presidency.
As the days passed this bleak week, Kelly kept a silence, hardened into ice. He failed to apologize to a Democratic congresswoman of color for speaking poorly and falsely of her in a national media moment. Nor did he have a kind word for a pregnant Gold Star widow whose husband died in Niger. Even while saying women were “sacred.”
Mind you, Kelly was a four-star Marine Corps general, so he was slumming by speaking to civilian dweebs in the White House press corps. In the world we live in now, his stars give him a pass to speak strange untruths with no consequences.
Take it from Sarah Huckabee Sanders: “If you want to get into a debate with a four-star Marine general, I think that’s highly inappropriate.” The White House spokeswoman delivered her chilling line straight, snide, with a scowl.
Praising the warrior class, Kelly made clear “the best 1 percent this country produces” are superior to the rest of us in a band of brothers, we happy few, Shakespearean way. That’s bad news in democracy, which depends upon civilian control of the military.
It’s un-American to exalt the military, sir. But Marines are a breed apart, even in the military. Their fierce intensity inculcates a faith they are tougher than the rest: Army, Navy, Air Force. Huzzah.
Kelly was called out by a few pundits after a morbid solo in the pressroom, where he described how casualties are wrapped in shrouds and packed in ice. His son Robert was a Marine Corps casualty seven years ago in Afghanistan. It felt like yesterday as he recounted hearing the news from fellow Marine Corps commander, Joseph “Fighting Joe” Dunford, now chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
Clearly, the chief’s raw grief and anger on display created a potent political brew. His smear of Rep. Frederica Wilson, D-Fla., however, salted a grieving family’s wound and exposed a grim thinker with no sympathy for 99 percent of the populace.
Here’s Thomas Friedman of The New York Times: “Kelly squandered his moral authority.” Richard Cohen in The Washington Post: “Did Kelly lie or did he misremember? I prefer the second choice, but either way, the stars he once wore on his shoulder do not immunize him.”
Back in the briefing room, Kelly accused Wilson of grandstanding at the 2015 dedication of an FBI building, which was proved wrong. In Boston slang, he spoke harshly of her as an “empty barrel.”
Too bad he wildly missed the reason Wilson was with the widow when the president called her to say, “(Y)our guy … knew what he signed up for,” in his inimitable way.
Trump’s call came in on speakerphone in a parked vehicle.
At that moment, Wilson kept a vigil with the family of the slain soldier, La David Johnson, while waiting for his remains with an Army team. The congresswoman saw the sergeant grow up and mentored him as a youth. She was a family friend.
“When (Kelly) lied on me, he lied to them,” Wilson said, meaning the American people. She’s a spirited 74.
“The only thing I could do to collect my thoughts,” Kelly concluded, was to go to Arlington National Cemetery across the river that day.
Perhaps the battle-hardened Marine, 67, knows Montgomery Meigs, the Civil War quartermaster general, was the genius who suggested to President Lincoln: Let’s turn Robert E. Lee’s rolling plantation acres, Arlington, into a “field of honor” for Union soldiers.
The symbol was not so subtle: Their blood was on Lee’s hands. Meigs hated Lee, whom he knew, as a traitor. Like Kelly, he buried there his own son John, a West Point-educated soldier who died young in Virginia in 1864.
Kelly sure knows this: We have an all-volunteer military because the Pentagon and presidents like it that way. They can go to war easier. A draft requires a social consensus.
As for civilians, the last candle of hope at the court was extinguished with Kelly’s tirade.
To find out more about Jamie Stiehm, and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.