When Gen. John Kelly replaced Reince Priebus as Chief of Staff in the current White House, many breathed a sigh of relief. While Priebus seemed not to have had any control over the president, the staff or the information that leaked from the White House, people believed Kelly, a soldier who respects order and protocol, would reign the president in and bring order to what on the outside looked like pathological chaos.
But we saw this week that not even Kelly is who many of us wanted him to be, or hoped he would be. We believed that he would be honest at all costs, that he would stand up to the president and speak truth to power. We believed that he would not be compromised, and for a moment, we saw light in what has been a dark period of time for many since the 2016 presidential elections.
Kelly, who was drawn into an unfortunate discussion about his son’s death as a soldier after the president, seeking an escape from questions as to why he had not mentioned the fact that four Green Berets had died in Niger, deflected the question by comparing himself to his nemesis, former President Obama.
He was going to call the victims’ families, he said, something neither former President Obama nor Bush had done. That caused a firestorm in the media, with reporters seeking to see if what he had said was in fact true.
Meanwhile, the body of one of those Green Berets, 24-year-old Sgt. LaDavid Johnson was on its way home. Johnson’s body was found 48 hours after the bodies of the other were found. With no answers as to what happened, and no support or even mention from the United States government, Johnson’s pregnant wife met her husband’s coffin at Miami International Airport. There, she wept over his flag-draped coffin and walked away from her grief into a situation which only exacerbated her pain.
The president decided to call her, and apparently said words that were likely meant to be comforting, but which missed the mark. On speaker phone, the president was heard to say that young Johnson had known what he was getting into when he signed into the military. His widow reportedly broke down into tears, but one lawmaker, in the car with the family, heard the call and reported what had been said.
It is safe to say or to assume that the president likely meant to be comforting. He just missed the mark.
But the congresswoman, Frederica Wilson, was outraged and shared with the world what she had heard the president say. The president did his normal thing: defended himself, said Wilson lied, and called her a name.
Then he got General John Kelly to go on television and defend him.
Kelly did as he was asked. He stepped right into the middle of this heap of dung, and sullied himself and his reputation, by treating Rep. Wilson as though she were inhuman. He never said her name; he intimated that she had lied about what the president had said, and then he told a story about how she had bragged about getting money for a project in Florida at a ceremony which was being held to honor slain FBI agents for which a project had been named.
Lawrence O’Donnell, later on MSNBC, said that both he and Kelly had grown up in Irish Catholic neighborhoods where black people were regularly disparaged. To call a black person an “empty barrel” was a familiar and vicious put-down. Kelly knew it and used the term at least twice in his press conference held to defend the president.
When a videotape surfaced that showed that Kelly had lied, the White House dismissed the discovery, with Sarah Huckabee Sanders saying that four-star generals should not be questioned. “If you want to go over Gen. Kelly, that’s up to you,” she said, “but I think if you want to get into a debate with a four-star marine general, that’s highly inappropriate.” (http://www.politico.com/story/2017/10/20/frederica-wilson-john-kelly-feud-243987)
The president lies. His press secretaries have lied from the start, beginning with Sean Spicer lying about the size of the president’s inaugural crowd one day after the inauguration. We have all known that the president lies, that he is inconsistent with what he says he stands for. We are familiar with his name-calling and with his belief that he is a victim of almost everyone and everything. He is not loyal to people who have been loyal to him; if he feels like his being is in trouble, he will throw anyone under the bus. We have seen that he needs people to worship him at all costs; to hell with the country, the American people, and, frankly, the world.
The battle cry of his supporters is that when this president is attacked, he fights back.
True. But he often attacks first and is then incensed when people push back, like Rep. Wilson did. She challenged the president and Gen. Kelly and her pushback didn’t bring any disappointing surprise about this president.
But her actions did bring it home that there is no honesty in this White House. Not even representatives of the military can be counted on to be honest.
.There is no hope for honesty and justice for anyone other than his “base” in this White House. That is cause for concern. Instead of making the world safe for democracy, this president and his friends have set us up to face Armageddon.
That is the honest, scary truth.
Rev. Dr. Susan K Smith is available for preaching and worships on the intersectionality of politics, race and religion. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org