Josh Marshall takes a look at White House Chief of Staff Gen. John Kelly’s views on the Civil War and his refusal to apologize to Rep. Frederica Wilson (D-FL) for his obviously erroneous comments about her.
Ta-Nehisi Coates did a systematic take-down of John Kelly after he presented a revisionist history of the Civil War on Laura Ingraham’s new show on Fox [Monday] night. You can see that here. Kelly’s key points were that the cause (and for us the lesson) of the Civil War was an unwillingness to compromise and that Robert E. Lee was an “honorable” man.
Coates offers a good, clear rebuttal which there’s no need for me to duplicate. But I wanted to ask a more general question. Why is John Kelly talking about Robert E. Lee? Let alone praising him or attacking him, why is Lee even a topic of discussion? Kelly is an Irish Catholic from Boston born in 1950. He is not someone born in the Deep South who was reared in the Lee cult and coming to grips with that legacy or unable to shake it fully. Why is this even something we’re talking about?
Kelly did another notable thing. He pledged he would “never” apologize for his comments about Rep. Frederica Wilson (D-FL). This is despite the fact that it has been repeatedly and clearly shown that his central claim about her was false. We can give him the benefit of the doubt and assume his memory was faulty on the first take. I think we should. But sticking to the claim in the face of clear and irrefutable evidence makes it a clear lie on the second and third and every subsequent take. He also thinks Mueller should be investigating Secretary Clinton.
I take this performance as showing two things. One is what we saw in Kelly’s attack on Rep. Wilson. Kelly is not an adult in the room. He’s an example of what we might call Total Quality Trumpism, Trumpist ideology in a more disciplined, duty-focused, professional package. The core ideology and beliefs about reclamation and rectitude are the same. It’s not an accident that he ended up in the tightest circle of Trump’s orbit. The other is that, once again, Trump damages everything he touches.
But there’s something subtly different about Kelly compared to all the others who cozied up to Trump and saw their reputations and dignity destroyed through a deep inner weakness, desperation or lack of character – Christie, Pence, Tillerson, Priebus et al. Kelly’s eyes appear wide open. His tie to Trump seems to be based on a deep commonality of belief and a desire to sand away the rough edges of Trump to ensure the core goals of Trumpism succeed.
Gen. Kelly is not the only one who thinks the Civil War had nothing to do with slavery and we could have avoided all of that unpleasantness had we only left the South alone; slavery would have died out on its own because of the industrial revolution. It’s the Jim Crow version, but in his case, James Corvus. I’ve heard that from so many people who also think “Gone With The Wind” was a documentary that it’s no wonder that a white guy from Boston would accept it.
As for the idea that Kelly is a smoother, more palatable version of Trump and his ideology, there too we’ve all seen them on TV as clear-eyed and in control of their outbursts, but still gently pushing the ideas that Trump carries around on the end of a pitchfork. They can explain away their views of life and How Things Should Be in such a way that even when they are sharing demonstrable lies and misconceptions they sound like the most reasonable person in the room.
But underneath we still know there lurks danger and poison, and when you strip down the polish to bare metal, you have, as actor Wendell Pierce noted, a racist prick.