John Kelly And The History That Never Was

The White House chief of staff has proven himself just as ignorant about history and complicit in oppression as his boss.
10/31/2017 10:14 am ET Updated Oct 31, 2017

There is so much chaos going on with this administration that we forget that John Kelly was head of the Department of Homeland Security where he enthusiastically implemented Trump’s view for that department. In the six months he was there, Kelly:

  • Expanded the categories of immigrants for deportation. Getting rid of the policies that would target criminals for deportation
  • Wanted to abandon the Obama program allowing people brought to the U.S. as children to stay
  • Considered splitting up mothers and children at the border to “deter” people from coming to the U.S.

Pundits have told us that General Kelly would be on the front line of stopping Trump from doing something crazy, like demanding the grown men in the NFL stand for the anthem because he said so or something insane like starting a war with North Korea or something catastrophic like launching nuclear codes. But John Kelly isn’t part of the opposition to Trump, he’s a true believer.

This latest episode of White House Apprentice could have ended with Trump apologizing to Myeisha Johnson, the widow of Sergeant Johnson who was killed in Niger, when he offered insensitive condolences on the loss of her husband. Instead, John Kelly took to the podium, not to clean up the mess left by Donald Trump but to double down on it. This press conference was filled with excuses for Trump with Kelly even taking some of the blame for the comments. Then General Kelly did something that so many older white men do: long for a time from their childhood that never was.

Kelly said, “When I was a kid growing up, a lot of things were sacred in our country. Women were sacred and looked upon with great honor. That’s obviously not the case anymore, as we see from recent cases.”

Let’s just disregard that John Kelly wants to go back to a time when women were respected, even as he currently works for a man who had at least 12 allegations of sexual misconduct against him. The problem is that time just didn’t ever exist. Kelly grew up in the 50s, and women weren’t sacred then. Women couldn’t:

  • Serve on a jury
  • Get credit cards without their husband’s permission
  • Access birth control
  • Keep their job if they became pregnant
  • Refuse sex with their husbands.

Domestic violence was something that women had to endure. The key line from the popular television show, “The Honeymooners,” was “One of these days, Alice, you’re going to the moon.” It wasn’t her husband proclaiming she could become an astronaut. He was implying he was going to knock his wife out. And people laughed at this.

As housewives, most women didn’t live some ideal life like an episode of “Leave it to Beaver.” Men thought running the home and parenting were woman’s work. The prevailing thought was that a woman’s place was in the kitchen and the bedroom.

The 50s were even worse for black women. There were limited opportunities for education and employment for black women. Most black women at that time worked as maids, with no benefits, no social security and little recourse if they were mistreated by their employers. My grandmother was a maid during the time of John Kelly’s childhood and her memories included being overworked, underpaid and underappreciated, but definitely not sacred.

Even Kelly’s choice of the word “sacred,” with its religious connotations, is problematic. I don’t want to be revered. And no, motherhood isn’t the most important job I’ve held. This type of thinking is why we continue to have to fight for our reproductive rights as if we are too fragile to make our own decisions about our own bodies.

Now, Kelly has come out in support of Robert E. Lee and claims that the Civil War happened because people couldn’t comprise. There were people who wanted to own slaves and people who didn’t want to be slaves. What was the compromise: slavery only on Monday, Wednesday and Thursday?

John Kelly won’t apologize for lying on Congresswoman Frederica Wilson and he idolizes a person like Robert E. Lee. These comments should put to rest any notion that John Kelly is the “adult” in the room. That won’t make me sleep better, but at least now I know.

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