What military discipline in the White House sounds like

We worried from the start about Trump’s penchant for hiring military people for his top jobs. We were wary about the excitement when Kelly took over as chief of staff…but we were also so sick of Trump’s rages and tantrums and explosions that we perhaps hoped it was worth the risk.

It wasn’t. Masha Gessen does a great job of saying why. She argues that Kelly’s press briefing was like a preview of what a military coup here would look like.

First Kelly argued that people who criticize Trump don’t know what they’re talking about because they haven’t served in the military.

Fallen soldiers, Kelly said, join “the best one per cent this country produces.” Here, the chief of staff again reminded his audience of its ignorance: “Most of you, as Americans, don’t know them. Many of you don’t know anyone who knows any of them. But they are the very best this country produces.”

Yes well they should have gotten a gardener up there to tell us gardeners are the best one per cent, or how about a fashion marketer or a real estate tycoon?

No, soldiers aren’t the best one per cent. A strong military is an unhappy necessity (or not), but they don’t become as gods.

Workers in construction and farming risk death too.

A total of 4,836 fatal work injuries were recorded in the United States in 2015, a slight increase from the 4,821 fatal injuries reported in 2014, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported today.

Also I don’t believe Kelly’s claim that soldiers are all doing exactly what they wanted to do. The military is also a job with some good benefits; that’s part of the motivation too.

Kelly also argued that Trump did the right thing because he did exactly what his general told him to do.

A week earlier, Kelly had taken over the White House press briefing in an attempt to quash another scandal and ended up using the phrase “I was sent in,” twice, in reference to his job in the White House. Now he seemed to be saying that, since he was sent in to control the President and the President had, this time, more or less carried out his instructions, the President should not be criticized.

It’s just foolish to think that telling Trump what he should do is adequate. Trump is not equipped to make that kind of phone call, not equipped in any way.

It was his last argument that was the worst.

At the end of the briefing, he said that he would take questions only from those members of the press who had a personal connection to a fallen soldier, followed by those who knew a Gold Star family. Considering that, a few minutes earlier, Kelly had said most Americans didn’t even know anyone who knew anyone who belonged to the “one per cent,” he was now explicitly denying a majority of Americans—or the journalists representing them—the right to ask questions. This was a new twist on the Trump Administration’s technique of shunning and shaming unfriendly members of the news media, except this time, it was framed explicitly in terms of national loyalty. As if on cue, the first reporter allowed to speak inserted the phrase “Semper Fi”—a literal loyalty oath—into his question.

Before walking off the stage, Kelly told Americans who haven’t served in the military that he pities them. “We don’t look down upon those of you who haven’t served,” he said. “In fact, in a way we are a little bit sorry because you’ll have never have experienced the wonderful joy you get in your heart when you do the kinds of things our servicemen and women do—not for any other reason than that they love this country.”

Nonsense. They are bound to have other reasons. Loving the country may be the overriding reason for many or most, but it can’t be the only reason for all of them. Kelly is talking as if they all do become a Higher kind of human by joining the military, and yes, that is a bordering-on-fascist way of thinking.

When Kelly replaced the ineffectual Reince Priebus as the chief of staff, a sigh of relief emerged: at least the general would impose some discipline on the Administration. Now we have a sense of what military discipline in the White House sounds like.

Discipline is necessary but not sufficient. So not sufficient.

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