General John Kelly’s seemingly impossible task

It is important to recognize that there is nothing conservative about Donald Trump's lack of regard for our institutions or lack of respect for both norms of civility and truth. 


WASHINGTON, August 1, 2017 – On the same day Gen. John F. Kelly assumed the position of White House Chief of Staff we learned that President Trump personally dictated an apparently false response for his son, Donald, Jr., to issue about his meeting with a Russian lawyer and others in June 2016.

The statement, written by the President, who was not present at the meeting and had no personal knowledge of what transpired, said that they “had primarily discussed a program about the adoption of Russian children.”  

The meeting was about the Magnitsky Act, sanctions leveled against Russia for human rights violations. Russia’s reactions to those sanctions were to halt adoptions of Russian children by Americans.

The Russian lawyer, Veselnitskaya, baited Trump Jr. with the lure that she had information on Hillary Clinton.  Trump took the bait, only to find that her agenda was to get support to remove the Magnitsky sanctions.

It’s Magnitsky, Veselnitskaya & Clinton, not Donald Trump Jr.

Gen. Kelly has made changes, the most public was removing Anthony Scaramucci, the President’s choice to be Communications Director. Before he had taken office, Scaramucci conducted an obscenity laced interview that President Trump said was inappropriate and which, it is speculated, was a final nail in his communications coffin.

In his new job, Kelly has a greater challenge than simply bringing order to the White House. His larger job, if the Trump presidency is to survive, is to get Mr. Trump to start speaking with clarity and truth as the country cannot afford a president who cannot be believed, either by our friends or foes, at home or abroad.

Pages can be filled with Donald Trump’s misstatements.  Consider a few.  As his presidency reached the six-month mark, Trump claimed that he had signed more bills (42) at that point than “any president ever.”

This is completely untrue.  Just among recent presidents, he was behind Jimmy Carter (70 bills signed), George H.W. Bush (55), and Bill Clinton (50).

On July 17, Trump claimed it took “one sentence” to get the president of China to agree to sell U.S. beef in China.

“I said, ‘President Xi, we’d love to sell beef back in China again.’  He said, ‘You can do that.’  That was the end of that.”

In fact, the Obama administration already had brokered the beef deal back in September, seven years into his administration and a full decade after sales of U.S. beef to China were halted back in 2003 due to a Mad Cow Disease outbreak in Washington state.

When Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri visited in July, President Trump declared at a joint press conference that Lebanon was “on the front lines in the fight” against Hezbollah, a group which, in reality, is in alliance with Lebanese president Michel Aoun and has been fighting against the Islamic State in neighboring Syria.

President Trump gave himself credit for the January employment report, 216,000 jobs, even though the data was collected the week of Jan.12 before he took office.

CNBC does report that, for February:

 Of the 235,000 jobs added in February, 28,000 were in manufacturing, a sector that had added only 7,000 jobs year-over-year. There were 8,000 mining jobs added that month, bringing total hiring in the sector to 20,000 since it hit a low in October.

He took credit for a $1 billion investment by Fiat Chrysler, which the company said was because of talks with unions in 2015, a $1 billion General Motors investment, also in the works for some time, 10,000 jobs added by Walmart, announced in October, and 10,000 jobs created by Intel, announced originally in 2011.

On at least 14 occasions, Trump boasted that he had personally negotiated a cut between $600 million and $725 million off an order for Lockheed Martin F-35 Joint Strike Fighters.

But Lockheed had already planned the cost reductions, saying in December that the next batch of 90 planes would cost 6 to 7 percent less per plane than the previous order and the Air Force’s budget had already accounted for the cut before Trump took office. Lockheed Martin representatives told Politico the president “accelerated the negotiations and sharpened our focus on driving down the price.”

Sadly, we can fill, pages with the president’s falsehoods and with the defense they have received from Sean Spicer, who repeated the lies as facts, and Kellyanne Conway, who admitted they were “alternative  facts.”

Even when he discusses subjects with no partisan political dimension, such as history, his statements reflect, perhaps his lack of knowledge, rather than a desire to mislead, may be at work.

In his book, “Conscience Of A Conservative,” Sen, Jeff Flake (R-AZ) denounces the “embrace of ‘alternative facts’ at the highest levels of American life,” noting that it “creates a state of confusion, dividing us along fissures of truth and falsity and keeping us in a kind of low-level dread.”

Beyond this, it is important to recognize that there is nothing conservative about Donald Trump’s lack of regard for our institutions or lack of respect for both norms of civility and truth. Flake has been criticized for giving the book the same title as Barry Goldwater’s 1960 book.

As Sen Flake writes,

“Far from conservative, the president’s comportment was rather a study in the importance of conflict in reality television, that once you introduce conflict, you cannot de-escalate the conflict.  You must continually escalate.”

More and more conservative voices are challenging the Trump presidency.  Mr. Trump calls himself “strong,” and his adversaries “weak.” Wall Street Journal columnist Peggy Noonan suggests in her column Trump Is Woody Allen Without the Humor that the opposite may be the truth:

“The President’s problem as a leader is not that he is impetuous, crude, an outsider.  It is that he is weak and sniveling.  It is that he undermines himself almost daily by ignoring traditional norms and forms of American masculinity.  He’s not strong and self controlled.  He’s whiny, weepy and self-pitying.  He throws himself, sobbing, on the body politic.  He’s a drama queen.”

Gen. Kelly has a difficult task before him.

Hopefully, it is not impossible.  But if he cannot get Donald Trump to start telling the truth, nothing else he does can rescue this presidency.


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Allan C. Brownfeld
Received B.A. from the College of William and Mary, J.D. from the Marshall-Wythe School of Law of the College of William and Mary, and M.A. from the University of Maryland. Served as a member of the faculties of St. Stephen's Episcopal School, Alexandria, Virginia and the University College of the University of Maryland. The recipient of a Wall Street Journal Foundation Award, he has written for such newspapers as The Houston Press, The Washington Evening Star, The Richmond Times Dispatch, and The Cincinnati Enquirer. His column appeared for many years in Roll Call, the newspaper of Capitol Hill. His articles have appeared in The Yale Review, The Texas Quarterly, Orbis, Modern Age, The Michigan Quarterly, The Commonweal and The Christian Century. His essays have been reprinted in a number of text books for university courses in Government and Politics. For many years, his column appeared several times a week in papers such as The Washington Times, The Phoenix Gazette and the Orange County Register. He served as a member of the staff of the U.S. Senate Internal Security Subcommittee, as Assistant to the research director of the House Republican Conference and as a consultant to members of the U.S. Congress and to the Vice President. He is the author of five books and currently serves as Contributing Editor of The St. Croix Review, Associate Editor of The Lincoln Review and editor of Issues.