By all accounts, General John Kelly has practically been a savior as President Trump’s chief of staff. At the very least he has restored a modicum of order to a house in disarray. He appears disciplined, organized, rational, and effective, qualities he appears to have in common with… well, with damn near no one in the Trump administration.
It was in this context that The Curmudgeon found himself last weekend contemplating General Kelly’s future as White House chief of staff after his out-and-out lie about Florida Congresswoman Frederica Wilson’s comments at the dedication of a new FBI facility in Florida a few years ago.
It would have been easy to take General Kelly’s word for it, or to give him the benefit of the doubt, but videotape reveals all: Kelly lied about Congresswoman Wilson’s remarks that day. Now that he has been caught in that lie it seemed likely to The Curmudgeon that Kelly, ever the good and honorable soldier, would feel he had no choice but to fall on his sword and resign, having done his boss’s bidding at the expense of his own integrity, since the White House, as it always does, doubled down on the lie instead of saying “Whoops, we got it wrong, we’re sorry,” which is what us normal people do.
But would his resignation be a good thing? How do you weigh the seeming competence Kelly has brought to a place pockmarked with incompetence against his awful, willing, intentionally misleading impugning of the integrity of the congresswoman? And on top of that, there was his bullying, obnoxious insistence, during a press conference on the subject, that he would take questions only from reporters who were members of Gold Star families or who knew Gold Star families – as if such people were the only ones who had a right to question him. (And The Curmudgeon will ignore Sarah Huckabee Sanders’ not-so-thinly veiled threat against anyone who dares question a general. She’s just another willing tool, nothing more than Sean Spicer with an occasional flicker of personality that has mostly been doused under the pressure of the demand that she stand in front of the press daily and routinely lie through her teeth about important and even about unimportant things.)
While he was contemplating such matters The Curmudgeon found himself the other day reading a review of a new biography of Ulysses S. Grant. When Grant left office he decided to try to make some money for the first time in his life, got fleeced by a con man, and then, dying of cancer, sat down to write his autobiography – the first president to do so, and a book that is still considered remarkable by most standards.
And then a line in that book review – actually, just a clause within a longer sentence – really struck The Curmudgeon. Describing the life about which Grant wrote, the reviewer observed that
Grant’s world is, in certain respects, painfully familiar, people by such figures as the military man whose managerial skill is assumed to indicate integrity…
And there you have it: the very circumstance in which we find ourselves today. Absent some credible accounting for his inexplicable lie, this is Kelly: a guy whose managerial skill – a skill not to be underestimated in an environment in which such a skill is so completely missing in action – gives him a patina of integrity that it now appears he may not actually possess. In the end, his may just be a dime-a-dozen competence with a limited moral foundation and not necessarily a reflection of integrity of any kind.
Real integrity would mean explaining his remarks and why he continues to stand by them, apologizing, or doing the honorable thing and resigning.
The next move is Kelly’s, but The Curmudgeon no longer worries about the possibility that the White House may soon be deprived of Kelly’s services. Either his integrity is not sufficient to lead him to resign or what he’s bringing to the White House is just a pretty veneer that’s been slapped on what has quickly become an ugly, ugly facade. If this is the case, moreover, the president will no doubt quickly find someone to replace him who may or may not exhibit the same degree of surface competence – remember, Trump is a man who thought Anthony Scaramucci had something – anything – to offer his country, so the bar is not set terribly high – but who also will be willing, when the time comes, to do the president’s bidding, lie through his teeth, and then fall on his sword so Donald Trump can look into the camera with the eyes of the pathological liar he is and insist yet again that what happened was certainly no fault of his own.