On Thursday, Donald Trump's Chief of Staff, retired Gen. John Kelly, stepped in front on the press and lit his military career on fire in order to protect his boss.
Rather than come to the defense of Sgt. La David Johnson after Trump callously insulted his widow by saying, "He knew what he signed up for", Kelly attacked Congresswoman Frederica Wilson (D-Fl). He did not do this because he was actually offended that Wilson, who had known Sgt. Johnson since he was a child, overheard Trump's despicable comments on speakerphone and then told the media was a soulless monster the president is. That might have been understandable. But that's not what happened. Instead, Kelly attacked Rep. Wilson in order to give Trump's cult-like followers someone to focus their hate on so they wouldn't pay attention to what Trump had just done. Exactly what I said they would do right after the story of Trump's jaw-droppingly cruel phone call broke.
It's important to keep in mind that Kelly did not attack Sgt. Johnson's mother, who also heard the conversation and confirmed Rep. Wilson's claim. Nor did Kelly say Rep. Wilson was lying, which Trump did say while also claiming he had "proof" which has yet to appear. Kelly gave an entire press conference to attack Rep. Wilson's character in vague terms for the sole purpose of making her The Enemy.
Trump has been selling himself as the man who loves America so much he was willing to give up the luxurious lifestyle of a billionaire so he could "make America great again". Why, he's so super patriotic that he loves the troops more than anyone else ever has, believe him! So when people noticed he hadn't bothered to tweet about the death of 4 green berets, it became a problem. When they found out that he still hadn't bothered to write a condolence letter after two weeks, it became a serious problem. When Trump was finally nagged into calling the the families and we found out he had flippantly dismissed the sacrifice of Sgt. Johnson, it became a potential disaster.
Trump just spent the last couple of months telling the nation that disrespecting the troops is one of the worst things you could possibly do. Immediately following that propaganda push by disrespecting the troops in one of the most galling ways imaginable might be enough to break through the programming of some of Trump's followers and with his approval rating as low as it is, he simply can't afford to lose any. Kelly weighed his military career, his honor, his integrity, and the memory of Sgt. Johnson versus defending the indefensible and sold his soul:
And he [Trump] said to me, what do I say? I said to him, sir, there's nothing you can do to lighten the burden on these families. Let me tell you what I tell them, let me tell you what my best friend told me because he was my casualty officer: He said Kel, he was doing exactly what he wanted to do when he was killed. He knew what he was getting into by joining that 1 percent. He knew what the possibilities were. Because we're at war. And when he died, and the four cases we're talking about Niger and my son's cases in Afghanistan, when he died he was surrounded by the best men on this Earth, his friends. That's what the president tried to say to four families the other day.
I was stunned when I came to work yesterday morning and broken-hearted at what I saw a member of Congress doing, a member of Congress who listened in on a phone call from the president of the United States to a young wife. And in his way tried to express that opinion that he's a brave man, a fallen hero, he knew what he was getting himself into because he enlisted, there's no reason to enlist, he enlisted and was where he wanted to be, exactly where he wanted to be with exactly the people he wanted to be with when his life was taken. That was the message. That was the message that was transmitted. It stuns me that a member of Congress would have listened in on that conversation. Absolutely stuns me. And I thought at least that was sacred.
That, right there, is pure bullshit. No commanding officer worth his rank would ever telling a grieving loved one "he knew what he was getting into." As someone who's lost a son in combat, Kelly would know that's not what you say to a loved one from firsthand experience. It's cruel, it's inhumane, and Kelly should be ashamed of himself for lying through his teeth that he's the one that told Trump to say it. He had to make up a story of why Trump said something so stupid so he reverse engineered this obvious fabrication.
Let's put it this way, "They knew what they were getting into" is such a caricature of a heartless asshole, movies were making fun of it back in 1980:
While Trump is precisely the kind of person that would say it because he a classic narcissist lacking any and all empathy, Kelly is not. He understood quite well what Trump had done but his job on Thursday was to enrage Trump's base and point that rage at Rep. Wilson and only Rep. Wilson. If that wasn't clear yet from what Kelly had said so far, it becomes absolutely crystal in the next part:
You know, when I was a kid growing up a lot of things were sacred in our country. Women were sacred. Looked upon with great honor. That's obviously not the case anymore, as we've seen from recent cases. Life was sacred. That's gone. Religion. That seems to be gone as well. Gold Star families, I think that left in the convention over the summer. I just thought the selfless devotion that brings a man or woman to die in the battlefield, I thought that might be sacred.
Here, Kelly is invoking the loss of mythical 1950's "Leave it to Beaver" America that was great if you happened to be a white middle class heterosexual Christian male. This "loss" is the driving force behind the rage of Trump's entire movement. American right wingers have a persecution button hardwired into their brains and Kelly just deliberately hit it with a sledgehammer.
Now that Trump's followers, because that's the only people Kelly is talking to, are seeing red, he reminds them who they're supposed to be mad at:
And when I listened to this woman and what she was saying and what she was doing on TV, the only thing I could do to collect my thoughts was to go and walk among the finest men and women on this Earth. And you can always find them. Because they're in Arlington National Cemetery. Went over there for an hour and a half, walked among the stones, some of whom I put there because they were doing what I told them to do when they were killed.
Kelly goes on for a while and continues to attack Wilson but you get the idea. The Wall Street Journal is hailing this as "an adult finally stepp[ing] into the room]" but it's simply a jumble of emotional manipulation designed to shut down rational thought. That Kelly would use Arlington National Cemetery as a prop to do this speaks to how little he values his integrity.
But that's the price of working for Donald Trump. Sooner or later, you will have to sacrifice your dignity, your ethics, and your soul and it will still be for nothing. Just like everyone else that gets close to Trump, Kelly will find a knife in his back and a pink slip on his desk.
The next time Kelly visits Arlington, he should ask the men and women interred there if it was worth it. If he listens carefully to the breeze, he might get an answer. I doubt it will be the one he wants to hear.
Update: Part of Kelly's attack on Rep. Wilson was telling a story casting her as a publicity hound that turned out to be completely untrue. As of this writing, Kelly has not apologized. Don't hold your breath. This story is getting worse by the minute.
There are 17 days left to the the 2017 elections.
There are 381 days left to the 2018 elections.
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