Honor as a cloak for dishonor collapses in on itself and becomes what it seeks to shield. What John Kelly described about our troops and their deaths and their corpses at the press conference where he genuflected to his boss was wrenching and sacred; and what he did by describing it was a disservice to the very civic sacraments he sought to elevate.
It is a rare person in public life who simultaneously possesses seemingly flawless character and also the magnetic bearing of quiet charisma. Those few, people like General John Kelly, shoulder the gravest duties in human society, regardless whether they do so willingly. They are the men and women we look to instinctively when our surroundings start to blur and our will begins to fade.
On the other hand, people like Donald Trump are, by their nature, as weak and fragile as they are malevolent and soulless. Unaided, they are impotent clowns — Pennywise barking at the wind from a sewer drain. They can’t get at us unless we go to them.
As a country, we now face a choice about Donald Trump. We can discard him, apologize to the world for the ignorance we allowed to overtake us, and preserve what is left of the tattered banner of American world leadership. Or we can embrace him and get done with it — give up altogether on the lie that we were ever suited to our station as empire — the way a drunk begins to see the bottle as the terminal solution to all the troubles it caused in the first place.
John Kelly popularized the term “empty barrel” during his mouthy sneering at a sitting member of the United States Congress. It’s a good descriptor that Kelly misapplied without enough wit to discern the irony in its misapplication. To bring us all with him to a common oblivion, Donald Trump needs more than the empty barrel that is his own character. If the thing is ever going to be weaponized, someone else will have to load it for bear.
Enter John Kelly. He lent Trump the contents of his own character to be weaponized against his own country; he lent Trump his dignity, and Trump will never give it back.