In October of 2017, I had a vision that Chief of staff John Kelly took a walk through Arlington Cemetery. To the haunting sound of a bugler playing Taps, he stepped among and then beyond the stones of some of “the finest men and women on earth,” stopping finally at a cheap plastic picket fence that delineated a series of misaligned grave stones that had been hastily placed during his short tenure.
A hooded apparition silently beckoned him to enter, pointing to a far corner of the unkempt lot. Kelly slowly stepped past a series of tombstones that marked the charred remains of the reputations and credibility of the newly fallen. He read the inscriptions as he past them. Sean Spicer. General Flynn. Sarah Huckabee Sanders. Paul Ryan. Devin Nunes. Anthony Scaramucci. Jeff Sessions. A host of others.
On the far right of that shaded corner of the cemetery, a series of headstones marked graves that had only been partially dug. Those read: Women’s Rights. Civil Rights. Dreamers. Civility. The First Amendment. Education. Accountability. Coherent Sentences. Truth. Justice. The American Way.
And finally, at the end of the row was a newly dug grave, the earth piled high on the side ready to cover up a nondescript pine box that lay below. The figure pointed its cloaked arm toward the headstone. The bugler stopped abruptly. The Chief of Staff turned and looked to where the bony figure gestured and read the inscription:
The Integrity, Courage, and Credibility of
He stared long and hard at the words, with the solemn expression he wears when he is thinking and then turned to the specter. “Are these the shadows of things that Will be, or are they shadows of things that May be, only.”
The bugler began a haunting chorus of True Colors, and Kelly backed quickly out of the secluded cemetery, soiling his uniform as he tripped over the crooked stone marking the plot reading “The Veracity of Sarah Sanders.”
In 2017, it would have taken a simple act of integrity and courage to undo his nightmare: An apology. Regardless of who politicized what and who else should apologize, Kelly’s “empty barrel” scenario proved to be completely fabricated. In the wake of such an undeniable misrepresentation of the truth, whether it was intentional or based on poorly vetted information from the ever-so-White House, Kelly should have publicly issued Congresswoman Frederica Wilson a long overdue apology. In the same breath, he should have followed that with an unequivocal retraction of his idiotic statement that over a million Dreamers were too lazy to get off their asses to sign up.
Most of us learned the importance and power of an apology in Kindergarten. It may be an unimaginable act for Trump or his fawning minions, but Kelly should have demonstrated the integrity and courage once associated with his rank, his reputation, and his responsibility to the nation.
Ashes to ashes. Trust to dust. He stands among the dishonored, disturbingly at ease with his words and actions, unable or unwilling to have mustered the backbone to rise out of the moral boneyard. As he departs the Trump administration, he will also be forever sullied by the things he didn’t say, by the administration’s words and deeds he supported through his silence. In the words of Dr. King, “History will have to record that the greatest tragedy of this period of social transition was not the strident clamor of the bad people, but the appalling silence of the good people.”
Kelly entered the white house January 2017, a retired general with four shining stars. He departs with them and his reputation indelibly tarnished and faded, fatalities among the fallen.