To hear a new article in the Washington Post tell it, newly-appointed White House Chief of Staff John Kelly might as well be a robot, reorganizing the chaotic West Wing with the brute force of cold, implacable logic. Or, perhaps he’s a Buddhist monk, with no attachments or desires—just a zen-like sense of his discrete place in the Universe.
“John Kelly is an apolitical force in a White House divided by ideology,” the article, published on Wednesday, exclaims. The story goes out of its way to paint the former Marine Corps general as a stoic lighthouse in the choppy waters of President Trump’s administration.
This, of course, is total bullshit. You don’t get to work in the White House—especially this White House—and enjoy the presumed cover of neutrality. But the fact that the Post is asserting this tells you a lot about what the elite media thinks politics means.
“Kelly has asserted himself as a rare apolitical force,” the article stresses. “So far, he has left no discernible imprint on the White House’s philosophy, yet he has assumed control of its governance, running operations and the policy process in a way that Trump advisers hope will lead to tangible results.”
That, I’m pretty sure, is the exact opposite of “apolitical.” Helping the most unqualified, far-right, ultranationalist president this country has ever seen enact his agenda is, in fact, pretty goddamned political!
The article then, bizarrely, completely undermines itself by pointing out that Kelly has been enthusiastically executing some of Trump’s most politically charged, toxic policies for months (emphasis mine):
Nonideological should not be misread as moderate, however. White House officials said Kelly sees his role as executing the president’s orders, not modulating them — and they were quick to point out that Kelly managed some of Trump’s most controversial priorities with stubborn determination, including immigration and border enforcement, as secretary of homeland security.
“Let’s remember, General Kelly executed the travel ban,” said one senior White House official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to comment candidly. “It’s not like he walked away and said, ‘I’m a conscientious objector to the president’s agenda.’ ”
So Kelly is “nonideological” but also not “moderate,” whatever that means, and he isn’t so much an apolitical sage as a man actively working to maximize Trump’s ability to more efficiently screw over poor people, immigrants, the LGBTQ community, and beyond.
The paper’s inclination to paint Kelly as a political non-entity stems, in part, from its larger desire to see the military as a whole as existing in some elevated plane, high above the partisan squabbles of Washington.
“There’s a huge strain in the military services that stays out of politics,” presidential historian Douglas Brinkley told the Post. “They don’t want an ‘R’ or a ‘D’ attached to their name. They’re all about duty, honor, country. And I see Kelly as part of this tradition.”
Again, this is complete bullshit, unless you think war has nothing to do with politics. The military is an inherently political institution. It may not speak the exact same language of Democrats and Republicans, but it is an enterprise founded on expanding and enforcing a political agenda.
And if John Kelly is responsible for enacting the President’s alt-right agenda, then his motivations—or supposed lack thereof—are entirely beside the point. The understated, single-minded pursuit of the president’s goals isn’t apolitical. It’s about as political as it gets.