White House Chief of Staff John F. Kelly
Yesterday, James Kelly was featured in an interview with Laura Ingraham. In that interview, he advanced the racist, ignorant, and discredited “Lost Cause” narrative. The Washington Post today cites multiple historians who describe the interview as “strange”, “sad” and “wrong”:
Kelly was asked about the decision of a church in Alexandria to remove plaques honoring George Washington and Robert E. Lee.
“I would tell you that Robert E. Lee was an honorable man,” Kelly said. “He was a man that gave up his country to fight for his state, which 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.”
Stephanie McCurry, professor of history at Columbia University, writes (emphasis mine):
“What’s so strange about this statement is how closely it tracks or resembles the view of the Civil War that the South had finally got the nation to embrace by the early 20th century,” she said. “It’s the Jim Crow version of the causes of the Civil War. I mean, it tracks all of the major talking points of this pro-Confederate view of the Civil War.”
David Blight, professor of history at Yale University, writes (emphasis mine):
“This is profound ignorance, that’s what one has to say first, at least of pretty basic things about the American historical narrative,” Blight said. “I mean, it’s one thing to hear it from Trump who, let’s be honest, just really doesn’t know any history and has demonstrated it over and over and over. But Gen. Kelly has a long history in the American military.”
Mr. Blight is quoted, near the end of the piece, as saying something that I find enormously relevant to the ongoing arguments we’ve been caught up in lately (emphasis mine):
“It’s just so absurd,” Blight said. “It’s just so sad. It’s just so disappointing that generations of history have been written to explode all of this and yet millions of people — serious people; experienced, serious people and now people with tremendous power — have grown up believing all this.”
There was, however, a small silver lining.
“This Trump-era ignorance and misuse of history is forcing historians — and I think this is a good thing — to use words like ‘truth’ and ‘right or wrong,’ ” Blight said. “In the academy we get very caught up in relativism and whether we can be objective and so on, and that’s a real argument.”
“But there are some things that are just not true,” he said. “And we’ve got to point that out.”
That bears repeating: But there are some things that are just not true, and we’ve got to point that out.
While we’ve been arguing about the split within the Democratic Party, I need to remind us that there are some things that are just not true. I think we’ve GOT to point that out.
1. Hillary Clinton is NOT corrupt.
2. The “Lost Cause” narrative is NOT irrelevant and is NOT something to be ignored.
3. “Compromise” is not possible when fundamental values clash.
As these historians observe, the Civil War did NOT result from a refusal of the “North” to compromise. The Civil War happened after a long period with multiple failed efforts at compromise (see the piece for details). Robert E. Lee in particular and the Confederacy in general was NOT loyal to America. Mr. Lee did NOT place his loyalty to his state (VA) above the nation — he chose to wage war against his nation. That is the definition of treason.
The South sought independence because of its commitment to slavery. THAT is what the Civil War was about. The South went to war because it was unwilling to concede that the US government had the ultimate authority to outlaw slavery.
One irony of this specific interview happening at this specific time is that Mr. Kelly is betraying the very reason that the Republican Party was created (from the piece): “[He denies] the essential reason for the existence of the original Republican Party, which formed in the 1850s to stop the expansion of slavery and ended up developing a political ideology that threatened the South because they really were going to cordon off slavery.”
The on-going collapse of American democracy is NOT the result of the refusal of the Democrats to “compromise” with the GOP. The Democratic Party has, in fact, attempted one failed compromise after another. The Democratic Party has nothing to gain and everything to lose by attempting to “compromise” with voters who embrace the racist, ignorant, sad, strange, and wrong lies of the GOP.
We MUST NOT ignore the resurgence of the “Lost Cause” narrative. We must not ignore the prophetic voices of our black brothers and sisters who demand that these monuments to oppression be removed. We must not ignore the prophetic voices of millions of American women who are nauseated by the presence of a flagrant sex abuser in the Oval Office.
We must not ignore the ugly reality of the “populist” movements spreading across the world, in both Europe and America. We must not be tempted to pander to the unbridled hate, bigotry, racism, sexism, xenophobia, and nativism of these dangerous mobs.
We MUST offer a different way forward, so that we offer a REAL alternative. I suggest this longer, more difficult path is likely to result in losses in the 2018 and 2020 elections. I suggest that these losses are part of the inevitable suffering that has already been caused by the evils we have already done.