While some warned us against it, we accepted Gen. Kelly as the military father who would bring discipline to the unruly POTUS, much as his family hoped military school would straighten young Donald out (and how did THAT work out?). But we assumed Kelly would be the avuncular Ike, painting by numbers to reassure us all was well, and darkly warning against the Military Industrial Complex on his way out the door, the better to leave a legacy without really rocking the boat.
We like our heroes brave but not discourteous or upsetting of the status quo.
Instead we got Robert Duvall in "The Great Santini." We got the stuff of "Seven Days in May" in real life. We got Alexander Haig once again proclaiming, as Reagan lay in an operating room, that Haig was in charge (and anyone old enough remembers what a near-Constitutional crisis that off the cuff and intemperate remark sparked). Gen. Kelly is not the kindly avatar of our dreams, he is the stuff of our nightmares. And it's not democracy he threatens, it's the republic.
There was a reason the founding Fathers didn't want a standing army, and it wasn't just because of European history. Much is made of their knowledge of Greece and Rome, and while they structured their government on Roman principles, they were quite aware that Caesar became a "diktator" (we altered the spelling when we made it an English word) by Roman law, and just kept the power and the authority. It's the reason Brutus killed Julius in the first place. A standing military was not just a European fear of war for the sake of those in power; it was Sparta. The founders had heard of it long before Frank Miller did, and they didn't admire it nearly as much. They envisioned Athens instead; why else would Jefferson hope for a democracy as a government which governs least? Sparta was the government which governed most: every member of the society was suborned to its military purpose.
And now we are not only supposed to not question John Kelly because of his military background, we are supposed to give him the benefit of the doubt long after he has stripped away any pretense of being other than Donald Trump in a military uniform. He was in mufti this week in the White House briefing room, but he was wearing his uniform so conspicuously he almost polished his medals as he talked. He all but invoked Sparta with his references to the "1 percent" and his insistence that only the select few could be allowed to even address him.
As Charlie Pierce is fond of asking, "Who is he when he's at home?" Well, we found out; and it should be a chilling revelation. The problem is, when do we believe it? Erick Erickson spoke for many:
“I don’t think it was an intentional lie on his part,” Erickson said. “If it’s a pattern of behavior of his — and maybe it is — but right now I’m willing to give him the benefit of the doubt that he misspoke. Probably some other person at the White House gave him the wrong facts but he needs to apologize for it.”
Too bad that's not what happened:
But that’s not an accurate summary of the chief of staff’s statement. Kelly said he was “stunned” that Wilson had spoken about securing the building’s funding. In reality, she had only briefly mentioned her efforts to pass legislation to have the building named after two fallen FBI officers. And, secondly, Wilson made no mention of lobbying Obama in her 2015 speech, according to the Sentinel’s video.Ad hominem and empty pieties ("a sacred act...."), the usual response of the demagogue. Kelly has not only allied himself with that, he started it. He is not the father figure we thought he was. It was our mistake to think he would be, to think the military, of all institutions, would save the republic. We believed our freedom came from our warriors, and now we find that kind of freedom is a two-edged sword. We thought Kelly would be amiable Ike; we find out he's the raving "Santini":
Neither Sanders nor another White House spokesperson responded to TPM’s questions about the details it mischaracterized in recounting Kelly’s attack.
Sanders’ statement continued: “As Gen. Kelly pointed out, if you’re able to make a sacred act like honoring American heroes about yourself, you’re an empty barrel.”
Before walking off the stage, Kelly told Americans who haven’t served in the military that he pities them. “We don’t look down upon those of you who haven’t served,” he said. “In fact, in a way we are a little bit sorry because you’ll have never have experienced the wonderful joy you get in your heart when you do the kinds of things our servicemen and women do—not for any other reason than that they love this country.”And we should be very concerned; because if freedom comes from those who fight for us, then they hold our freedom in their hands; and can withdraw it whenever they see fit. Which brings us perilously closer to what Franklin meant: that we had a republic, if we can keep it.
When Kelly replaced the ineffectual Reince Priebus as the chief of staff, a sigh of relief emerged: at least the general would impose some discipline on the Administration. Now we have a sense of what military discipline in the White House sounds like.