Trump’s Worst Watcher

Do you remember back when everybody thought John Kelly was going to calm down the Trump White House?

Stop laughing. Although it has been another wow of a week, hasn’t it? We had one top administration official, Rob Porter, resigning over claims of domestic abuse regarding two ex-wives. Kelly defended Porter as “a friend, a confidant and a trusted professional” shortly before a picture popped up of one former Mrs. Porter sporting a black eye.

.. This was a little bit after Kelly himself made headlines for suggesting that some young immigrants couldn’t qualify for federal help because they were just “too lazy to get off their asses” and file some paperwork.

.. Meanwhile the president, apparently unsupervised, was calling for a government shutdown and lobbying enthusiastically for an expensive new military parade.

.. A good chief of staff advises the president against doing things that will make the administration look stupid or crazy. So, are we all in agreement that Kelly, retired general turned Trump chief of staff, appears to be … a failure? And sort of a jerk in the bargain?

.. Kelly did nothing about the fact that the White House is loud and mean and generally unfathomable. Except make things even worse. This, after all, is the guy who’s intervened whenever Donald Trump is in his expansive give-me-an-immigration-bill-to-sign phase, and pushed him over to Haiti-is-a-shithole territory.

.. When Kelly was head of the Department of Homeland Security, many Democrats liked him

.. He seemed smart, and he knew stuff.

.. But now it’s becoming clear that Kelly is the point man on immigration insecurity, heading off the president’s impulses for outreach, no matter how fleeting.

.. The best Panetta could do in a phone interview was to suggest the new, bad version of his old friend might be the product of too much time spent with his current boss.

.. The world began to notice that Kelly was perhaps not as cool, calm and collected as we’d bargained for when he was coordinating a condolence call by the president to Myeshia Johnson, whose husband, Sgt. La David Johnson, was killed while serving on a strange mission in Niger.

.. he stepped up to the White House podium and launched that infamous tirade against Representative Wilson,” said Whipple. That kind of outspokenness in a chief of staff is “very unusual,” he added, not to mention “politically inept.”

.. It’s hard to remember many times that Kelly’s outspokenness helped the president out of trouble.

.. he offered up a theory that the Civil War was caused by “the lack of an ability to compromise.”

.. Maybe Mattis could be chief of staff. Hard to imagine things would get worse.

Trump and Kelly deserve each other

Trump’s first definition, in the person of Reince Priebus, was as an executive who preferred to surround himself with toadies constitutionally incapable of standing up to him and prepared to pay the price of slathering him with praise. The most vivid illustration came during Trump’s first full Cabinet meeting, in June, when Priebus gushed, “We thank you for the opportunity and the blessing that you’ve given us to serve your agenda and the American people.”

Just as Priebus revealed Trump’s insatiable desire for stroking, Kelly illustrated his unsettling attraction to strongmen.

.. The problem, as it turned out, was that Kelly not only reinforced some of Trump’s worst instincts — he displayed them himself. Where Trump resisted condemning white separatists protesting the removal of a Robert E. Lee statue in Charlottesville last summer, Kelly followed a few months later with a paean to Lee as “an honorable man” and asserting that “the lack of an ability to compromise led to the Civil War.”

.. Kelly seems to share Trump’s inclination to escalate and allergy to apology. After Kelly attacked Florida Democrat Rep. Frederica S. Wilson as an “empty barrel” and a video showed that he had misrepresented her comments, Kelly vowed he would “never” apologize.

.. He cared more about keeping one of the few capable people inside the West Wing at his side than about having an accused abuser on the staff.
.. When the Porter story broke, Kelly’s response was classic, Trumpian bravado: to urge Porter to fight on and issue a statement praising him as “a man of true integrity and honor.”

How Trump broke conservatism

Chief among them is Trump’s assault on truth, which takes a now-familiar form. First, assert and maintain a favorable lie. Second, attack and discredit sources of opposition. Third, declare victory based on power or applause.

So, Trump claimed that Florida Democratic Rep. Frederica Wilson’s account of his conversation with a Gold Star widow was “totally fabricated.” (Not true.) Wilson, after all, is “wacky.” (Not relevant.) And Trump won the interchange because Wilson is “killing the Democrat Party.” (We’ll see.)

The pattern is invariable. President Barack Obama is a Kenyan; the Mexican government deliberately dumps criminals across the border; “thousands and thousands” of people in New Jersey celebrated the 9/11 attacks ; Texas Republican Sen. Ted Cruz’s father consorted with Lee Harvey Oswald; vaccination schedules can be tied to autism; Obama was “wiretapping” Trump Tower during the presidential campaign; Obama asked British intelligence to spy on Trump; at least 3 million immigrants voted illegally in the 2016 election. Any source that disputes Trump is personally defamed or dismissed as “fake news.” And how is truth ultimately adjudicated? “The country believes me,” Trump said earlier this year. “Hey, I went to Kentucky two nights ago. We had 25,000 people.” Confronted by a reporter about his routine deceptions, Trump answered, “I can’t be doing so badly, because I’m president and you’re not.”

.. Conservatives were supposed to be the protectors of objective truth from various forms of postmodernism. Now they generally defend our thoroughly post-truth president. Evidently we are all relativists now.

..  The problem is not just the constant lies. It is the dismissal of reason and objectivity as inherently elitist and partisan.

a pernicious form of tyranny: a tyranny over the mind.

.. The alternative to reasoned discourse is the will to power.
.. This is the frightening direction of Trumpism. It is the corruption that good men such as White House Chief of Staff John F. Kelly are enabling.

Video shows Kelly made inaccurate claims about lawmaker in feud over Trump’s condolence call

Trump lashed out on Twitter the next morning, calling Wilson’s account “totally fabricated” and stating that he had “proof.” Trump’s subsequent revelation that Obama had not called Kelly after his son’s death led to Kelly’s appearance in the briefing room Thursday.

.. In the Fox interview, Trump insisted that he did speak La David Johnson’s name in his conversation with his widow.

At the White House, Sanders accused reporters of fanning the flames of a sensational story. “It should have ended yesterday after General Kelly’s comments,” she said. “But it didn’t. . . . It’s still the bulk of the coverage on most every TV you turn on and most every newspaper that you open up today.”

She did not mention that Trump had tweeted again about the issue late Thursday, nearly eight hours after Kelly’s briefing room appearance.

“The Fake News is going crazy with wacky Congresswoman Wilson (D), who was SECRETLY on a very personal call, and gave a total lie on content!” Trump wrote.

 .. In his defense of Trump on Thursday, Kelly accused Wilson of “selfish behavior.” And he asserted that Wilson, at the 2015 FBI building dedication in Miami, had “talked about how she was instrumental in getting the funding for that building, and how she took care of her constituents because she got the money, and she just called up President Obama, and on that phone call, he gave the money, the $20 million.”Wilson denied making such remarks. The Sun-Sentinel video shows that she recounted how she went into “attack mode” to ensure that Congress and Obama expedited a bill to name the building after the two fallen FBI agents in about four weeks.

When initially told that such legislation could take as long as a year, Wilson recalled, “I said — I’m a school principal — and I said, excuse my French, ‘Aw, hell no, we’re going to get this done.’ ” She spread credit, offering praise for then-House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio). She also praised the two agents, Benjamin Grogan and Jerry Dove, who were killed in a shootout with bank robbers in 1986 in Miami.

Peter Feaver, a Duke University political science professor who served as a special adviser at the National Security Council in the George W. Bush administration, said Trump had erred by engaging in the political fight in the first place.

“Every politically savvy person would have said, ‘You can’t criticize Gold Star families and have anything good come out — so just don’t bother,’ ” Feaver said. “If they criticize you, just take it.”

John Kelly’s defense of Trump was absurd. And he surely knows it.

But Kelly did not even deny Wilson’s basic claim, i.e., that Trump said some variation of “He knew what he was signing up for, but I guess it hurts anyway.”
.. But it’s not clear why Kelly had to go out of his way to suggest that the congresswoman was exploiting Johnson’s death, suggesting for good measure that he was so angry that he walked among the graves of fallen soldiers to cool down, and then launching into a sermon about how basic decency and traditional values are dead. “When I was a kid growing up, a lot of things were sacred in our country,” Kelly said, adding that “women were sacred.”
It’s odd to invoke the “sacredness” of women while defending Trump, whom multiple women have accused of sexual assault and who has repeatedly and very publicly denigrated women in horrifying ways, but Kelly is of course not responsible for Trump’s actions. What is worse is the sleight of hand Kelly used to align Trump culturally and morally with the military and the families of the fallen while casting the congresswoman as belonging to a kind of cultural category that, in the minds of people of Kelly’s generation,
.. which came of age during the country’s searing divisions over Vietnam, is characterized by empty, valueless showboating and doesn’t have sufficient respect for the military and the ultimate sacrifice made by fallen soldiers and their loved ones.
.. Whatever the truth about Wilson’s motives, the decision as to who listened in on the call was a personal one made by the next of kin. And Kelly should respect that. Instead, he helped Trump play the aggrieved party. But in this case, Trump apparently botched the call to a family. He should have known that he might be placed on speakerphone. (When you were a “kid growing up,” surely men took responsibility for their actions, right, John?)