If anything remotely “positive” came out of Donald Trump's disgraceful treatment of slain Green Beret Sgt. La David Johnson and his family, it is the complete obliteration of the myth that Chief of Staff John Kelly is some sort of moderating presence in the White House.
It was too heavy a price to pay, and Kelly apparently wasn't done disgracing himself merely by lying for Trump. Now, he has revealed himself as a fellow sympathizer with the “very fine people” of white supremacy.
Like several of the slain soldiers whose families were disrespected by Trump, Johnson is black. And I can't help but wonder what all the black soldiers at Arlington would be “screaming” at Kelly if he would listen to them, and if they could hear him not just defending Confederate general and slave-owner Robert E. Lee, but praising him as a man of honor who went to war against the United States of America to protect the institution of slavery.
That's exactly what Kelly did in his interview with Fox News's Laura Ingraham, and he did it gratuitously. Kelly started out with the subtler dog whistles of defending “history” and conflating Confederate monuments with those honoring the likes of George Washington, but then he explicitly praised Lee's character:
“I would tell you that Robert E. Lee was an honorable man. He was a man that gave up his country to fight for his state, which in 150 years ago was more important than country. It was always loyalty to state first back in those days. Now it's different today. But the lack of an ability to compromise led to the civil war. And men and women of good faith on both sides made their stand where their conscience had them make their stand.”
Even Ingraham seemed uncomfortable with this turn, immediately pivoting back to Washington but laughing heartily at the concerns of tens of millions of Americans (and the people who were deciding what to do in their own church) being mocked with an Andy Warhol joke.
It is a despicable lie the Civil War was over anything but slavery, but even in Kelly's scenario, Lee was a traitor who took up arms against his country. And it's funny how “back in those days,” Northern states somehow managed to defy the fashionability of treason that was so important back then and just coincidentally were also not trying to continue enslaving and torturing and murdering their own people.
Here's what an “honorable man” Lee was, according to Wesley Norris, one of Lee's former slaves, according to an excerpt from “Reading the Man: A Portrait of Robert E. Lee Through His Private Letters”:
I remained with Gen. Lee about seventeen months, when my sister Mary, a cousin of ours, and I determined to run away, which we did in the year 1859; we had already reached Westminster, in Maryland, on our way to the North, when we were apprehended and thrown into prison, and Gen. Lee notified of our arrest; we remained in prison fifteen days, when we were sent back to Arlington; we were immediately taken before Gen. Lee, who demanded the reason why we ran away; we frankly told him that we considered ourselves free; he then told us he would teach us a lesson we never would forget; he then ordered us to the barn, where in his presence, we were tied firmly to posts by a Mr. Gwin, our overseer, who was ordered by Gen. Lee to strip us to the waist and give us fifty lashes each, excepting my sister, who received but twenty; we were accordingly stripped to the skin by the overseer, who, however, had sufficient humanity to decline whipping us; accordingly Dick Williams, a county constable was called in, who gave us the number of lashes ordered; Gen. Lee, in the meantime, stood by, and frequently enjoined Williams to “lay it on well,” an injunction which he did not fail to heed; not satisfied with simply lacerating our naked flesh, Gen. Lee then ordered the overseer to thoroughly wash our backs with brine, which was done.
Pobody's nerfect, amirite?
I will grant there are a lot of people who support leaving monuments alone because they don't know any better, they don't know these monuments were erected long after the Civil War in order to terrorize black people, and/or they don't get the unsubtle distinction between recording and remembering history and celebrating it with statues and monuments and flags. These people can perhaps be forgiven and maybe even taught.
But Kelly damn well knows better.
Watch the full segment below.
Please note: This is a commentary piece. The views and opinions expressed within it are those of the author only and do not necessarily reflect the editorial opinion of IJR.