Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Who Does General Kelly Resemble?

Unveiling of the Robert E. Lee statue in Richmond, Virginia, 28 May 1890, via Danish Wikipedia.

After General Kelly's somewhat thoughtless remarks about the Civil War to Laura Ingraham on the TV—
“I would tell you that Robert E. Lee was an honorable man,” Kelly told Ingraham. “He was a man that gave up his country to fight for his state, which 150 years ago was more important than country. It was always loyalty to state first back in those days. Now it’s different today. But the lack of an ability to compromise led to the Civil War, and men and women of good faith on both sides made their stand where their conscience had them make their stand.”
—everybody's dumping on old Kelly.

(I should mention that no, it was not always loyalty to state. The Union Army called itself the Union Army because it believed that the Union trumped the individual state, and the language of the Constitution, including the oath sworn by guys like General Lee, backed that up.)

Not just exposing his deep and startling ignorance of history as Ta-Nehisi Coates did  (in tweets repeated at TPM). No, people are accusing Kelly of being, disappointingly, no different from Trump himself. Not to mention refusing to apologize for his public false statements about Rep. Frederica Wilson. Chris Cillizza, of all people, the most slack-minded, smirky politics fashionista in town, accuses Kelly of being Trump's "Mini Me":
increasingly, it seems as though Trump is drawn to Kelly for another reason: Because they see the world similarly. Trump likes people who affirm his views and who are willing to battle political correctness and the media at every turn. Kelly appears to be ready and willing to take up arms in those fights.
So in the name of simple fairness, I'd like to clarify that General Kelly's thinking is not like Donald Trump at all. It's more like David F. Brooks.

No, seriously. Take the causes of the Civil War, for example. Does Donald Trump really believe the Civil War was caused by the lack of an ability to compromise? Certainly not! He told us himself last spring:
The Civil War happened because of Andrew Jackson's premature death. Or his mistake in letting that wimpy New Yorker Martin Van Buren take over the White House. Whatever. But it's clear to Trump that if Jackson had been president in 1860, that Civil War would never have taken place, because 93-year-old Old Hickory would have kicked the ass of anybody who wanted to have a Civil War. "Not on my watch!" he probably would have said, pissed off as fuck, and everybody would have recognized Real Leadership.

Whereas to David Brooks, the main cause was partisanship, all the way down into the ranks ("Why They Fought", July 1 2013):
The soldiers were intensely political. Newspapers were desperately sought after in camp. Between battles, several regiments held formal debates on subjects like the constitutional issues raised by the war. “Ideological motifs almost leap from many pages of these documents,” McPherson reports. “It is government against anarchy, law against disorder,” a Philadelphia printer wrote, explaining his desire to fight....  There was probably also a greater covenantal consciousness, a belief that they were born in a state of indebtedness to an ongoing project, and they would inevitably be called upon to pay these debts, to come square with the country, even at the cost of their lives.
But as we learned from Brooks yesterday, this partisanship, while very good, is also very bad ("When Politics Becomes Your Idol"):

partisanship for many people is not about which party has the better policies, as it was, say, in the days of Eisenhower and Kennedy. It’s not even about which party has the better philosophy, as it was in the Reagan era. These days, partisanship is often totalistic. People often use partisan identity to fill the void left when their other attachments wither away — religious, ethnic, communal and familial.
That "covenental consciousness" of their cause, Republicans for the Union, Southern Democrats for the Confederacy, overrode their other attachments and made them willing to participate, unto death, in the war, and that's why it happened.

Similarly, has Donald Trump ever said Robert E. Lee was an honorable man? No! He has compared Lee to George Washington and Thomas Jefferson,  but only to note that they all owned slaves, like Stonewall Jackson and, he might have mentioned, Andrew Jackson too:
“Many of those people were there to protest the taking down of the statue of Robert E Lee,” Mr Trump said. “This week, it is Robert E Lee and this week, Stonewall Jackson. Is it George Washington next? You have to ask yourself, where does it stop?” he said, later noting that both the first and third American presidents had owned slaves. 
To Trump, it's simply a general principle that you shouldn't disturb statues of slaveholders.

David F. Brooks, on the other hand, couldn't be clearer on the subject of Lee, who was to honorability pretty much what Reese's Peanut Butter Cups are to Halloween candy, the Necco plus ultra as it were ("The Robert E. Lee Problem", June 26 2015):
It is almost impossible to imagine a finer and more considerate gentleman. As a general and public figure, he was a man of impeccable honesty, integrity and kindness. As a soldier, he displayed courage from the beginning of his career straight through to the end. Despite his blunders at Gettysburg and elsewhere he was by many accounts the most effective general in the Civil War and maybe in American history. One biographer, Michael Korda, writes, “His generosity of spirit, undiminished by ideological or political differences, and even by the divisive, bloody Civil War, shines through in every letter he writes, and in every conversation of his that was reported or remembered.”
Notice how, unlike everybody else in the Civil War, according to Brooks, Lee was especially distinguished by his lack of partisanship in this divisive time, which would clearly make him better than that relentlessly partisan Abraham Lincoln (and "he was the most effective general" except for the part about how he lost the war and that slovenly, low-class Grant won it). I'm sure Lee would have compromised the hell out of everybody too, if asked, but as a simple soldier he didn't think it was his place to interfere.

So take that as QED. John Kelly is not Trump at all but David Brooks, at least historiographically speaking. And an utterly typical Republican.

That getting every single detail wrong in his attack on Rep. Frederica Wilson and refusing to apologize for it is pretty Brooksian too.

The column in question is as stupid as you might think, with whatever political ideas it may think it has amply covered by Driftglass, but it would be remiss in me not to mention that David Brooks saw Richard Linklater's 2014 film Boyhood (the one famous for being shot over a 12-year period so that all the characters including the central boy aged naturally along with the plot) and it made him sad:

What you see is good people desperately trying to connect in an America where bonds are attenuated — without stable families, tight communities, stable careers, ethnic roots or an enveloping moral culture. There’s just a whirl of changing stepfathers, changing homes, changing phone distractions, changing pop-culture references, financial stress and chronic drinking, which make it harder to sink down roots into something, or to even have a spiritual narrative that gives meaning to life.
I haven't (full disclosure) seen it myself, but Daniel Pecchenino, writing for Southern Spaces, did, when the movie was released, and the movie he saw seems like the exact opposite:
What's radical about Boyhood is that it doesn't treat the divorce of Olivia and Mason Sr. (played brilliantly by Ethan Hawke) as a catastrophe, or even as indicative of a broader cultural trend. It is simply something that happened because two people who weren't ready got pregnant and tried to give marriage a go. The divorce complicates the lives of all of the characters and is central to the plot and structure of the movie, but this isn't a "dysfunctional" family. Both Olivia and Mason Sr. are caring, if sometimes self-involved, parents who grow throughout Boyhood. While Olivia bears the brunt of the day-to-day childrearing, Mason Sr. isn't an absent father (though it's implied that he was when the children were very young), and when he's with his children, he's invested in making them better people. And far from being portrayed as an overwhelmed victim, Olivia becomes a psychology teacher and leaves two alcoholic partners when they threaten the things that matter to her. The members of this family aren't without their problems, but that makes them human, not evidence of cultural collapse.
Brooks would say, apparently, that's because Pecchenino saw it when Obama was president. Seriously:
I did have the advantage of seeing it in the Trump era. It’s a sadder movie now.
In the movie, the Ethan Hawke character starts off as a super-engaged Obama supporter, then in the course of time gets less certain, and less interested. This signals to Brooks that our partisanship is getting worse and worse, only you wouldn't know that if you'd seen it in 2014. You might have thought back then that the movie meant what it said but it really meant the opposite? I think everything Brooks sees looks like David Brooks in a mirror, the one he wants to see or the one he doesn't want to see, and that's how he judges it.

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